Online Recovery Resources Can Save Lives

COMMUNITY

By James DiReda, LICSW, PhD
Associate Professor in the School of Professional Studies
Anna Maria College

 

Anna Maria College is preparing the next generation of recovery and addiction professionals through classroom courses, clinical and experiential learning opportunities. Alumni serve their communities through psychology, community health, nursing, social work, music and art therapy, education and emergency response.

 

The misuse of substances, and addiction to alcohol and other chemicals is a problem that often negatively impacts individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole. The pain and devastation is endless, the cost astronomical, including loss of potential and ultimately loss of life, with an end to it seemingly nowhere in sight. Sad as this sounds, and discouraging as it might seem, there is hope, individuals who misuse substances and those addicted can and do change. There are millions of people that have joined the ranks of those in recovery from substance use disorders and addiction. I write this as one of those fortunate enough to have survived 20+ years of active addiction, and the nightmare it caused for me, and proudly say that April 1 marked the 35th year since I have used any type of drugs, alcohol, or nicotine. Needless to say, my entire life is worlds apart from the day to day existence it once was, and it only seems natural to share the gift I have been given with others, in hopes that it might be of use to them in some way.

When speaking about the dramatic life change recovery entails, people commonly ask “how did/do you do it? What is the “secret” to making this incredible transition from hopeless and helpless to healthy and unencumbered by addiction? They want to know so they can apply it to their own life, or share it with someone they care about that struggles with substance use/addiction. As intriguing and mysterious as it might seem, it really isn’t all that complicated, and in fact, is quite simple. However, make no mistake, being simple in principle does not mean easy! There are a variety of treatments and support groups available to educate, guide, and support those who struggle with substance use and addiction, and most are fairly accessible and free of charge. Without getting into a long diatribe or lecture about addiction, it is a condition marked by a dependence on substances (or even behaviors) that has a progressively negative effect on the person (and those around them), driven by a compulsion to use those substances, and a loss of control over them. Addiction has been called a sickness of the soul, causing disconnection and isolation from others, and retreating into a lonely, dark, and often painful aloneness, even in the company of others, where the only sensible “fix” is to use substances to anesthetize the pain of this condition. If addiction is about disconnection, then the logical suggestion would be for that person to reconnect, with others, with self, with the greater community or universe. As much as I would like to entice you with some elusive cure or mysterious treatment, and many of those exist, but have yet to be proven effective, that connection I mentioned earlier is really at the heart of recovery. Yes, there are other factors involved, but at its core is a reconnection, something as humans we are hardwired for.

In a recent NPR interview I was asked about recovery and what I do to remain sober and in recovery? And so, without breaking any of the traditions of the mutual support groups that I attend, I spent time explaining the power of those groups, and the people in them, to the interviewer in hopes that her article would shine some bright light on this issue of addiction and recovery. Traditionally, people learn about addiction from what they see on television and movies, and what they read about in the local newspapers, which usually portray addicts and addiction in a very negative, often sleazy image, which can be stereotypical (often accurate) description of addiction. However, addiction doesn’t always look the same, or impact everyone in exactly the same way. Nonetheless, what most folks see is that description, but don’t see the millions of success stories about those once addicted, but now recovering and changed. In my humble opinion, our society has seen and heard enough of the dark stories, the heartbreaking ones, the infuriating and scary ones, which do exist, and always will when speaking about addiction. However, what folks don’t often enough hear are those success stories of those in recovery. Part of that is because most recovery support groups and those who attend them choose to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons, but that keeps the rest of the world from hearing about that success, and the miraculous change that happens on a regular basis with individuals in recovery.

So, it seems fitting that as I celebrate 35 years in recovery, living a life I could never have imagined while in the throes of my own addiction, that I share this with you. I want folks to know that first of all, no one wants to live the life of an addict, but it can happen to anyone (and does happen). Those who become addicted are not some “others” who exist “somewhere” else, they are our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, cousins, friends, and coworkers. And that isolation and disconnection that feed addiction can be reversed by connecting with others who walk the same path, and are accessible and willing to help. Ironically, as I write this line, we are in facing a pandemic, causing that “connection” and interaction we find so helpful in recovery programs to discontinue at in-person meetings, and shift to an online format. For many in recovery the thought of being isolated, especially in early recovery, seems extremely risky, and they find themselves reaching out in ways that are quite unfamiliar.

We, in the recovery community have seen a recent surge in the amount of mutual support meetings being offered in online platforms (Zoom, Go to Meeting, etc.) in an attempt to stay connected to friends and supports in recovery. Although not the ideal, and by far no comparison to actual “live” meetings, online support group meetings have been a lifesaving option for many, present company included. Simply seeing and hearing from friends and others in recovery, and hearing the important messages that get conveyed through these groups, provides the connection and encouragement that helps us maintain another day in recovery. I strongly recommend to those in need to find a virtual support group meeting (AA, NA) and continue to do so until in-person meetings are available again, it can save lives. There is much more to say about the treatment of addiction and the services available, and I don’t mean to make recovering from addiction sound or seem easy; it’s NOT. However, the message I do want to convey is that WE DO RECOVER, and we do it by connecting (even virtually) with one another to help each other through this painfully, scary, but beautiful journey of recovery.

 

Dr. DiReda holds a dual Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Work from Boston University, and a Master's degree in Social Work from the University of Connecticut. He is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker with over twenty-eight years of direct clinical experience in the field of mental health and addictions counseling. He has served as an advocate, treatment provider, researcher, and teacher working with individuals and families, schools, hospitals, treatment programs, jails, private and not-for-profit organizations around issues of mental health and substance use. He is a member of the Boards of Directors at AdCare Educational Institute, and the MA Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR). Dr. DiReda is an assistant professor of Social Work in the School of Professional Studies at Anna Maria College and is a founding partner at Lake Avenue Recovery in Worcester, MA.

 

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