Addiction support available online during pandemic


FRIDAY, April 3 — Refuge Recovery Lansing has begun offering several weekly Buddhist-inspired recovery meetings online so that those struggling with addiction can still get the help and social interaction they need despite Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s sweeping, shelter-in-place order.

“We’re just following what other groups around the country are doing,” said Alyssa Turcsak, the manager of Refuge Recovery Lansing. Specific meeting dates and times can be found on its Facebook page or website. “If someone isn’t on social media and wants to get in contact with us, they can also just send us an email.”

Turcsak originally started the group in the midst of her own struggle with addiction. “I thought, maybe if I start this recovery group, I’ll get sober. But that’s not how it works,” she laughed. Turcsak has been clean for about three months now.

“Refuge Recovery has helped me so much in my recovery journey, just by providing me with community and support,” she said.

Refuge Recovery meetings are open to anyone suffering from addiction, regardless of how it manifests itself. Turcsak also emphasized that new members do not have to know anything about meditation or Buddhism to participate.

“There’s no meditation experience necessary. We walk you through the whole process. It’s really welcoming and inviting,” she explained.

Ryan Miller, a volunteer meeting facilitator, secured a grant from SoupGrant — an organization that promotes positive change in Lansing — so that their group could afford more copies of “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path To Recovering From Addiction,” by Noah Levine, the program’s foundational text. Refuge Recovery distributes copies to anyone who is interested in starting the program.

Miller said that the transition from in-person to virtual meetings was fairly simple to do. It was as easy as paying fifteen bucks for a Zoom account and setting it up. The hardest part, he said, is that Zoom doesn’t allow people to see social cues, which are essential to the  group discussions.

“In-person, if someone lifts their head up or starts talking, it’s very clear that they have the floor,” he said. “With Zoom, if two people are talking at once, sometimes they can’t even hear that the other person’s talking.” They have incorporated a new rule: everyone stays on mute unless they’re going to speak up. Miller said that this strategy has been working well.

Another downside of Zoom is that some people lack the technology needed to log in. Refuge Recovery’s attendance has gone down by about a quarter since switching over to the Internet.

Getting proper attendance verification for folks on probation has also proved challenging, said Miller. Typically, parolees would simply bring a slip to their recovery meeting and get it signed to prove they were there. But in these unusual circumstances, Miller had to scramble to find an alternative method of attendance-taking.

“So we worked with parole officers and members from our community and came up with a system,” he explained. “Now we send out an email after each meeting verifying that the person has attended.” He said that this method has been widely-accepted by parole officers in the area.

Overall, Miller feels satisfied with the program’s brand-new online iteration. He said that he feels like socializing and staying connected to one’s community is particularly important for struggling addicts these days.

“Do anything you can to stay connected. In recovery, even when we’re not socially-isolated, those who are struggling with addiction tend to isolate themselves anyway,” said Miller.

“Myself included,” he added. “You have to reach out to people who will be supportive of you, regardless of your current success with abstinence.”

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