Lack of access to counseling services hurting Celebrate Recovery clients

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A faith-based “Celebrate Recovery” program has been hampered since the pandemic began in reaching the people they serve. As a result, that has leaders concerned.

Celebrate Recovery helps people struggling with addiction. But when church doors were closed for six months, in-person meetings were canceled.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare recently sat down with two Celebrate Recovery worship leaders who are worried about a spike in overdose deaths.

The number of people who have died from overdoses in Blount and Knox counties are not encouraging. So far this year, the Blount Anti-Drug Coalition reports 176 people have died from overdoses. Yet, 27 people in Blount County have died from COVID-19.

Programs like Celebrate Recovery depend on meeting together.

But with COVID-19, for more than half a year, people could not meet in large gatherings.

Celebrate Recovery it’s like a revival meeting. Before the pandemic shutdown, in-person gatherings, like this one at Fountain City United Methodist Church, would turn out 140 people. Weekly services at area churches focused on building relationships, providing the resources to help troubled individuals and families to break away from life’s hurts and bad habits.

“The thing that we truly need is to be connected to one another and draw into that community. For many of us, we need a program that helps us and allow us to become vulnerable enough to do that in a meaningful way,” Rev. Matt Hall, a recovery leader at First United Methodist Maryville, said.

However, for more than six months, no one sat  in these chairs. Celebrate Recovery group meetings and church worship services were canceled because of the virus.  The human connection so important for those in recovery had been broken.

“It’s been a struggle. It has been a challenge that nobody in recovery knew how to handle or knew what to do with.  We did our best and got on social media,” Seth Charles, a recover leader at Fountain City Methodist, said.

“We’ve done our very best with the many technological advances.  Zoom has helped a lot of people.  But, for a lot of folks that didn’t work for them,” Rev. Hall said.

During church closures, Celebrate Recovery turned to YouTube to live streaming their services.

However, for Celebrate Recovery leaders meeting virtually wasn’t the same. Then a few weeks ago, in-person gatherings resumed.

As the Reverend Matt Hall and Seth Charles discussed efforts they’re making to assure participants their personal safety in light of the virus, attendance at meeting has been well below pre-COVID numbers and that worries recovery leaders.

“Bringing human beings together in the same room to where they can share their struggles with each other, share their energy with each other — we missed that,” Rev. Charles said.

It’s the relapses — that are common in recovery communities — that is most concerning.

The numbers are grim: In Knox County, there have been 289 overdose deaths so far this year, compared to 259 total in 2019, according to statistics from the district attorney general’s office.

“In October alone there is one per day overdose deaths in Knox County alone. We’ve had our own pandemic going on for years now. This has been a pandemic called recovery, called addiction,” Rev. Charles said.

“I’m tired of getting phone calls and hearing about someone that I know and love has been affected by another overdose death,” Rev. Hall said.

But with counseling services now resumed recovery leaders want those in need to know not to give up.

“For anyone struggling with addiction, there is hope we just can’t give up the search for it. Where ever you find that hope, what ever it looks like, it is something worth holding onto and it’s something worth fighting for,” Rev. Hall said.

With relationships so important for those in recovery, as the word gets out that all precautions are being taken to keep people safe from the spread of the virus, Celebrating Recovery leaders believe more and more people will return to the weekly in-person services.

That’s their hope as they get back to the helping of those in need.

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