Here is a conversation with Kim Sumner Mayer (Family Services Coordinator) about how to support family members in recovery during COVID-19.
Before COVID-19, we created three holiday tip kits for different audiences. We provide links to each of these below with the understanding that COVID-19 has affected how we all observe holidays. For each of these tip sheets, keep in mind the four COVID-19 specific points below from Kim Sumner Mayer (Family Services Coordinator). For example, some of the guides refer to visits home—read these sections with the COVID-19 adaptations in mind:
- Holiday Tips for Families of those in Recovery
- Visits Home for Adults in Recovery
- For Parents in Recovery
Kim, what do you think are the main differences in supporting family members during the holidays in this new context that we have of COVID?
We’re all experiencing something that none of us have ever lived through before. COVID creates new losses for families that we need to navigate, and it magnifies losses that families with a loved one in recovery are already coping with. But it also may create new opportunities for connection.
There are four important guiding principles for making successful holidays and supporting your loved ones through this holiday season in particular.
1: COVID-19 brings losses, both tangible and intangible. Let’s name them. Let’s acknowledge the losses that COVID has brought. Some of those losses are concrete while others are less tangible, they’re not things that you can easily touch or see.
Tangible losses. We may have experienced death, illness, or impairment of loved ones in our family; the loss of a job or income; and the need to reshuffle our lives in order to live around COVID. For kids and parents, there’s also the loss of predictable school routines and social contact. But along with those concrete losses there are intangible losses.
Intangible losses. There’s the loss of our freedom of movement. There’s missing each other and feeling more separate. There’s the loss of a feeling of stability and predictability in our lives. And when you are in addiction recovery, or the loved one of someone in recovery, you’ve already experienced a great deal of loss, and COVID-19 has magnifies those losses.
We’ve also had a huge amount of political and social upheaval in our nation in the last year. The pain that many communities are feeling around systemic racism and police brutality is real, and they may magnify or compound losses for adults in recovery and their families already coping with COVID-19.
Let’s acknowledge these losses openly and realize that things are not the same. It’s okay to feel all the feelings that come with those losses, and might make it hard to feel holiday cheer. So let’s just acknowledge that this really stinks right now. You have to name it, to tame it.
2: Health and safety first. The second principle is to prioritize safety and health above everything else right now. It’s difficult for families to think about being separated over the holidays. And yet, prioritizing our safety and health has to come first, because this is how we’re going to stem the tide of this terrible disease and prevent future losses from happening. Masking up, hand washing, social distancing, limiting your exposure to people, and moving about your community in safe ways has to be paramount.
3: Lean into Gratitude. The third principle may sound counter–intuitive given what I’ve just said. I said acknowledge the loss, prioritize safety, which may mean depriving yourself of physical contact.But the third one is to lean into gratitude, look for opportunities to recognize what there is to be thankful for. What are the good, bright, hopeful things? Gratitude helps us be resilient in the face of loss. Gratitude helps us develop meaning tolerance of the losses, to find the strength to do the things we need to do to prioritize safety and health—and to still find joy in living.
Some people have actually experienced profound positive changes from COVID-19. For some families, more time spent with family members has helped to grow more connection. It may have given some people more time to focus on self-care. For some people, a loss of income and job security may also exist along with more free time that you’ve spent developing a hobby or working on some aspect of your self– improvement.
At this time also when rates of addiction have increased because of the pandemic, we can recognize that for those in treatment and recovery, positive change can happen, and help is available, even in a very dark time. If you look hard enough, there’s always something to be grateful for. To lean into gratitude, I think its sort of like a cushion against the wall of negative things that have come out of the COVID-19 experience.
4. Connect Creatively. The fourth thing is to be creative in how we connect with each other. COVID may make it impossible or unwise for us to physically be with each other. Being in residential treatment makes it difficult for us to be together. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it. You can be creative in how you connect with each other. You can use electronic communication that’s available to you. For example, my family cooked favorite Thanksgiving recipes together, separately, over zoom. We joked, laughed, told family stories, and strengthened our bonds even though we were in separate kitchens. Consider doing crafts together over video chat.
Some people are doing more letter writing now than they used to. For people who are in treatment and maybe weren’t having contact with their families before, the increasing use of electronic communication can make more connections possible.
So, I encourage everyone to be creative.
Another positive thing many people have noted is just spending more time outdoors. The weather is getting colder, but we can bundle up and still be outside. And I think our community members are finding creative ways of meeting with each other. So lean into your creativity.
Those are the four major overarching principles: Name the losses, because they are real. Health and safety first. Lean into gratitude. And connect creatively.
May you have safe, connected, and meaningful holidays this year despite the challenges of this pandemic.