I have been so amazed by all the helpers throughout our recovery communities in New Jersey during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watching as agencies have come together even more so than ever to stand unified as vital lifelines for individuals with mental health and substance use disorders has been so inspiring. It has always been the heartbeat of NJ-CARS mission, and we, as recovery support providers, have set the tone for our future recovery community here in New Jersey through COVID-19.
For those in the grips of the hopeless state of mind that can accompany chaotic drug use, community and connection is such a foreign concept. That fishbowl mindset creates this illusion that you can never be free. Throw in a traumatic world experience like COVID-19 and it seem that much more unattainable. Here in New Jersey, I have always been so humbled to see the heartfelt warriors doing whatever it takes to smash that illusion. COVID-19 refueled our deep passion to make recovery accessible to everyone and anyone. This meant having to get creative.
Within 24 hours of Governor Murphy’s shelter at home order, recovery support services were available to all in need by creating virtual support services and making sure everyone had devices and internet access to get these services. We advocated quickly for pharmacotherapy, like methadone, to be distributed and accessed more easily. We began virtual recovery programming, like virtual open mics, Netflix and chill nights, virtual escape rooms, recovery hangouts and playing games like Pictionary or trivia. We made sure that those getting out of treatment or incarceration were immediately secured and connected to recovery support and care packages. The list goes on and on… I am sure I am forgetting several other great ways New Jersey recovery support agencies met COVID-19 head on as a unified community. This is the type of atmosphere we need in order to create true recovery ecosystems for the people we serve and each other.
Personally, this experience has not just been about the folks that I serve, it has also been about my own journey as an individual in recovery. Suddenly, I was back to the basics of my own recovery path – seeking community and connection in a way that made me feel like I was fighting for my own life. The difference was I no longer lived in that fishbowl of hopelessness – I already knew what to do and that it would work; I just needed to make sure to do it. I always say how lucky I am to have been able to access all the support I needed in those earlier days, but it shouldn’t be about luck. Recovery from a substance use disorder—a treatable brain condition—should be expected! In order to make that a reality, treatment and recovery support services must be accessible for all.
I am honored to work alongside other agencies here in New Jersey that not only have mission statements that speak to this, but that actually do the work! I am proud to be part of the recovery community here in New Jersey, not just as a peer but as an individual working for an agency that CARES so deeply about the communities we serve. I see that in all of you too. COVID-19, though certainly traumatic of us all, has really magnified all of the passion and heart that New Jersey recovery support agencies embody. I thank you for all for your unity, connection and hearts of fierce service as we walk hand in hand making recovery support services accessible to all; and thank you to NJ-CARS for gluing us all together as we serve our community and each other.
With love and gratitude,
Erika Shortway, CPRS, NJ-CARS Member