Author: David Helton, LMSW, LCDC

Hope Remains: Attacking some of the Veiled COVID-19 Challenges

This has been an interesting year hasn’t it? I’ve worked in the behavioral health field, primarily substance use disorder, since 1989. During those 31 years I’ve never come across the types of challenges I’ve seen this year, for those struggling with substance addiction and for those healthcare providers trying to help them.

“Social isolation” is the new mantra in the culture and yet it is the very thing that is anathema to behavioral health counselors trying to help individuals coping with addiction. Resources are going out of business and events which once brought enjoyment, support, solidarity and an alternative to substances for having fun are being cancelled one after another. Fear is paramount, and it’s drastically shaping the face of addiction and recovery. We are seeing more initiation of substance abuse, more cycles of relapse and overdose, and more barriers to successful recovery in order to cope with a world in chaos. While outpatient treatment programs have successfully used technology to transition to online counseling groups, this has presented a barrier for those without the resources to purchase the technology needed to participate. For the last 10 years, I’ve worked for a local non-profit treatment center for women and adolescent girls here in Dallas, Texas called Nexus Recovery Center. Recently, the Executive Director, Heather Ormand, wrote the following in a blog post:

“COVID-19 has stripped so many sober women of our community. Twelve-step meetings are no longer being held in churches.  Churches are closed or access is limited and people are afraid to sit shoulder to shoulder right now. For those with long-term sobriety and a strong support system, we can probably get by with Zoom twelve-step meetings, reading literature and connecting with other sober women via text or calls. But what about the woman struggling in her disease? The woman isolated in an unsafe home without the resources to leave and get treatment? The woman without a place for her children to go while she tries to piece together continuous days of sobriety and start rebuilding their lives?”

But there is hope. Treatment staff have proven that they are indeed essential, and programs like those at Nexus Recovery Center are showing that recovery staff are willing to risk getting sick themselves in order to help another human being break the cycle of addiction. They are showing that empathy and compassion and hope can still be conveyed through a mask or through a live, online group or individual counseling session. We can still find innovative ways to connect and share our experience, strength and hope with those who are struggling to find someone who cares.

I’ve also been associated with The SASSI Institute as a trainer for the past 25+ years and have found them to be an organization that strives hard to give agencies effective and easy to use resources for helping identify individuals struggling with a substance use disorder and guiding them to the most appropriate path for their recovery journey. I’m also proud to have been allowed to help people on The SASSI Institute’s Clinical Helpline for the past few years. One consistent thing I hear from callers is how much they appreciate the fact that they can reach out in frustration or puzzlement over a client they are working with, and how those on the Clinical Helpline are always there to help them work through a SASSI screening result, craft how to phrase the results to the client or in a report, and guide them in helping clients discover things about themselves, in order to initiate their recovery process. The SASSI Institute, though at a “social distance,” is there for me like a warm blanket on a cold night and for many other behavioral health workers in the US and in other countries who sometimes just need a willing ear to process some of their cases and SASSI results. Working together we can get through 2020 and beyond, despite any obstacles.