Celebrating National Recovery Month during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a unique experience to say the least. The recovery community is one that is accustomed to celebrating with in-person meetings, rallies and walks, but this September in particular has posed both new challenges and opportunities for us. I know that I was disappointed not to be able to receive my 13-year recovery coin at my home group in person.
Announcing this milestone over Zoom wasn’t the same as feeling the energy of a room full of recovering people, just as attending a virtual recovery rally isn’t the same as standing shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of people on the steps of your state capitol.
Despite this, since the onset of the pandemic, I have been moved by the fellowship and community that has sprung up around me. I have witnessed recovery community organizations and recovery houses in my community rapidly pivot their programming and services to ensure continuity of care; they quickly jumped into action and solution.
Within a matter of days, every RCO in Ohio was holding virtual programming and support calls, most occurring almost hourly. These organizations were solely focused on filling the inevitable gaps in our behavioral health system that resulted from facilities either closing down, limiting their capacity or transitioning exclusively to telehealth.
Providing drive-thru peer support services, virtual sober social activities and facilitating access to Wi-Fi and phone minutes became the daily norm for the RCOs. With residents of recovery houses sheltering in place, the recovery house operators went from providing designated scheduled programming to now needing to keep their residents engaged 24/7. Additionally, they had to learn how to navigate a modified treatment landscape to find access to detox services and residential treatment during the pandemic.
Serving as a navigator of resources became an even more challenging job during this time and often went well beyond scheduled work hours.
Recovery support providers are often quiet, behind-the-scenes servant leaders. They aren’t demanding the spotlight. Their work often goes unnoticed, undervalued and underpaid. For many people in recovery, RCOs and recovery houses are key to long-term recovery by keeping them engaged in formal recovery supports at a time when they are most vulnerable. Investing in resources at critical stages of an individual’s recovery journey reduces the likelihood of relapse and utilization of more acute and costly services.
If we really want to turn the tide on the addiction epidemic in our country, it is time that we fully invest and embrace recovery support services such as RCOs and recovery housing. My hat is off to you, recovery community. I see you, I value you and I recognize your labor of love, even in the midst of this pandemic.
As National Recovery Month comes to a close, I encourage us to emulate the passion and effort of those running RCOs and recovery houses in all aspects of the addiction treatment ecosystem.
Sarah Nerad is associate director of Community Relations for Alkermes, a biopharmaceutical company developing innovative medicines in the fields of neuroscience and oncology, which has a manufacturing location in Wilmington. She is also a founding board member of Heartland High School, an addiction recovery high school in Columbus.