virtual support meetings for addicts and SUD clients

Virtual Support Meetings Offer Critical Recovery Support

Jeff Blackburn knows the critical importance of virtual connection in recovery from personal experience. After many turbulent years of incarceration and struggling with addiction, he completed a long-term recovery program and turned his life around. In February 2020, Blackburn began working as a peer coach at a facility for others in recovery. Just four months later, he found out that the state application required to allow him to continue working in his role was denied. 

At this point, Blackburn was devastated and had to make a choice — figure out a way forward or risk falling back into destructive behavior. Blackburn reached for his phone, went to the CHESS Health Connections app, and found immediate support to get him through the crisis. He built a case to overturn the denial of his application. It was approved and he was able to stay employed in the career he loved.

“This app actually saved me,” Blackburn said. “I don’t know what would have happened that day without it.”

The Connections app, an evidence-based smartphone app that helps individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) stick to their treatment plan and stay in recovery, is part of CHESS Health’s eRecovery solution. It offers virtual support meetings and crisis help, led by peer recovery support specialists, as well as 24/7 community support, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for recovery, and a Spanish-language version.  This solution offers a natural extension of providers and community organizations who are providing recovery support.

The app also can report an individual’s attendance at meetings, allowing providers to confirm participation. And because the meetings are virtual, it’s always possible to meet someone where they are, removing barriers for people who live in rural communities or who have work or family obligations that prevent them from attending in person. Bringing people together this way provides support quickly and reduces the likelihood that they will return to substance use. 

Accommodating Individual Needs and Interests

Virtual support meetings come in many forms to accommodate individual needs and interests. Some are more general while others are themed, focusing on goal-setting, mental wellness, veterans support, or pregnancy and parenting.  Additionally, four new support meetings have been added: 

  • Connections Pride, for those who identify within the LGBTQIA+ community,
  • Re-Entry Support Group, which focuses on the journey beyond bars, 
  • a Men’s Group, providing an opportunity for men to talk about the challenges of life, and
  • Recovery Unplugged, an open space to share around topics like boundaries and self-care. 

A firm believer in the power of virtual support meetings, Blackburn is now a Peer Recovery Engagement Specialist for CHESS Health. He leads the same meetings that helped him remain on the road to recovery when he hit a rough spot. Blackburn will lead the new Men’s Meeting and co-facilitate the Re-Entry Support Meeting. 

“We’re going to be doing this meeting for the incarcerated public that has been to jail and prison and are making that change, trying to get out of the jail mentality, as I like to call it,” Blackburn said. “No matter where they are, we want them to come and hopefully relate and learn, hopefully make some impact.”

Mary Gribulis, another Peer Recovery Engagement Specialist, uses her creative background in art and movement as the theme for the meetings she leads — one called Tai Chi for Recovery, which practices the slow, gentle Chinese martial art set to the serenity prayer often cited in 12-step programs, and another on all forms of artistic creativity — painting, knitting, crafts, poetry. Gribulis affectionately calls this meeting the Broken Hearts Art Club after a quote from the late actress Carrie Fisher, who was in recovery herself. 

“Carrie Fisher once said, ‘take your broken heart, make it into art,’” Gribulis said. “I think that’s just a beautiful way to approach creating.” 

Movement and Art to Support Recovery

Gribulis recently kicked off a new meeting called Mindful Movement that’s catching on with participants. “I was just feeling like people might benefit from having a theme and doing some gentle stretches,” Gribulis said. A recent theme was Root to Rise, in which she invited participants to enjoy the movement exercises while they think about their truth — what anchors them, their roots — and how it can help them rise above their challenges. 

Gribulis reinforces the importance of choice all along the way, ensuring that participants only do what feels comfortable and right for them. Do the movements along with the group or just listen, set an intention for the time or don’t, close your eyes or keep them open — what’s important to her is making the person feel comfortable in his or her own body, giving them peace and the ability to breathe. 

“For all my meetings, cameras on, and participation is optional because you never know if something’s going to work for you,” she said.

Blackburn also believes in keeping things simple to reach the widest audience. Meeting participants can choose to be anonymous by using a screen name, leaving their camera off, and just listening without sharing.

“I’m just grateful that you’re here and hopefully you hear something that keeps you coming back,” he said. Absorbing the experiences of others, including meeting leaders, gives participants something to grab onto, and helps them relate. And often, the desire to share or become more visible and active in a meeting will surface.

I’m just grateful that you’re here and hopefully you hear something that keeps you coming back.

Jeff B, CHESS Health Peer Engagement Specialist

The fact that they make a choice to be here, show up, do something so positive for themselves, it’s like the biggest deal ever.

Mary G, CHESS Health Peer Engagement Specialist

As each of her meetings closes, Gribulis wraps her arms around herself as a virtual hug to all who attended and blows a kiss to the participants. “It’s really important to feel love. I don’t know that everyone feels that, to tap into that unconditional love,” she said. 

Participants in the meetings connect to each other, too. Gribulis likes to picture it as an invisible force for good.

“I’ve got this little piece of positive energy and we’re all across the country together. There’s these lines of good energy flowing between all of us and reaching other people,” she said. “We don’t even know how many people we’re impacting by taking this time together for ourselves.”

Learn more about the eRecovery Solution, which includes the Connections app with Virtual Support Meetings.

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