Shannon Lundin is the Program Manager of Addiction and Recovery Services for the Charlestown Coalition, one of the four community coalitions supported by the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Community Health Improvement. A lifelong resident of Charlestown, she has helped many people in the community struggling with substance use disorder by supporting and connecting them to the appropriate resources. Shannon recently celebrated her own personal milestone of 16 years in recovery and feels grateful to be able to offer hope to others who struggle with addiction.

In this Q&A Shannon talks about her work with the recovery community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mass General Center for Community Health Improvement: How has COVID-19 changed and impacted your work?

Shannon Londin: Honestly, in a lot of ways I feel like it’s created more work. The population I work with is already high-risk, and now due the current crisis with COVID-19, they are at even higher risk.

Since the beginning of the shutdown, I have seen a rise in relapse and overdose. So many people in recovery depend on the social connection and camaraderie they experience at support groups and meetings—with meetings being shut down and groups canceled, everyone is feeling the lack of physical presence. A Zoom meeting or a phone call compared to meeting in person just isn’t the same.

We are fighting an epidemic within a pandemic. My focus during all of this has really been trying to think outside the box by creating unbreakable networks of support for individuals in active addiction and in recovery.

Q: What are the biggest challenges around addiction and recovery during COVID-19? What are you seeing in Charlestown and elsewhere?

Shannon: At first, the biggest challenges were helping people through the stresses of isolation and financial difficulties brought on by the crisis. Folks in sober living not being able to pay weekly rent, rehab facilities not being able to take new referrals or move current residents to the next level of care, jails releasing inmates without a plan in place and, of course, 12-step meetings and other support groups being cancelled have had a huge impact on the recovery community.

The same issues that I was seeing in Charlestown, I was also seeing in the surrounding areas. I think now that some time has passed, providers are starting to adapt and figure out how to be strategic to better serve this population right now.

Q: How are Mass General, public health organizations, community-based organizations and Charlestown residents coming together to support people in recovery during these challenging times?

Shannon: One thing I can say about Charlestown is that during times of uncertainty, our community comes together like no other—whether it’s funding from Mass General, CCHI and RIZE, supplies and food from Harvest on the Vine and the Adult Education Center or donated space from the First Church. We’ve benefitted greatly from the time, energy, understanding and wisdom of people like Dr. Jim Morrill, medical director, and Dr. Lisa Solomon, clinical psychologist, from the Charlestown HealthCare Center; Judge McCormack at the Charlestown Drug Court; and the members of the Charlestown Trauma Team. The support the recovery community has received from Charlestown during this time has been amazing and has played a huge part in so many standing strong in their recovery no matter what.

We are fighting an epidemic within a pandemic. My focus during all of this has really been trying to think outside the box by creating unbreakable networks of support for individuals in active addiction and in recovery.

Shannon Lundin
Program Manager of Addiction and Recovery Services for the Charlestown Coalition

Over these past months, I’ve also witnessed how those who belong to the 12-step fellowships have come together in support of one other in ways that I’ve never seen before. It is truly inspiring, and this is a group that I am so honored to be a part of.

Q: What is the most important thing that you’d like people to know about your work during COVID-19?

Shannon: During COVID-19, I think the most important things to know are addiction doesn’t stop because we are in a global pandemic, and recovery must go on. I still need to do all the things I was doing before the crisis hit for the population I work with—it just looks different.

Q: What drives you? Helps you stay focused? Gives you hope?

Shannon: What drives me is the fact that I once was someone in active addiction, and the providers in my life back then did whatever they could to help me. I truly believe what was meant for my harm, I am now using for good.

What keeps me focused is I know that this work is part of my purpose, and I feel internally rewarded when I see people’s lives transformed like mine did.

What gives me hope is knowing that God always has a plan, and the ugly parts of my own story are the most powerful parts of my testimony. Sharing my experience with the folks I work with reminds them that no matter how far down the scale we have gone, recovery is possible. They too can have a life second to none.

My favorite scripture that gives me hope: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.'"

Q: What is the question that we didn’t ask you that you would like to answer?

Shannon: That’s easy: What is it about 12 Step Fellowships and other support groups being able to meet in person that can’t be duplicated?

Group meetings where people share and support one another is a key aspect of the recovery community at large. We rely on community!

In the halls of these fellowships, we always repeat the same things: Go to meetings, ask for help and reach out to another alcoholic/addict. In group meetings, we greet with hugs and handshakes. You get the emotions, there is a sense of intimacy, you see and feel body language, and you just connect with people better in person than virtually.

In the Charlestown community, recovery meetings have been taking place outside while taking precautions—wearing masks, trying to stay socially distant, washing hands and using hand sanitizer. There are 2 meetings a day, 14 meetings a week with no less than 50 people at each meeting. For so many in the recovery community, the risk of relapsing and not coming back is greater than the risk of catching the virus.

Learn more of Shannon’s story.

Further reading: I'm a Doctor, and I’m Losing Patients to a Deadly Side Effect of the Pandemic. Huffington Post article written by MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center’s Dr. Carolina Abuelo. Charlestown Coalition Director Sarah Coughlin is quoted.