Recovery programs focus on connection during COVID-19

For those overcoming addiction, a common step is finding a group of peers, mentors and professionals who support you along the way. So how can you be part of a community when you’re not allowed to leave your house?

As Colorado hunkers down during the COVID-19 pandemic, centers have scrambled to answer this question and sustain a key part of recovery: connection.

“Isolation is particularly dangerous for people just starting recovery,” said Dana Smith, Regional Director at the recovery organization The Phoenix

Dana Smith and her daughter get ready for a virtual yoga class hosted by The Phoenix. Within two days of Colorado’s stay-at-home order, The Phoenix had moved programming online.  

Available across the country, Phoenix programs host free, daily classes in everything from mindfulness to mountain biking for people in recovery. Members typically meet in groups, but Colorado’s stay-at-home order, invoked by Governor Jared Polis on March 25, has disrupted their traditional model. 

"Phoenix is founded on the building of community, which happens in person. We needed to figure out very quickly how we could adapt. What we know is community helps people heal and thrive in recovery,” Smith said.

Within two days of the stay-at-home order, The Phoenix stood up a full day of live-stream classes and social hours over Zoom, a video conferencing platform. All staff members now work from home. 

To shift to online classes, Smith said her team worked proactively to guide participants through technology barriers, including a lack of familiarity with Zoom. Although virtual meetings can’t replace in-person ones, Smith has already found positives.

More rural Coloradans have access to Phoenix programs than ever before, she said, and new staff have trained up quickly by observing classes and meetings remotely. With core programming now available to members across the country, Smith says The Phoenix hopes to roll out virtual, local events soon. 

Oxford House staff hold their regular meeting over Zoom. Group home members use the same platform to check in with one another as they maintain physical distance.

Taylor Wright, the senior outreach coordinator for Oxford House, has helped lead a similar transition at their facilities. The organization oversees more than 80 group homes across the state, each serving anywhere from eight to 13 clients. House members are physically distancing from one another and using Zoom to attend internal and external meetings. 

"It's a very interesting dynamic at each house,” Wright said. “The reality is we haven't encountered anything like this. It's expected that members will isolate more than they normally would. The important thing is that we check in with each other and make sure that it isn’t anything more than regard for best health practices and expectations." 

Wright says members have maintained day-to-day schedules and are finding creative ways to engage each other in healthy activities. Many have joined groups on Facebook and other platforms for additional support. 

“Everyone wants to support each other as best they can,” he said. “It's really cool to see a rallied effort to connect people. Our houses have become increasingly unified, and members have come to form an advanced bond with each other based on the restrictions in place.” 

Smith has noticed a similar trend. "I see organizations putting support first. Right now people are coming together and making sure people are okay.” She noted that more recovery centers are collaborating during the pandemic, freely sharing resources to help clients adjust to the new reality. 

As effects of the COVID-19 outbreak continue, both Wright and Smith encourage anyone who is struggling, not only those in recovery, to ask for help. Resources and services are still available—just in a different format. And don’t hesitate to lean on your community, they say, even if you can’t see friends or loved ones in person. 

“A phone call or digital meeting can help you keep in touch until we get out of the storm,” Wright said. 

Resources for Coloradans in recovery