Recovery rethink: How COVID-related restrictions nearly derailed some battles with substance abuse
CALGARY -- At the beginning of 2020, Dean Palmiere enjoyed working as a management consultant.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic led to the loss of his job and was soon followed by the death of his father who had fallen ill.
By the end of the year, Palmiere was in rehab.
"I suffer from a disease," explained Palmiere. "It’s alcoholism…and I’m here to get better."
Palmiere says he drank heavily for most of his life. Looking back, he realizes booze was present whenever something bad happened to him.
He says the Calgary Dream Center, a residential program for people suffering from addiction, saved his life.
Palmiere refers to his fellow residents at the centre as his brothers, even though he's only known them for a few weeks.
"We eat together, laugh together and cry together. We do everything together here."
Early in the pandemic, when indoor gatherings were more or less banned in the province, many recovery groups shifted their meetings online.
But it simply wasn’t the same for those seeking help.
"The technology is cutting out, someone is sharing a deep story and the screen freezes, and you miss some of it," said Chris Sciberras, who works at the Calgary Dream Centre. "People don’t know whose turn it is so it can be difficult to communicate.
"There is something powerful about the (actual) room."
Sciberras says many clients who were suddenly cut off from contact with each other in the spring teetered on the brink of recovery. He also heard of others who simply couldn't function under those restrictions and were soon abusing again.
When Alberta introduced another round of restrictions in November, it made an exception for recovery meetings – deeming them as essential services.
The Calgary Dream Centre is following strict protocols to make sure that doesn't change. Nobody enters the building without signing in, sanitizing their hands and getting their temperature checked.
So far, they've successfully kept the infection out and recovery meetings open.
"What I really appreciate about 12 step meetings is the intimacy," says Sciberras "There is so much value that can be felt looking in someone's eye. You don't get that intimacy doing it online.”
Palmiere says recovery isn't just about not drinking, it's about sharing with a brotherhood and that's something he hopes the pandemic doesn’t put in jeopardy again.
"I would probably fall off, the support is integral. This program and others like it are saving lives."