In response to COVID-19, recovery groups are suspending live meetings all over the country. In one day, I received calls from Texas, North Carolina, Connecticut, California, Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Florida—all saying the same thing. “My group has suspended meetings. What should I do?”
For the millions of us who struggle with sexually compulsive behaviors, social distancing is not our friend. It feeds isolation, which is the enemy of recovery. Dr. Shahram Heshmat, professor at the University of Illinois, warns, “The addict lacks the internal resources to sustain feelings of self-approval and self-esteem.”
Johann Hari, in his book, Chasing the Scream, adds, “It is in our DNA to make social connections and form meaningful relationships to satisfy the deepest parts of us. When we isolate, however, we will look for anything to bond with.”
The answer is to stay connected, the best we can. The early church set this example for us at they “continued to meet together” in the midst of persecution (Acts 2:46).
For many recovering sex addicts, their weekly Celebrate Recovery, Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), or Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) meeting is their lifeline. With these meetings being suspended all over the country, what is the addict to do?
I suggest six things:
1. Hold phone meetings.
Nothing beats a live, face-to-face recovery meeting. Whether you choose a Christ-centered meeting or a traditional 12-Step group such as SA or SAA, you need to be in meetings. But the coronavirus has led to a suspension of most of these meetings around the United States.
Fortunately, this is 2020, not 1920. There is no reason for any group to disappear. There are multiple ways to conduct virtual meetings: Zoom, Skype, Vcita, Adobe Connect, etc. My friend, John Doyel, offers over a dozen weekly Zoom meetings through his ministry called 180 Recovery. Our ministry will launch similar groups soon. SAA offers 123 weekly phone meetings (18 per day), and SA has offered nine meetings every day of the week.
2. Keep doing the recovery work.
If you are used to attending two recovery meetings per week, try this. Attend one meeting, via conference call. Then use the other hour to do recovery work. Complete one of the 12 steps each month, working on it one hour per week. Or, use this “free hour” to send messages of encouragement to others in your program. Revisit your Step 4 list of character defects. Update your inner circle or recovery plan. Listen to a podcast on addiction recovery. Write a fresh amends to someone you have injured. Do some fresh journal work. Spend an hour with someone else who is in recovery.
3. Make calls.
Making calls is a great way to stay connected. This is the weak link in many addicts’ recovery. Calls don’t just happen; you have to be intentional about this.
I suggest making three kinds of calls. First, reach up. Call your sponsor and others who are further along in their recovery. Second, reach out. Check in with others in the program who are at similar points in recovery to you. Third, reach down. Call a newcomer or someone whose recovery is unstable. Encourage them and offer to provide help to them.
Another plan might be to call three or four men (or women) who haven’t been to a meeting in several months. One week, rather than making calls, you might want to text everyone in your group. While live meetings provide group connection, making calls builds personal relationships and can even grow your circle of accountability!
4. Start a new activity.
The loss of live meetings creates a vacuum. What you do to fill that vacuum will determine the strength of your recovery. The options to fill this hour in your schedule are almost limitless: find a new hobby, take up cooking, exercise, play family board games, do family devotions, take your kids to the park, or volunteer in a ministry.
Losing something valuable such as recovery meetings will only set you back if you don’t put something healthy and positive in their place. The loss of a meeting can either set you back or it can set you up. The choice is yours.
5. Read recovery material.
Take the hour when you would have been in a meeting, and catch up on some reading. There are dozens of ministries that offer great resources on sexual addiction and brokenness. If you will take just one hour each week to read a chapter or two from a recovery book—and journal on what you learn—you will launch your recovery to new heights.
If you don’t know where to start, our ministry is offering a free copy of my newest book, Jesus and the 12 Steps, to anyone who inquires. With ebook options, there is no excuse to not stay active in your reading. I once heard Chuck Swindoll say, “The difference in your life one year from now will be determined by the books you read and the people you spend time with.”
6. Remember your real source.
Recovery meetings are great resources. But never forget your source of healing. Only God can give the gift of sobriety. Stay connected to him. Follow the example of Jesus.
While it’s true that he always seemed to make time for people, he also pulled away from the crowd to huddle with the Father. This often frustrated the disciples, but Jesus knew that until we are much with God, we can’t be much for God.
I suggest a designated time and place. When I was in college, a friend introduced me to an outdoor chapel in Houston, open 24 hours a day. When in Houston, I still try to get by that chapel—40 years later. When you can’t be as connected to others, you can always be connected to God.
Use this “down” time to connect with your Higher Power on a deeper level. Perhaps you can set aside an entire day for recovery activities such as prayer, Scripture reading, and journaling. At the least, take the time you would have otherwise spent in a meeting, and commit to one hour of prayer. A virus can separate you from meeting with men and women, but it can never separate you from God.
The benefits of attending recovery meetings cannot be overstated. The coronavirus pandemic, may have cancelled thousands of recovery meetings, but we can meet this new challenge—and come out stronger—by following just a few simple steps that can be completed within the confines of your own home.