The hidden cost of lockdowns for some very vulnerable citizens
One of the many unforeseen consequences of the COVID lockdowns is the effect they are having on the millions of alcoholics and addicts who can no longer attend their regular in-person AA and NA meetings. Thanks to the edicts of sociopathic Blue State governors like Killer Cuomo whose cavalier disregard for human life has become legendary, this anonymous population of friends, relatives, and neighbors has been particularly hard hit by their inability to socialize.
Just as we are seeing with our children and grandchildren, the psychological toll of the lockdowns on some of the most fragile members of society, those who are struggling with alcohol or drugs, is finally being revealed. Drug and alcohol use is off the charts as are suicides, drug overdoses, and drunken driving, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Even before the pandemic, the social and economic costs of alcoholism were staggering, amounting to billions of dollars lost every year for medical treatment, legal expenses, loss of jobs and wages, etc. Thus far I have not seen even a guesstimate of what we are looking at today.
The main premise of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 Step groups is that healing and sobriety can come about through the simple act of sharing one's experience, strength, and hope with other alcoholics or addicts in a group setting. AA is more than a program; it is an actual fellowship that has helped millions of people achieve long-term sobriety a day at a time in groups all over the world.
As a recovering alcoholic whose life was saved by AA when I stumbled into the local church basement meeting room some 20 years ago, I cannot begin to describe the soul-crushing devastation I am seeing throughout the AA community because so many of our live meetings have been canceled. We alcoholics have been in a “perfect storm” this past year. Liquor stores have remained open and are doing a thriving business while the churches have shut down their basements and meeting places to those most in need of them -- the people who suffer from the life-threatening disease of addiction. For those who were newly sober when the ChiCom virus hit or even those with long-term sobriety who are suffering the inhuman isolation of the lockdowns, the temptation to experience that old familiar comfort that comes with a bottle of booze can be overwhelming.
The people I speak to on our telephone outreach, the ones who actually call looking for help with their drinking and/or drugging, were having major problems before the pandemic. Now, though, they find themselves in a hopeless situation with literally nowhere to go where they can speak to another human being, face to face, about what they’re experiencing. We are losing thousands of people who are no longer attending AA meetings and who have lost their fragile sobriety.
These poor souls who go back out drinking and drugging are doomed unless they can find their way back to an AA congregation. I should note that, early on in the pandemic, groups all over the world set up Zoom meetings and those meetings continue to this day. Although it is wonderful to be able to get to a virtual meeting 24/7 they are no substitute for live, in-person groups. Many alcoholics and addicts are simply not interested in attending virtual meet-ups on their screens.
Oddly enough, the churches and synagogues that had been the homes for many, if not most, of the AA groups were the first to clamp down on services and group meetings at their facilities. Since AA was founded back in the 1930s, these institutions not only allowed meetings but encouraged them as a service to their parishioners.
Thus, it came as a shock when we were told that these spaces were no longer an option. I have been battling our local pastors for months, begging to be allowed to come back to our old rooms but their resistance has been both heartbreaking and inexplicable for people who are supposed to be doing God's work on earth. In recent months some of them have started to allow “COVID compliant” meetings but few are willing to jump through all the hoops.
For the time being, AA people have become desperate and creative in their search for in-person meetings, whatever the venue. Weather permitting, we are getting together outdoors in public spaces or in each other’s homes where we can ditch the masks, hug each other, and hold hands while we recite the Serenity prayer. There is no end in sight for Blue State lockdowns but, as the saying goes, eventually “this too shall pass.”
Irene Heron is a pseudonym.