“It is weakness, not strength, that binds us to each other …and somehow gives us the ability to do what we cannot do alone.” – 12 Step program preamble
Building community support has never been more important than now, as people and communities are more isolated, and in a different way than our culture has seen before, due to the global ramifications of the Covid-19 virus. The month of September always reminds me of another challenging time in our nation when connections were vital for Americans to rebuild.
The Value of Community Support
On September 11, 2001, I was 23 years old and living and working in direct patient care in Manhattan, and, like millions in New York, I watched as the World Trade Center collapsed. I will forever be moved by the power of community I witnessed during that time, and how trauma can begin to be healed through community support, allyship, and connection. Every fall since September 11th, I continue to reflect on resilience and community, and how New Yorkers showed up for each other and allowed the greater community at large to support them. For my personal healing in the weeks and months after 9/11, I delved deeper into my yoga community, often getting up at 5 am for group meditations and practice before work. I started teaching yoga to first responders, fire fighters, and police teams. I cooked and baked incessantly and joined the Brooklyn food coop, where I could volunteer with others. I needed to stay connected to community, health, and wellness while honoring my feelings of sadness and fear. It was essential for me to stay connected to the city, spend time with others who were also suffering and committed to taking action.
There has been significant research regarding the effects of 9/11, particularly around alcohol use disorders, smoking, divorce, PTSD, and other behavioral struggles. A study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that binge drinking increased significantly after 9/11, and people who were closest to the tragedy and suffered from PTSD symptoms were more likely to participate in higher rates of binge drinking. But research also found mitigating factors that helped to heal trauma over time. Sandro Galea, MD, DrPH, Professor and Dean at the Boston University School of Public Health, states, “Social support is probably the single most clear driver that mitigates the consequences of trauma. It’s central.”
We know the current effects of Covid-19 – the restrictions, economic struggles, social unrest, and isolation – are having profound effects on people’s mental health, substance use, sense of security, and sense of self.
“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.”
— Brene Brown, Ph. D., LCSW
Now more than ever is the time to reach out and acknowledge our human experience with others. This is the time to connect with one another. Community support and allyship can be found in unlikely and surprising places, and studies on trauma have continuously shown the efficaciousness of community support to heal collective trauma. If you are suffering or struggling now, you are not alone.
How to Develop a Support Network
The benefits of a support network are well-documented, but often, it can be challenging to know how to create or develop one of your own. Here are some suggestions for finding assistance from others:
- Establish your own “team” by thinking about like-minded coworkers, family members, workout buddies, and/or peers who share your values and interests. Identify people that you can be yourself around and that you can be honest with when setbacks arise.
- Join peer support groups, such as 12 Step fellowships, grief groups, or meditation groups. There are also virtual support groups for people and families in recovery, so consider forming a support network through online means as well.
- Join an existing group that mirrors your interests and ideals, such as a book club, knitting circle, cycling club, gardening club, or community group that you are passionate about or that presents a learning opportunity to feed your soul.
- Make a quick call to friend. If you are the parent of a person struggling with addiction, you can try reaching out to another parent in a similar situation, which can be extremely nurturing for both parties. You can start the conversation by saying, “I only have 5 minutes, but I really wanted to connect with you on this.” That way, you can set the parameters and expectations around the conversation, making it less daunting.
The Long-Term Impact of Connections
Since September 11th, 2001, I went on to get my clinical social work degree and have worked in substance use disorders treatment for most of my career. I continue to see how the ripple effects of 9/11 still impact those I have treated, from veterans at VA hospitals in San Antonio and Denver, Colorado who were called to serve after 9/11 to family members that were directly affected. Trauma and other mental health concerns do not vanish overnight but hope persists in the form of friendships and connections we make during troubled times.
The connections we make have a lasting impact and sometimes resurface when we least expect them to. In fact, since I started my work with Mountainside in 2009, I have “run into” alumni and staff in Boulder, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; and southern Florida. There are Mountainside family everywhere. I have been struck by former clients approaching me at coffee shops and in airports to share how they have grown since their time at Mountainside. These encounters underscore how strongly connections can resonate within the recovery community and beyond. Please do not be afraid to seek support if you or someone in your life needs help.