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Those in recovery from substance use disorder are going online to hold meetings normally held in the churches, community centers and other public buildings in Maine that are now closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even sober living houses, which often require that residents attend Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, are holding meetings in-house rather than send residents out into the community and risk spreading the virus.
The coronavirus pandemic comes as Maine is still struggling to overcome the longer-term opioid crisis. And those who work with people in recovery worry about the effects of the loss of in-person meetings and the stress of the coronavirus pandemic on those trying to live substance-free lives.
The Bangor Area Recovery Network in Brewer closed its doors Tuesday but is holding meetings at 6 p.m. daily online using the Zoom Meeting application.
The Portland Recovery Community Center is offering a similar meeting online at noon using the same app.
Staff at those centers and others in Maine are also available for telephone support during business hours.
Nightly recovery meetings at the BARN usually draw between 30 and 70 people, Bruce Campbell, vice president of the board of directors, said Thursday. Most meetings, even in small towns, draw more than 10 people.
But Gov. Janet Mills’ ban on gatherings of 10 or more people, issued Wednesday, effectively shut down recovery meetings around the state.
“The ability to congregate and support each other is the biggest loss we have here,” Campbell said. “That sense of fellowship and connection that people in recovery find at meetings becomes part of your routine, part of your structure.”
Group meetings at which people are only identified by their first names are an important piece of the recovery journey, he said.
“Because of the empathy and peer support offered in meetings, people in recovery find comfort in not only feeling like they aren’t being judged, but also in the fact that there’s a solution being offered.
“People will find at a meeting a lot of people who used like they used, but who are not living their lives like they are living them,” Campbell said. “They also are being offered some direct solutions on how to get out of that.”
The two online meetings the BARN’s held so far have been “glitchy” and fewer than 10 people have participated each time, Campbell said.
The restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus also have caused people to become creative, he said. With the BARN closed, one Bangor-area business has started allowing fewer than 10 people at a time to hold in-person recovery meetings there. The business owner asked that the business not be named so the meetings don’t become too large.
Staff at recovery centers around the state also are providing individual support over the telephone.
Recovery residences that offer those in recovery a substance-free place to live remain in operation but are holding meetings in-house, according to James Rickrode, who manages four Fresh Start Sober Living Houses in Bangor. Wellspring, which operates residential treatment programs in Bangor, is doing the same.
Thirty men currently live in the Fresh Start houses, Rickrode said. Each resident has his own room, and all are following recommendations issued by the Maine Center for Disease Control to keep the virus from spreading.
To live in one of the houses, residents must be in recovery, pass drug tests, be employed or seeking employment, and be attending recovery meetings and/or counseling sessions. Residents who are employed are required to pay “a membership fee” as rent.
Many of the men are out of work temporarily because they’re employed by Bangor-area restaurants or bars. Those establishments have been forced to close dining and drinking areas and offer take-out service only due to restrictions imposed by the governor.
The membership fees have been suspended for furloughed workers, Rickrode said.
“So far, all of our guys are doing okay, but [concern over the virus] is another stressor for people in the early stages of recovery, who don’t really need another stresser,” he said.
Rickrode said that he, like others in the recovery community, is concerned about people relapsing because of the stress of the coronavirus and the restrictions imposed to limit its spread.
Because county sheriffs are working to decrease the number of people in their jails and homeless shelters have restricted their hours, Rickrode this week has received double the number of calls from people looking for a place to live as he did last week.
“I’m getting four or five calls a day from jails, case managers and people looking for beds,” he said. “I have to tell them we don’t have one.”
For information on how to participate in online meetings, visit the BARN’s website at bangorrecovery.org or the website of the Portland Recovery Community Center at portlandrecovery.org. Information also is on the groups’ Facebook pages.