A month ago the front page of The New York Times featured an article about Overdose Prevention in Tennessee. The temperatures around Nashville and Dickson were unseasonably warm. Tom Hanks was fine and the only impending diversion from day-to-day life was the welcome interruption of March Madness.
- February 29th – Coronavirus (COVID-19) claimed its’ first American life in Seattle, Washington.
- March 12th – Discovery Place closed the campus to visitors, ceased guest attendance of outside meetings, and executed further measures to protect the health and safety of guests.
- March 13th – President Trump declared a national emergency, mobilizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- March 16th – Adhering to the C.D.C.’s guidance, the 202 Friendship House and hundreds of similar A.A. clubhouses closed until further notice. Many local meetings and groups followed suit.
- March 20th – The General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services closed until further notice.
- March 22nd – Mayor John Cooper announced the “Safer at Home Order,” closing all ‘non-essential’ businesses and encouraging residents of Davidson County to stay at home. Hours later, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order halting all dine-in restaurants and bars, and closing all gyms.
For much of the country, the opioid epidemic and millions dying annually from substance abuse have been forgotten. Overdose Prevention is NOT on the front page. The Sick and Suffering remain in our midst and given how difficult it is to obtain basic necessities, are likely suffering from non-viral sickness. And we’re still here, too. The recovering alcoholics and addicts.
In less than 30 days it has become essential that our typical in-person recovery meetings cease, that Discovery Place’s campus isolate and that any movement outside of our homes is made with consideration of those most vulnerable to COVID-19. Our sponsees or sponsors may be physically unavailable. Our employment may be on hiatus or lost, and those supporting our early recovery efforts may be in shocking financial straits. Our sober-living house may be down to two rolls of toilet paper, our roommates driving us insane, and Azteca unavailable!
This is not easy.
However, King Alcohol pushes and The Promises pull and in our lives, in our DP Community, we must remember our powerlessness preceded Coronavirus. We must maintain willingness and open-mindedness, ultimately casting everything, and also the little thing, upon What We’ve Chosen To Believe In.
How Does That Work?
Well, for one thing, we should be laughing. We’ve done this before!
870 days ago, I went to a local Nashville restaurant believing my parents were meeting me for a family dinner. I was seeing a woman and the day was her birthday and following dinner, we were supposed to see a show at the Ryman. In my estimation, she was shockingly attractive. In my estimation, her birthday would go well for me.
My parents were at the restaurant, sure, but so was an interventionist. My girlfriend became my ex-girlfriend, my family said it was rehab or no family, and I was driven to a terrible facility in East Tennessee (locked doors, no smoking, and since closed for fraud). I didn’t know what would happen to me. I wondered what my family and friends were doing. I wasn’t sure if I had a job (I didn’t). I was stuck with people I didn’t want to be stuck with and separated from the people I didn’t want to be separated from. The night did not go how I thought it would or how I’d wanted it to. I thought it was the worst night of my life, but you guys all know how this works – it was the best day and the first day of my life.
What’s your story? Were you conscious one minute, and awake in the hospital the next? Was your tag expired and you forgot to clear a pocket? Did you get in a fight with your refrigerator, and like all Tough Guys, finally call your mom? We’ve been to rehab a MINIMUM of once. We lived a life treating loneliness with emotional and mental isolation. We’ve lost everything and found everything where we least expected to.
Here we are again, with circumstances unfamiliar, future plans uncertain, relationships challenged, and action and grace required. The good news is that we practice a program for living, and the program is immune.
More About Digital Meetings
Remember the first meeting you attended a meeting in person? My first meeting was in Dickson, and before my arrival at Discovery Place, and I walked into the meeting five minutes late. I only needed two minutes to assess the value of everyone else in the meeting, and I was certain they had nothing in common with me. The word “to” was printed on a sign when the correct spelling in that instance was, “too.” I hadn’t wanted to be in that meeting, or in any meeting, and I’d been right! It was for people who wore clothes I didn’t wear, people who had nowhere better to be, and people who couldn’t spell. Your story may be different, but I’m guessing you managed to find a reason it ‘didn’t work’ for you or a particular practice you thought ‘wasn’t right.’
We aren’t able to meet in the fashion we are used to, but meetings are more available than ever. You don’t need a car or gas money to join a men’s group based in Canada, a Step Study in Florida, or a Speaker Meeting in New York. Call-in, Zoom, and Google Hangout meetings are filling the spaces left in The Rooms, and no-matter what your mind may tell you, those meetings are the places of experience, strength, and hope.
In my first Zoom meeting, a guy was walking around while sharing, a lady was bickering with her off-screen husband, and another lady was sitting before a wall of glow-in-the-dark wall-stickers. Every one of those things can be seen as unbearable or hilarious or beautiful, and unbearable, hilarious, and beautiful is what meetings have always been. We’ll make it work because we have to. If you have questions about how to attend a zoom meeting, read this, or call the DP line.
Guys, I’m certain, in the history of recovery, this is the most difficult environment for making excuses to a sponsor. The Steps are in the book, which you have. The Steps are written on the interwebs, which you have. Pen and pad? Yeah, those are still out there. Phones? Still working. I’m sure some of you are squatting on amends or lists, physically stuck inside the same walls as your book-work, wondering if your sponsor will understand how the gym being closed lead to your assignment not being completed. Well damn, you may have no choice but to accept the miracle which results from actually doing the work!
Already re-watched The Office and any outbreak movie? Devoured Tiger King? Okay, well if you’ve burnt through the largest entertainment library available in the history of mankind, maybe it’s time for a walk? The Power we rely upon is wherever and whenever we seek it, but you may find spiritual seeking to be best done while walking, and less done while watching Bojack. The best parks and trails in Nashville aren’t in Nashville, they’re in Dickson. Insight Timer and Calm are awesome and capable meditation apps, but they do not transmit peace from the unopened apps folder – you’ve got to listen to them. We may have our devices, and we may rely upon them greatly, but is it possibly just a tinge of a possibility that the world coming to a halt may be a sign that we should, ya know, take a breath, get quiet and listen?
This is as important as everything else. We managed fun in rehab and in Druggie Buggies. We can generate some fun now. The kids in my neighborhood decorated the sidewalks with chalk and I cannot believe the sidewalks of Dickson aren’t covered with the disturbing art of alcoholics (I officially do not support chalking the sidewalks). If there isn’t yet a game of risk being played, via Google Hangouts, across multiple sober-living houses, then you guys have rolled over. If you have a roommate who knows how to play the guitar, you should know more and more about playing the guitar, every day.
Push-up games where we used to play drinking games? HAVE YOU HAD A FOOT RACE? I’m sure there are some very cold ponds around here. What I don’t know, is who can sit in one longer than anyone else? Frisbee golf? Water balloon wars? If you don’t like fun, how about this? Choose a thing each day. It could be anything. A velcro strap, the carpet, mirrors, whatever. And learn everything about that thing. Have mirrors…always existed? I guess not? I mean, they aren’t, like, in the wild? So when did we figure that out? And who figured that out? And how are they made now? And where are most mirrors made? what’s the most famous mirror? You get it.
A Request For You
Guys, on the real, this is what I’m getting at: For the first three months after LTR I was volunteering on DP property every weekday, from 9am-4pm. The people who work here and the men living in the homes around me became my new life, and when I manage to be grateful I recognize the integral role volunteering at DP played in the miracles of my life. As a staff, we ache without you. We miss your humor and the clarity of your experience in early recovery. We’re frustrated, too. But this is all, as it always has been, very much out of our control.
Your actions are who you are, how you’re remembered and regarded, and now, today, in this chaotic storm is when your character is constructed. Creative means of staying in contact with others, games, channelling peace and hope – when you do these things for yourself, your actions bless others.
If you have any ideas, any suggestions for how you and others in the position you are in may be able to honor the restrictions in place, yet continue to love and serve, we want to hear them. Email us at [email protected] or call the DP line and speak with Sean M.
In the meantime, I want to hear stories. Stories of discord and insanity, stories of beauty and resiliency, but honest and true stories. Email your stories to me at [email protected] and I’ll share them. Let’s pass our stories back and forth to one another, hearing the truth from one another that we cannot identify ourselves. We love you guys.