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Rooms of recovery go online to observe social distancing

The rooms of recovery have moved from church basements and community centers to the internet, and likely will stay that way for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, the two time-tested 12-step programs for those working on staying clean and sober, have canceled their in-person meetings due to the difficulty of maintaining the social distancing recommended to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Like the schools and businesses that suddenly have become remote-only operations, those in the recovery community have had to be creative to support one another and stay connected during this grim and stressful moment in history.

"What we're doing now is online meetings all over the country," said Al from Old Lyme, an NA member in long-term recovery who asked that his surname not be published to uphold the principle of anonymity. "Groups on social media are using Zoom or Skype. They're having meetings all times of the day. We're trying to keep everybody safe, including the public."

One group started meeting outdoors at a park in Niantic after the social distancing measure was enacted, but it was unclear whether they continued after Gov. Ned Lamont restricted social gatherings.

Literature and phone support are available to those who don't want to participate online or don't have access.

"It's just for today," Al said, using a phrase often repeated by recovering addicts to convey their commitment to staying clean and sober. "We're just kind of adapting for today. That's what we're doing."

At the Bent Crandall group home in Groton and a supported housing program for recovering addicts on Broad Street in New London, clients required to stay in place during the coronavirus crisis have been using their free time to work on the 12 steps and Skyping between programs, according to Gino DeMaio, executive director of Sound Community Services, which operates the residential facilities. Also available is a subscription to Gaia TV, a platform for those in recovery and those interested in yoga, meditation and other coping tools, DeMaio said.

Though therapy sessions have gone online to limit the foot traffic at Sound Community's clinic on Montauk Avenue, clients who use Vivitrol, a medication that blocks the effects of heroin and opioid medications, will continue going to the building for their monthly injections.

Tammy de la Cruz, co-founder of Community Speaks Out, said the group is getting a lot of calls from people who want to get into sober homes following inpatient rehabilitation. The group homes for those working on rebuilding their lives have been allowed to remain open, with new sanitary protocols.

"Obviously it would be a challenge if someone gets sick in the house," de la Cruz said. "I've been getting a lot of good feedback from people in the houses. They're cleaning a lot and coming together."

De la Cruz said everyone is anxious about the pandemic but, so far, she is unaware of any serious issues.

"You put somebody in early recovery, and my fear is that if they can't leave the house, that's going to be the challenge for people mentally, and they relapse. Let's hope this can do the opposite," she said. "I'm trying to stay positive."

Because of the government requests that people stay home and avoid crowds, some methadone clinics that ordinarily would require clients to report in person every day to receive their medication are distributing take-home doses of the drug.

A representative from Hartford Dispensary, which operates methadone clinics in New London and Norwich, could not be reached for comment.

k.florin@theday.com

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