When members of the recovery community couldn’t meet any longer in their usual inside spaces, they simply went outside.
If in-person recovery meetings couldn’t happen at the usual locations, many in the Charlestown recovery community weren’t about to lose their sobriety to Zoom, and so they began gathering in the stands of the football field last March.
After keeping it under wraps for a while, the COVID Defiance recovery group has opened up to the public for meetings, and member Shannon Lundin White said the success is unparalleled – perhaps even better than in pre-COVID times.
“Each place we meet at slowly had to close down due to their policies and procedures for COVID-19, and I was really concerned about the recovery community and that population I work with,” said White, who is also the program manager for Addiction and Recovery Services at the Charlestown Coalition. “I reached out to a couple of the people I work with and we started meeting at the field in March – at noon and at 7 p.m. every day. Then it just blew up. We were averaging about 20 to 30 people and now it’s up to 80 people and there have been times when we’ve had more than 100 people there…We knew something besides online meetings had to be done as we were fighting an epidemic in the middle of a pandemic.”
It has been documented – though probably underreported – that overdoses and relapses for drug use has been happening at a far greater clip since the pandemic set in. White said many in the recovery process depend upon in-person contact to maintain sobriety, the camaraderie and the accountability of in-person truly helps.
However, most of the meeting places just weren’t appropriate given the current conditions. So, outdoor open spaces had to be the answer.
And it was more than an answer, it was a solution that may continue beyond the pandemic.
“We see the emotion and feel the energy and build relationships with others in person,” she said. “It’s a core part of the fellowship. Since March, we’ve had 27 people celebrate one year in recovery. That stands out to me because for a lot of people in recovery, that first year sober can actually take years to get. Considering this pandemic, to see 27 people get a year in recovery.
“We often say we would get high under any and all conditions and we will also stay sober in any and all conditions,” she said. “This was fighting for our sobriety and we’re stronger together.”
Soon to be dubbed the COVID Defiance group because of their insistence on meeting in person despite the official recommendation of conducting online recovery meeting, the group flourished at the football field over the months – and many even started to combine strenuous exercise routines with the meetings, before or after.
One day this summer, White said she got a call from Central Services in the recovery network asking about the group. Hesitant to make it public, she said they had been meeting without advertising it. However, Central Services had been getting so many calls to find out about it, they asked her to please advertise it. That has led to a new way of looking at recovery meetings, and the success that large groups outdoors could have in and out of the pandemic.
“It’s developed as a real community there, two times a day and seven days a week,” she said. “It’s really renewed my appreciation for the 12 Step fellowship. I’ve seen people in recovery come together at other times, but none of us ever experienced this and so many have now come together in this group like never before and it is really driving sobriety and success.”
White said others that were instrumental in forming COVID Defiance include: Ronnie Doe, Jack Schievink, Joey Lawler, Lauren Lundin, Frankie Quinn, and Meaghan Doherty.