Masks. Distance. Fear. Anxiety. Loneliness. Depression.

Since March, these have been the realities for many of us. Life has definitely been challenging. Unfortunately, early on, support systems dwindled as the relentless pandemic kept us away from the people and places that help us to feel centered, comforted and calm.

We have all felt the struggle to some degree. Even folks who have not spent their life on the fringe or felt marginalized or hopeless now have some sense of what isolation looks and feels like. For those in our community who suffer from substance use and mental health disorders, the start of the pandemic was especially challenging because it is hard to reach out from a distance.

There is, however, good news. It is the same as it always has been — help is available and recovery is real!

Recovery supporters have jumped into overdrive during this pandemic. Twelve-step and other behavioral health support meetings have gone virtual; neighbors are talking about suicide prevention, substance use and mental health; people who in January did not know what Narcan was are now reaching out to share information about the FDA-approved opioid overdose reversal spray and helping others locate community distribution sites; community coalitions are working to link residents with needed resources and provide social outlets for support and encouragement; treatment centers have devised new ways to connect with patients safely; and an internet challenge, Greenwood Recovers, showed Charleston (and now the world) that while we might be a smallish town, we are mighty in our commitment to recovery. I have never been prouder to work beside these recovery warriors than I have in the past five months.

September is National Recovery Month, and the goal every year is to not only celebrate recovery, but also increase community connections. The pandemic has brought the need for true connection to the forefront. Along with the challenges, the pandemic has also brought us an opportunity for new ideas, an increased passion for community, and hopefully more understanding of the need to reach out to others.

This 2020 Recovery Month is truly one for the books. It is a brave new world. It requires a brave new approach to forming connections with others — for the sake of us all. The act of reaching out to share hope and encouragement provides hope and encouragement to the giver and the receiver. It helps both feel more connected to the world around them and reminds us all that we have real contributions to make, no matter how modest they might seem. The truth is you may be the only friendly face, source of hope and affirming word someone has today. And that might mean life and death.

While I have been so amazed by the work already done since March, there is more to do. The pandemic will end but hopefully the lessons we have learned will move with us into our next chapter.

Join us in forging stronger connections in our community. Today seems like a good time to start.

Teresa Roy is the Director of Community Outreach at Cornerstone