How I’m Coping with COVID-19 and Physical Distancing as a Person in Long-Term Recovery

Holly Jespersen
Four emoji faces in different skin tones wearing medical masks

COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus, is all we all seem to be hearing about lately. I feel like I’m living in some sci-fi movie, or an alternate universe. Every day, more public spaces close down and offices urge working from home. I know this is what we need for the good of public health, but I’ve got to admit: As a person in recovery, the idea of being so removed from my community is a scary one. And I know I’m not the only person feeling this way.

Routine helps my recovery, but physical distancing orders makes that hard.

I have been in recovery for 8.5 years. I am someone who needs routine and resists change. Sound familiar? Maybe you can relate. I crave following a schedule. I need structure, deadlines, and plenty of human contact. I am not good with unstructured time, too much time alone, and disruptions to my daily routine.

On most days I go to a recovery meeting in the morning, talk to my friends after the meeting, go to work either at home or in the office, and then wrap up the day with a walk or a visit to the gym, followed by something social or a church activity. Most days I see people, spend time with friends, talk to others in recovery, engage in some form of exercise, and usually attend a meeting or a worship service. I am someone who needs interactions, encouragement—hugs!

Being cut off from my community sounds like a nightmare. But I'm trying to stay positive.

When I first heard about the virus, I was nervous about the prospect of having to self-quarantine. I hate being sick in bed because it removes me from my community, my routine—my hugs. The idea of being quarantined is my worst nightmare. Luckily, I haven’t had to be on complete lockdown, but I have not been commuting into my office in New York City, and all this work-from-home time is tough. I’ve been on video calls and conference calls, but there’s still an underlying feeling of disconnection, and with that comes my inevitable feelings of self-doubt. Good times!

I am currently working from my public library. It’s helpful to work from here and see people, but I fear the day is coming soon where libraries will close. With that comes my fear of recovery meetings, church, upcoming plays and concerts being canceled. I understand that this is needed to keep us all safe; it’s just emotionally difficult for me to comprehend.

I know that in these stressful times, it’s important to stop myself from going down the rabbit hole of my fears. Here’s what I’ve been focusing on instead.

  1. Living in the present. I remind myself that, right now, I’m here at the library with others, that church is still happening tonight, and that I got to go to my meeting this morning.
  2. Exercising, or take a walk around the block. Fresh air is amazing, and I’m lucky to have many friends who like to join me on walks.
  3. Reaching out. I have a couple of group texts and chats going where I can share my fears and get support.
  4. Getting my hand up and sharing at my recovery meetings. This morning I shared the feelings I’ve been discussing in this blog post, and many people came up to me and said I voiced exactly what they were feeling. I always feel better when I share.
  5. Calling a friend. This is a great time to pick up the phone. I am a big phone talker, so this is a perfect excuse for me to reach out to the people I’ve been meaning to connect with.
  6. Praying, meditating, focusing on my breathing. Find what works for you.
  7. Crying when I need to. I am not one to hold my emotions in. I cry a lot, and I think it is totally healthy.
  8. Listening to music that feeds my soul. I am taking a lot of walks lately and when I am not with a friend I am listening to a lot of upbeat, feel-good music.
  9. Managing expectations in my head. I am trying to practice accepting that this COVID-19 situation is 100% out of my control. I’m trying to be more flexible. It’s not easy, but it helps.
  10. Doing productive things that I have been putting off. Maybe this is the time to make that photo book or send a belated thank-you note, clean out your closets or read the book you have had on your bedside table for months. It’s a good way to get your mind off the current situation. 

And here’s what I try not to do.

  1. Spend too much time on social media. It is just not productive, and I find it often makes me more upset.
  2. Negative self-talk. This is simply not helpful and often creates unnecessary paranoia and falsehoods that the mind is all too good at creating.
  3. Eat too much unhealthy food. I can see how some people might view this time as an excuse to indulge, but I see this as a time to keep my immune system and body in tip-top shape.  (Now, in the spirit of honesty, I have had some ice cream and chocolates.)
  4. Online shop. I know this could be a time for me to go off the budget rails and drown my fears in online purchases, but I also know that is not the answer.
  5. Watch the news 24/7. There is a fine line between being informed and oversaturating. I also am careful as to which sources I view as there is a lot of misinformation out there.

My sobriety is my most prized possession.

Finally, and most importantly, I know that picking up a drink or a drug is not the answer to anything and would only make matters much worse. My sobriety is my most prized possession, the biggest gift that I have, and it allows me to have the beautiful, full life I have today. So I know that using is off the table completely. But, if you are struggling with your sobriety (many are and there is no shame in that), please do reach out to your therapist, doctor, or recovery community right away. You do not have to do this alone.

I know we all need to be safe and follow the CDC guidelines, but it is not going to be easy.

In order to get through this, I know I am going to have to talk myself down from a lot of fear and panic. I’m going to rely on the work I have done, the tools in my toolbox, and the strong friendships I have developed over the years. If ever there is a time to use all that I have gleaned over the past 8.5 years of recovery, it is now.

Stay close to your people (even if you have to give up the hugs), your recovery community, and your higher power if you believe in one. Recovery makes us strong. We can get through this!


Holly Jespersen is Shatterproof’s Senior Communications Manager.

Women in a support group

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