The Covid-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone — but for the nearly 21 million Americans battling addiction, it can be especially harmful.
“For somebody in recovery, social isolation is a really slippery slope,” said Scott Strode, a 2012 CNN Hero. “It can often lead to the relapse.”
Strode knows firsthand the reality of being in recovery. He was able to overcome his addiction to drugs and alcohol through sports and exercise. Encouraged by his success, in 2007 Strode started his non-profit, The Phoenix, to help others deal with their own addiction.
The organization has provided free athletic activities and a sober support community to more than 36,000 people across the United States.
When Covid-19 hit, the organization had to close its gyms and practice social distancing. But the non-profit found a new way to keep those connections — and quickly pivoted to virtual programming.
Now, clients can log on to free virtual classes offered throughout the day — everything from yoga and strength training to meditation and recovery meetings.
“We hadn’t done virtual programming before, but we pretty quickly learned that it allowed the Phoenix to offer programs to rural communities that we historically couldn’t reach,” Strode said.
The group now has people in recovery joining classes from all across the US, and four other countries. They’ve also been able to bring their programming into prisons nationwide by recording content that is then distributed to inmates.
“I don’t think we’re going to find some magic solution that’s going to fix addiction in all of our communities,” Strode said. “I think we have to do it as a community and be there for each other — letting people step into the pride and strength in their recovery can get us out of this.”
CNN’s Phil Mattingly recently joined a Phoenix class and spoke with Strode about his work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
Phil Mattingly: What is it about these classes that you feel really resonates with people who are generally going through a pretty tough time?
Scott Strode: I always say that people come to the Phoenix for the workout, but they really stay for the friendships. When we face that greater adversity of that workout together, we build a bond. And in that bond, we find a place where we can support each other in our recovery journey. Often times we keep our struggles in the shadows, in this dark place of shame. There’s something really special about finding a community where you can just be open about all the challenges you’ve faced.
I think we’re all in recovery from something. For me, it just happens to be a substance use disorder. And when I find a community that accepts me and loves me for who I am, it just allows me to build different kinds of friendships.
Mattingly: There’s no silver lining or bright spots for many people over the last several months. Do you feel that whenever we get back to normal, this will end up almost being beneficial for the reach you were able to achieve?
Strode: I do. The idea that people can find recovery support through Phoenix now, really almost anytime, anywhere in the world is really exciting. It’ll just allow it to reach so many more people because of this virtual platform. I didn’t realize how much that was limiting our ability to get our programs to people who really needed it.
It just always lifts my heart to log into a Phoenix virtual class and meet somebody in recovery who’s doing the workout in their basement somewhere in Tennessee, where we don’t even have in-person programs, but they can come to the Phoenix anyway.
Mattingly: For somebody who’s isolated at home right now, and either they’re in recovery or they have a loved one that’s going through it right now, what would be your message to them?
Strode: If you’re at home and you’re either in recovery or you’re even struggling with your addiction right now, just log into a Phoenix class. You just go to thephoenix.org, you pick a virtual class, you drop in. You can turn your camera off. You don’t even have to talk if you don’t want to. But check one out. And what you’ll realize is that there’s individuals just like you that have either overcome their addiction or are trying to overcome it maybe the same way you are.
When you’re having a tough day, you show up and usually by the end of the workout you forget what you were so stressed about in the first place. And it’s more just laughing and if we could, high fives and fist bumps — but we’ll have to wait till post-Covid for that.
Want to get involved? Check out the Phoenix website and see how to help.