By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on August 29, 2020
Whether recovering from substance use, mental illness or past trauma, support is an essential part of healing. That support can be even more crucial during times of stress and uncertainty such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, explains Dare County Health and Human Services Department (DCHHS) Peer Support Specialist Dave Edmonds.
Providing that support is the goal of DCHHS’s Recovery Learning Circle, which began here in February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic exploded. Edmonds was hired through a Community Linkages to Care grant designed to develop community-level strategies to address the opioid crisis. Along with the Recovery Learning Circle, he also facilitates a support group for inmates at the Dare County Detention Center and plans to hold resiliency training workshops in the community.
Peer support specialists like Edmonds are certified professionals who are living in recovery themselves and provide support for individuals who are going through the same struggles they have in the past. And for Edmonds – who is in recovery himself from depression, anxiety and alcohol use – helping those in recovery is something that he says runs to his core.
“What makes the work so powerful and meaningful for me is that when things were difficult, one thing I specifically remember thinking was that if I could get through what I was going through, then I needed to help people who might be going through the same things,” Edmonds told the Voice. “I relate to every single person who I work with from that place.”
Given the additional stress placed on people trying to cope with life during a once-in-a-century pandemic, DCHHS Communications Specialist Kelly Nettnin said the Recovery Learning Circle can be even more important now.
“Certainly, we recognize during this time period that many of us are having increased mental health issues, which can lead to that relapse,” she said. “Having a service like this…is super helpful and we want people to take advantage of it so they can be the best version of themselves right now.”
Given the need for social distancing, Recovery Learning Circle participants had been meeting virtually several times a week and more recently, they have gotten together in an outdoor setting. Being able to meet together outdoors, Edmonds acknowledges, has made a big difference.
“I think we appreciate it so much more,” he said, adding that the group meets in a natural environment, with shade, picnic tables and trees. “It’s just different being face-to-face…and just knowing we are in the same space together, but we are outside.”
Edmonds said gaining resiliency tools is a key piece of the Recovery Learning Circle’s work, including recognizing the internal signs of stress and ways to respond to that stress: “It’s really more about seeing and building on our strengths and the positive focus on what we can grow towards, more so than trying to ‘fix.’”
He explains that everyone has a resiliency zone where they are best able to be flexible and adapt to life’s challenges. But, he adds, people can be bumped into a high zone and experience things such as anxiety and anger, or a low zone that involves feelings of depression and isolation.
“Right now, most of us have a much narrower resiliency zone because there is just so much going on in our lives, even if there isn’t something directly affecting us,” Edmonds said. “Most of us are getting bumped out of our zone much more easily than we would have been seven or eight months ago.”
Of the Recovery Learning Circle he adds: “In some ways, we are very much a class and very much learning things and applying these tools to our lives…but equally as much we are just human beings connecting with each other and trying to build strong relationships with each other.”
(For more information on joining DHHS’s Recovery Learning Circle, contact Edmonds at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-305-4056.)