The Power of Connection in Recovery

September is National Recovery Month, and we’re thrilled to highlight and celebrate the work of three female leaders in three distinct community health organizations.

Recovery can mean a variety of things for many people. In this instance, we’re looking at how women in recovery go through difficult mental and behavioral changes, with a particular focus on the women who support those receiving services to aid in their lives.

These dedicated women and their work truly exemplify this year’s theme, “Join the Voices for Recovery: Celebrating Connections.” This national theme reminds people in recovery and those who support them that we all have victories to celebrate, and we cannot do it alone.

In 2020 recovery professionals—and those they serve—have been faced with unprecedented challenges to in-person interaction and the other “norms” of therapy.  We’re pleased to highlight the innovative ways these leaders have helped their organizations continue to create deep, meaningful connections and support recovery during a global pandemic.

First, meet Sarah, 52, who suffered from debilitating panic attacks. She struggled to do everyday tasks like run errands, go to the grocery store and felt unable to spend time with her friends. On many days, she would feel so much anxiety that she couldn’t leave her house.

But she’s found help and hope: Over the last year, since she began to receive mental health services at CADA, Sarah has learned many coping skills to manage and decrease her panic. As a survivor of sexual abuse, Sarah is also learning to process and heal from the trauma of her past. Today, she says she feels calmer and more connected to herself, which allows her to get out of the house more and build better relationships with her friends and support system.

Joyce Bracey, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, is President and CEO of CADA Prevention & Recovery Center, a nonprofit serving children and adults in the greater New Orleans area with substance abuse education, prevention, case management and referral services. She says that “a support network like Sarah’s is the most important factor in a person’s recovery—second only to the person’s desire to recover.”

Of course, not everyone has a built-in network of family or friends to support their recovery: Either they don’t have a supportive circle around them or they find that some of their family and friends do not support their healing..

“Part of the recovery journey, then,” Bracey says, “is to establish new, healthy relationships with people who support these life changes so that no one faces the challenge alone.” 

CADA counselors and peer support specialists provide some of those new healthy connections. Earlier this year, the global COVID-19 pandemic presented CADA with the challenge of figuring out how to build that recovery community in the virtual world. “We immediately began providing video groups for intensive outpatient treatment and have seen surprising results! Attendance and compliance seem to be better for the video groups because people do not have to deal with the challenges of attending in person, such as transportation or childcare. We’ve been very pleased with the results of our virtual connections!”

Understanding the role of recovery and how it impacts women is profound. Especially now during truly stressful times, women need to have support that is flexible and adheres to their lifestyles, families and personal choice. Helping women navigate recovery is truly an amazing life choice.

Another amazing female leader who has made that choice is Julia Delmerico, a Reentry Program Manager, who vividly remembers when Metro Inclusive Health realized that COVID-19 had the power to disrupt their recovery services. Based in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, METRO provides various medical, behavioral and social services to address their clients’ needs holistically.

“We didn’t close our doors, but we did take immediate action to maintain staff and client safety.” That included ramping up all telehealth services, which Delmerico says, “allowed us let clients know we were—and are—still here for them. We’ve been able to continue providing service and support without interruption, despite limitations on face-to-face activities.”   

Initially unsure of the impact it would have on the sense of connection so crucial to recovery, METRO implemented a variety of virtual programming and increased delivery of medical and behavioral services via telehealth. “Using tools like Zoom or GoTo Meeting, our virtual programming allowed clients to see who they were speaking with—a crucial component of fostering connection.” Group virtual meetings were incredibly helpful for those in recovery as well as residents with little social support; they reported feeling a sense of belonging and support—“and we knew we were on the right path.”

But it’s no cookie-cutter operation. As the METRO team works with individuals navigating their recovery, they focus on meeting the client where they are. “As cliché as it may sound, it’s true,” Delmerico says. “Each person is in a different step or goal on their road to recovery, so there is no one-size-fits-all. Flexibility is key to the METRO model of recovery support. As we’ve seen with COVID-19—and in other, smaller ways—there will be unexpected events.”

METRO has also found they’re able to provide clients with some sense of normalcy by fostering connections virtually. “We’re committed to continuing to build client trust in the agency and the process. Continued virtual contact helps provide that normalcy and stability, despite these uncertain times.”

Leaders in recovery understand that fear and uncertainty can be obstacles to change and healing.

“The fear of COVID-19 itself seems to be the biggest challenge we have faced and are still facing,” shares Melody E. Madaris, MRC, CRC, CMHT, EMDRII, ART, LCPC, the Assistant Director of Communicare/Region II.

Communicare supports mental health and recovery in six counties in Northern Central Mississippi, delivering outpatient and residential services as well as school-based services in several public education systems. And they’ve responded to those very natural fears of illness and uncertainty with open communication and knowledge: “We’ve maintained an open-door policy from the top of the organization down—allowing everyone to come and in discuss their concerns, fears—and success stories!” 

In the days of social distancing, Madaris feels it’s never been truer that “it’s hard to have recovery without genuine connection. Connection to others, to community, to family—whether that’s a birth family or a chosen family. So, we’ve fostered and nurtured clients’ connections through a pretty significant operational pivot to continue providing services via social media, telephone and telemedicine. 

“We prefer seeing people face-to-face, because that is the easiest way to make a connection.” But it’s not the only way, she’s found. “Using telemedicine has had positive attributes and we’ve been able to help individuals remain in treatment through this process.” 

Madaris shares one recent testimony to the power of connection, even if virtual rather than physical: “We received a crisis call early one morning; a woman in recovery had relapsed recently.” The Communicare mobile crisis team responded and helped place the client in residential treatment. “None of this would have happened without connection—the spouse felt a connection to the client’s recovery group, who felt a connection to Communicare. You could say we did a 12-step call together,” she says.

And so, a life—and a lifelong partnership—was saved! Which is all in a day’s work for the brave and dedicated women who dedicate themselves to serving individuals and communities in mental and behavioral health.

If you or someone you know is struggling with destructive thoughts or behaviors or substance use, please reach out to your local community health center, where you’ll find compassion and support. To find your local resources, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website.

We want to hear your story. Your story is my story. Help us empower other women by sharing your story.

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