Hampshire HOPE: Recovery groups find new ways to connect during pandemic


Published: 4/29/2020 10:18:33 AM

It is often said that the answer to the isolation of addiction is community. 

That begs the question: How do we stay connected in a world where self-quarantining and social distancing have become the norm? This is the story of how we found ways to do just that.

Around March 10, when COVID-19 started to become very real to the Northampton Recovery Center, the NRC Advisory Council discussed the measures we might put in place to keep our members and staff safe, while continuing to offer recovery support. 

Our solution was to scale back and limit numbers. We offered two all-recovery meetings daily, closed before, between and after to sanitize. We washed hands, limited attendance to 25, then 12 and eventually 10 people. We set chairs far apart. When Gov. Charlie Baker issued the order closing nonessential businesses, we regrouped again.

Recovery coaching is one of the essential supports we had to rethink. Recovery coaches support people with addiction and help them embrace the truth that their addiction doesn’t define them but instead confines them. Coaches, who may be people in long-term recovery themselves, are trained to help people navigate the sometimes difficult terrain of early recovery.

Recovery coaches don’t tell people what to do but rather help them find their way forward from addiction to recovery, from isolation to connection. For most people, early recovery is filled with new people, new places, new experiences. Often it is filled with people who have had the same experiences as someone new to recovery. Finding this community can be exhilarating. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this part of recovery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added additional layers of stress, fear and anxiety to everyone’s life. Our new norms have made developing those connections challenging but not impossible.

There are new skills, new technologies to learn — and there are moments of grace. Without the burden of scheduling or transportation, there are spontaneous connections: a quick text with a resource to help someone with finances, a call to share a recipe for banana-bread donuts. We can no longer meet face to face, but we talk on the phone. We communicate via text. We meet via Zoom. 

Recovery coaches model flexibility and commitment to the work, while the people we coach find their strengths as they see how the tools of recovery are adapted to any circumstance. In virtual sessions, we learn more about each other by showing up from home (sometimes with our pets), where we are most relaxed and comfortable.

Each of us has been involved with the NRC for years. We’ve all been members and volunteers as well as supporters of others we welcome through the doors of our current location at 2 Gleason Plaza in Northampton. Now we are full-time employees.

Over time, we have participated in a true community taking root and growing. More often than not, people who use substances or suffer from behavioral addictions isolate themselves from their family and friends, their colleagues and careers, their communities and themselves.

Connecting with other peers and allies, a cornerstone of successful recovery, allows individuals to discover that they are not alone in their struggles, that others have found a way of living where recovery is possible.

Last month, as the reality of this pandemic led to the difficult decision to close, members of our team worried that shutting our doors might lead to lost connections. Pre-pandemic, the NRC helped guide people to community resources such as therapy, housing, job opportunities and inpatient treatment. It also offered a wide variety of activities that encourage peer engagement and promote personal growth: recovery meetings, peer support groups, yoga, meditation, art classes and monthly open mic performances.

The current crisis upended all that, but we adapted. We moved our meetings and other activities to the Zoom platform, slowly adding more opportunities to connect to the mix. Our phone line, 413-834-4127, remains open for anyone who wants to speak with a staff member or peer. Visit the NRC Facebook page or website, northamptonrecoverycenter.org, to see all available online meetings and find direct Zoom links to join.

We have witnessed individuals who first walked in the door feeling lost, hopeless and alone turn their lives around and become active, contributing members of their communities. Such transformations are still happening. 

Meanwhile, we are working together on a project that gives us hope for the future: our new space at 25 Armory St. We are studying renovation plans, ordering supplies, accepting deliveries and imagining what the NRC will be able to offer in the new, fully state-supported space on Armory Street.

Recovery is possible even in the most turbulent of times. And the journey of recovery continues, together.

Trevor Dayton (outreach and community engagement coordinator, recovery coach and recovery coach supervisor), Dan Bickford (peer coordinator) and John Sullivan (volunteer coordinator and certified peer specialist) are all full-time staff members of the Northampton Recovery Center, which is part of the Hampshire HOPE opioid prevention coalition run out of the city of Northampton’s Health Department. Hampshire HOPE members contribute to this monthly column about local efforts addressing the opioid epidemic.
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