high functionlng alcoholic

Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

Q. Are there effective online AA groups and sponsors?

[The person asking the question is a public figure, concerned about negative publicity and broken anonymity.]

There are good online AA groups.  Most, if not all, have provisions for connecting newcomers with online sponsors.  Any program of recovery is only as effective as the desire of the individual to work at it.  In that respect, an online program is better than no program at all, and no doubt they do the job for some recovering alcoholics and other addicts.  Consider, however, that the purpose of a program is not only to keep from drinking.  Recovery is about unlearning how to be an addict, and learning how better to function in the world outside of AA, NA or whatever program one has chosen.

During our addictions we learn a great many undesirable habits.  We all lie, to ourselves and to others.  We are all thieves.  We may not take material things, but we steal time from our employers and families.  We steal other people’s pleasure in having a clean and sober family member, friend, or business associate.  We steal the time and resources of courts, social services, hospitals, insurance companies and law enforcement — things that are desperately needed by society to accomplish other purposes.  We steal the health of others by causing them stress, causing accidents, and taking up space in doctors’ offices, emergency rooms and other health facilities.

We also develop dysfunctional ways of dealing with other people, with stress, with personal problems, even efforts to enjoy ourselves.  Those of us who continue to function effectively in society still create our own little worlds of quiet chaos — otherwise, why would we be seeking recovery?

When we first get clean, the habits of addiction are still with us.  We have to unlearn them, and learn other ways of dealing with people, the world at large — and ourselves.  In some cases, we have to relearn skills that we’ve forgotten, or get up to date in our fields of expertise.  We have to clean up the wreckage we left behind, and reestablish ourselves in our families and society.  We have a lot to accomplish.

The Twelve Steps are a template — an agenda, if you will — for getting these things done.  They work exceptionally well, at least as well as any other programs of recovery, and better than the majority.  However, they were developed on the basis of face-to-face contact.  Some “solos” have managed to stay sober by letters and (now) email, but the great majority of successful recovery comes from the meeting halls where we interact with others who can guide us.

Sure, some of that can be done online.  This very article is one of the ways that can occur.  But online does not put us in the presence of others.  Online can’t hug.  Online can’t look at our face and tell that we’re having a crappy day, despite our protestations, and call us on it.  Online can’t give us unconditional love — because we need to see that in the face of another human being.  Online can’t tell when we’re full of b.s. — nor can we tell that about the people we interact with online. Online can’t go out for coffee and a chat, or to a picnic, or just be companionable.  We can’t call online at 3:00 AM, the midnight of the soul.  Online can't phone us to find out how we're doing if it hasn't seen us in awhile.  Nor can we do those things online for others.  In short, it’s a weak substitute for f-2-f meetings.

That’s not to say online meetings can’t be helpful, but in my opinion they should not be substituted for the real thing.  Alcoholics and other addicts need contact with people.  We avoided real interaction by keeping ourselves high and detached.  Now we need to do the reverse.  There are meetings for professionals, held privately, to avoid the issues of unethical media who no longer respect our anonymity as they once did.  A call to our local Intergroup office will probably turn up at least one in our area.

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”  Sitting in front of a monitor, regardless of good intentions, is not being thorough.  This is not meant to take anything away from the good people on line, but merely to say that depending on them alone is likely to be a recipe for disaster.

You Just Never Know

For those of you who haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a recovering addict. My sober anniversary was last Wednesday, and since this is the time of the year when I make a point of looking back at how things were, I offer the following story.

Twenty-odd years ago, when my life was substantially different from the way it is today, I was handed an assignment by my boss, the Chief of Police. I’m a touch vague on the dates, but that doesn’t matter.

The job was to wade through a bunch of sworn affidavits that had been provided by the local hospital as fruits of a civil case, interview some folks, and find out if there were appropriate criminal charges to be brought against some people. After a week or so reading a lot of boring statements and talking to a lot of people, I came to the following conclusions.

  • The Board of Directors had for some years given the hospital administrator carte blanche, and he had taken advantage of it to the tune of about three million dollars in cash unaccounted for and unauthorized credit card purchases.
  • Contractors working on additions to the complex also had their fingers in the till.
  • There were substantial indications that fraud and embezzlement had been committed, but our department lacked the investigative resources to bring a case to trial that was comprised largely of accounting work.
  • The case should be turned over to the State Attorney for further investigation. (Ultimately, it went to the state Department of Law Enforcement.)


The administrator, an active and advanced alcoholic, ended up serving three years. It turned out that much of the money had gone for expensive inpatient treatment for himself, a daughter and his wife, all of whom were eventually successful at getting sober. The ex-administrator got sober in prison.

Now here’s the point: always be nice to folks, even when you don’t have to.

The drunken hospital administrator, because of his interest in the subject, had founded a treatment center on the 6th floor of the hospital. Although closed now due to corporate decisions, it was at one time well-known as one of the best treatment centers in the country. A few years later, when the Chief saved my life by forcing me into treatment — and made sure that my wife got treatment as well when she asked for it — we got sober on the sixth floor of that hospital.

And the ex-administrator, whom I had helped send to prison, eventually became my  sponsor.