MANCHESTER, NH – The Manchester recovery center located in the first floor of the former Hoitt Furniture building on the corner of Valley Street and Wilson Street is normally a refuge for people in recovery from substance use disorder, but since Dec. 1 it’s been closed.
Hope for NH Recovery Director Keith Howard said the past four months have been difficult for folks, especially newcomers, but he’s happy to say they’ll be hosting in-person meetings again starting on the week of April 11.
Howard said they’ll start by hosting “all recovery” meetings, where everyone is welcome regardless of their addiction. Other smaller meetings, such as alcoholics anonymous, heroin anonymous, narcotics anonymous, crystal meth anonymous, overeaters anonymous and others will gradually start back up in the weeks to follow.
All recovery meetings will hold about 10 to 30 indoors, or 30 to 40 outdoors, with social distancing and indoor masks required.
Since the recovery center went fully remote, their meetings have been held virtually on Zoom, and peer coaches have been keeping in touch with individuals by phone.
“Which is kind of like trying to breathe through a straw,” Howard said.
Those who were already starting their road to recovery before the closure are having a hard enough time with the mental strain of pandemic life. But folks entering recovery for the first time are finding it next to impossible to find purchase in the social circles of recovery when their only contact is through a computer or phone.
“There’s a truism: the opposite of addiction is connection. It’s really hard to make connections through Zoom if you don’t already know folks,” Howard said.
In the spirit of connection, Hope for NH has spent the past year working toward strengthening partnerships with other recovery-focused organizations and entities, including 1269 Cafe in Manchester, which recently took over the former St. Casimir’s school allowing them to expand their services.
“1269 Café is a natural and great partner for Hope,” said Howard. “Many of the folks who take advantage of the café are folks who struggle with drug and alcohol use. As a peer-based program, Hope may be able to develop relationships with people who would be intimidated or repelled by a more clinical approach.”
Part of the collaboration includes expanding the scope of where recovery happens, Howard said, and meeting people where they are.
“Beginning Tuesday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m, Hope will host recovery meetings at 1269,” said Howard. “At first, these meetings will be weekly, but the hope is that interest will grow among folks already in recovery or having a hankering to explore recovery.”
There are also some new initiatives in the works.
“We’re working with a group to set up what’s called an alternative peer group, aimed at people 25 and under, particularly those who have been marginalized. This work will take place outside of regular Hope hours, but in the Hope building. Some of the details still need to be worked out. More will be revealed,” Howard said.
“Hope has always been a community center as well as a recovery center, and we will return to that mission with our reopening,” said Howard. “We’re talking with folks about offering tai chi, tarot and crystals in recovery and a number of other ideas. If any readers want to set up some kind of class or group, they should give us a call. The goal is to let a thousand flowers bloom.”
People entering recovery for the first time have either hit rock bottom or are facing it, said Howard, and it’s hard enough for them to work up the courage to seek help and make connections at in-person meetings.
Still, Howard said that post-meeting one-on-one chat people usually try to have with someone who shared something that resonated with them — that isn’t happening remotely. If a stranger tried to strike up a conversation in text, it could come off as “creepy,” Howard said.
“With Zoom, it’s really hard to glom onto anybody. It’s not just Hope. Recovery places all over the world have been holding online meetings throughout the pandemic,” Howard said.
The number of intakes at the recovery center has seen a decrease during the closure. Between December and February, they had almost as many intakes as they had in November alone, with 15 brief intakes and 26 full intakes during the three-month period.
Any recovery center will see people come and go after two or three meetings. But Howard said that used to happen to a much lesser extent before the pandemic.
Howard said they closed the facility for a combination of reasons. A sewage backup on the first floor was the most immediate reason. After the plumbing was fixed, the organization hired crews to redo the floors.
And as COVID-19 cases were rising in November, Howard had to take into account that more than half of their staff had pre-existing medical conditions that put them at risk.
“It was a tough decision to make but it seemed like the best thing to do,” Howard said.
In the spirit of adapting to life in a pandemic world, Howard said there have been lessons learned through it all.
“Recovery seems to be transmitted person to person, face to face, eyeball to eyeball. Zoom is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t allow the spirit of one person communicating to another, ‘I truly know how you feel because I’ve walked that same dark hall. What’s more, I can help you find your way back into the light.’ That may sound like a bunch of poppycock, but that’s been my experience,” he said.
“Without wanting to sound more philosophical than I am, like Plato’s cave-dwellers, life in addiction is dark, cramped and devoid of much that’s positive. Staring at the shadows on the wall, Plato’s folks believe in what they see,’ Howard said.
“In the same way as in Plato, folks in recovery are able to return to the cave and, perhaps, walk with people into the sunshine. That takes time and trust—two things Zoom is not real good at.”
⇒ Hope for NH Recovery is located at 293 Wilson St., Manchester, NH. For more information, click here.