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Living Joyous and Free – Sobriety and the Pandemic

Beer being poured down the drainU.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Sahara. L. Fales

By Philip R. Magaletta, Ph.D.
Feb. 22, 2021

New Year's celebrations, limited as they were this year by the pandemic, have passed and we have returned to our daily responsibilities. For those in recovery, the daily celebration of life continues.

And, there is much to celebrate. As family members and clinicians can attest, the full and sustainable force of recovery has emerged resiliently from the smoke and battle of the pandemic. Although attention has been drawn to reports of increasing alcohol use during the pandemic, we should also note that many recovered service members have stood their ground and successfully maintained their gains during the pandemic.

Those in recovery know the question: "I am responsible…for what?" The answer has to be: "My sobriety." Even during a pandemic – quietly, humbly and without fanfare – thousands of service members continue to engage the beliefs, practices, and experiences that help them maintain their decision to be in recovery. The decision was made when the pain and despair of addiction became greater than the fear of change. It is a decision to proactively tackle a drinking problem that causes more pain than relief.

In a previous blog, we compared 12-step group mutual health approaches to change, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), to the evidence-based treatment delivered by psychology service providers called Twelve Step Facilitation. Now more than ever, it is important to know that many of the treatment services needed to access care and initiate or maintain recovery are available and being used over telehealth modalities. In addition, the pandemic brought many opportunities to "accept the things that cannot change." For example, many institutions and churches that have hosted 12-step meetings for decades have been shuttered. To help sustain the forward momentum and daily tempo of those in recovery, we celebrate their victories and offer several important points:

  • Your recovery is important. No matter what else is asked at this time, it must begin with the understanding that what has been achieved, must be retained, one day at a time. Find virtual recovery tips and resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  • As always, actions count. Now is a great time to catch up on the phone with sober friends, old sponsors, new–to-recovery friends and service members. Get re-acquainted with the recovery stories of individuals who have shared similar struggles yet found a way to live without alcohol. You can do this by reading recovery literature or daily reflection morning meditation books, listening to podcasts, and exploring the resources posted on Real Warriors. This military specific resource features several stories of service members with successful recoveries and the actions and practices they use to progress in this way of life.
  • Continue to explore alternate modes of joining in a recovery meeting. Alcoholics Anonymous provides directions for downloading a meeting finder mobile app from Google Play – a great recovery tool for our service members who travel the globe. This app includes a number meeting options, including Zoom, Google Hangouts, and plain old teleconferences. Or consider these other long-term recovery support programs.
  • Prepare for re-engagement in social events. At some point the pandemic will pass, prompting another set of changes. When it does, the same principles that led to sustaining recovery during the pandemic will be needed to make adjustments after it. At that time, being patient with yourself, maintaining your support network, and practicing recovery principles in all areas of your life will continue to pay dividends. Remember, there are many ways to engage socially while maintaining the way of life that has helped so many service members live joyous and free.

Dr. Magaletta is a contracted psychologist subject matter expert in the Clinical Care Branch at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. He has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has administrative, research, and practice experience in public health, safety, and educational systems.

Last Updated: September 14, 2023
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