April 4, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

A few days ago I talked about the Land of Before (say, three weeks ago), the journey across During (where we are now) and the land of After (what life will be like when Coronavirus has ceased to keep us locked down in our homes). My focus in the earlier letter was on our voyage across During, and how the ways we treat each other on this journey will help create the After we will inhabit.

Today, I’ve been thinking about After, particularly as it relates to recovery and the way we support each other once we arrive. For the 12 years I was in recovery in Before, recovery was passed on like a positive virus, primarily through extensive face-to-face contact with others. Whether your pathway was SMART, a 12-Step program, Three Principles or Recovery Dharma, a commonality was the gathering of like-minded folks to learn from each other, encourage one another and sometimes critique one another.

I am not a prophet or soothsayer (duh). Still, a couple years ago I was quoted in a piece out of the Addiction Policy Forum:

“Recovery is a socially-transmitted disease,” says Keith Howard, Hope for New Hampshire Recovery’s executive director. “It’s communicable through friendship, kindness, attention and love. Humans are designed to live in a community, and that’s what Hope tries to offer the sick and suffering—the power of peer-based support.”

The source of that power has always been found in one alcoholic or addict looking into the eyes of another and saying, with truth and empathy, “I know you. You know me. I know your pain, and I want to ease it. I’ve felt your aloneness and I want to help end it. I’ve seen life through your eyes, and now I want to lend you a new pair of glasses.” In short, the person in recovery was a physical transmitter of possibility, a beacon of hope over the surging storm of addiction.

Note the use of the past tense in that last sentence. I chose that because none of us can be sure that “was” can be transformed into “will be,” that recovery in three or four months will be able to return to the way things used to was. It’s likely, I think, the return from stay-at-home orders, unlike their implementation, will be slow and rolling rather than nearly instantaneous. Some folks will be deemed safe to return to the world at large sooner than others, but social distancing will still be the rule for the foreseeable future. What does this mean for the near term for folks in recovery? I don’t know for sure, but I know these are some of the challenges we face when we start to land on the shores of After:

  1. Meetings will have to be smaller if they’re to be held in the same space. I mean, NA’s Serenity for Lunch in the large meeting room at Hope averages 25 attendees and can surge to 50 or more. Given the social-distancing requirement of six feet in all directions, that room can only hold 13 people, meaning at least two lunchtime meetings held concurrently.  Multiply this challenge by the more than 50 SMART, 12-Step, Three Principles and Recovery Dharma meetings held weekly at Hope and it’s clear we’ve got some creative problem solving to do.
  2. For the foreseeable future, virtual meetings will be the primary means of recovery for many folks who are older, living with underlying medical conditions or just nervous about leaving their homes. How will these meetings be integrated into in-person meetings in a way that honors the needs of both those present and the virtual participants?
  3. The front of Hope has been the site of lots of cool stuff, from recovery-focused conversation to card games to painting to who-knows what else. How do we maintain this crucible of magic while also keep folks physically apart?

Given our joint wisdom as Hope Nation, I’m sure we’ll come up with creative and cool solutions but only if we start thinking about these things now. For all of our sake, please use your free time to ponder, analyze and offer solutions for the challenges we will face. If you’d like to talk with me about this, just give me a call (603)361-6266. If there’s enough immediate interest, we’ll set up a Zoom meeting and try to get some things down on paper.

Until then, remember

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith