Staying Connected During COVID: Handwritten Thank You Notes

People in recovery from an alcohol and substance use disorder know how important it is to stay connected to their recovery community during times of stress. One of the first things they learn, upon entering treatment, is the maxim treatment is short, but recovery lasts a lifetime. During treatment, clinicians design their days – and nights, if they’re in residential treatment – to support recovery in all ways. Morning meetings, individual counseling, time for exercise, time for top-line activities like journaling or mindfulness, and group counseling groups fill their schedule.

Upon completion of a treatment program, high-quality treatment centers provide an aftercare plan created in collaboration with the person in recovery. These plans often include detailed resources for things like individual therapy and community support groups. Most also include lists of coping skills, sober activities, and lifestyle changes that capitalize on the momentum and knowledge gained during treatment. Aftercare plans enable people in recovery to stay on track, practice their recovery skills, and stay connected with people who know and understand what they’re going through.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many people in recovery find themselves cut off from the in-person support they rely on to keep them focused on recovery. They still attend virtual AA meetings, virtual therapy, and even virtual group counseling meetings. Modern technology makes all this possible – and we’re grateful videoconferencing apps enable people to stay in contact and enjoy the fellowship that can often make all the difference in the world.

This post is about staying connected in a different, old-fashioned way. To explain what we mean, we’ll share a short piece of writing one of our alumni wrote several years ago. It was relevant then, and it’s even more relevant now.

The Art of Thank You

Here’s what our alumnus wrote:

“When I was just two months sober I received a hand written thank you note from a friend for just attending her 1st year sobriety birthday.

I had never been to an AA birthday party, and I didn’t know that the ladies from my Home Group brought each other gifts. I was just touching down to Earth and it was all I could do to attend a social event, even one sponsored by my recovery peers.

This note meant the world to me. Not only did it help me to feel welcome, but it taught and reminded me the importance of saying thank you.

Now in my life, I send thank you notes frequently. Not just a text or an email, but a hand-written note. I am a believer that the hand-written note still has personality, warmth, and shows gratitude. Also, I believe that people like opening the notes. I know I sure do!”

We couldn’t agree more.

There’s something special about getting a piece of mail in the mailbox with your name on it, opening it, and reading a handwritten message composed for just for you.

Old-Fashioned Communication

In fact, we think taking the time to write thank you notes is a great recovery activity. The same goes for writing letters and making phone calls rather than sending texts or emails. We encourage people in recovery to consider doing both.

Here’s why.

Three Reasons to Write a Letter or Pick up the Phone

  1. Writing letters or thank you notes means you have to slow down. You have to think about what you want to say. You have to take the time to write what you want to write the way you want to write it. The process of putting pen to paper engages your brain in a way that typing on a keyboard or clicking emojis on a screen does not. It grounds you in the moment, free from distractions, and allows you to concentrate on the task at hand. A piece of paper does not have a notification chime, a blinking red light to let you know someone commented on a social media post. Nor does it have pop-up ads trying to get you to buy something.
  2. When you write a thank you note, you are, by definition, practicing gratitude. You’re telling the recipient you’re grateful not only for the thing you’re thanking them for, but also for their presence in your life. By taking the time and energy to write a note, you’re showing them the sincerity of your gratitude. It shows they mean something to you, and you want them to know it. They’ll appreciate this – we guarantee.
  3. Making a phone call instead of writing a text adds a layer of connectivity that’s absent in direct messaging, instant messaging, and texting. That layer is the human voice. Voices are comforting. Voices can be encouraging and uplifting. They can convey nuance, emotion, and meaning in a way that a written word or emoji cannot.

Another thing that makes calls or handwritten notes stand apart from texts or emails is their relative novelty. Since they’re becoming increasingly rare, the fact that someone takes the time to write or call is not lost on the person who receives the note, letter, or phone call. They see the care, they see the effort, and they understand the time it takes. The combination of all these factors makes old-school communication feel special.

The Human Connection

Jokes also work much better when told in-person or over the phone. And everyone knows about the healing power of laughter. Sure, memes and gifs and funny one-line text retorts can give us genuine belly laughs. But there’s no replacement for the unique qualities of emotion, turns of phrase, and tones the human voice can produce.

But we digress.

Our recommendation to use traditional forms of communication during the pandemic – in addition to attending virtual meetings and virtual therapy, if that’s an option – is all about making an effort to build bridges and maintain lines of support that meet our very human needs. We need to hear sympathetic, compassionate voices. We need to feel appreciated and know there are people out there looking out for us. It’s tempting to live behind screens and keep virtual distance. It’s true that some people in recovery need that level of mediation in order to open up. However, for those people in recovery who feel something is missing, despite all the virtual meetings and teletherapy sessions they may participate in, we advise taking a step back in time.

Put pen to paper and share your feelings with someone you trust.

Pick up the phone and call your sponsor or a recovery peer.

We think doing these things will help keep you connected – on a human level – to your recovery community, until the time comes when you can see everyone in person, and give them all the big hugs you have saved up.