online meetings

Online Meetings And Forums Give Recovery A New Dimension

I’m fortunate enough to live in an area often referred to as the “Recovery Capitol of the World.” It’s hard to find a place in southeastern Palm Beach County that is more than five minutes away from some kind of 12-step meeting, and there are dozens — perhaps as many as a hundred — treatment and recovery facilities within 15 miles of where I sit, from medical detox like Sunrise, to primary treatment centers, to halfway and sober houses. There are at present 289 AA meetings a week — just AA — and that's not counting the North County area, where there are plenty more.  I’m not going to count up all the Narcotics Anonymous meetings (AA did theirs for me), but a quick look leads me to believe there are between 120 and 140 NA meetings per week around here.

And then we have the myriad other groups such as Al-Anon, Codependents Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Pill Addicts Anonymous, Adult Children Of Alcoholics — we could increase the list practically ad infinitum. Sure, some big cities have more meetings, but the concentration of meetings, treatment and newly-recovering people here is unlike anyplace else I know of. Alcoholics and other drug addicts in this area have no excuse for not getting the support they need, if they want it.

Which makes it really easy to forget that this is not the case in most parts of the country, and certainly not in most of the world.

For many years, recovering people had to rely on letters back and forth to other AA or NA members, or to the World Services offices, if they were — for example — crew aboard ships, in the military overseas, or residents of rural areas far from meetings. Later on, listserves and other early forms of online communication became available, followed by email and the Web. Today we have dozens of online meetings, forums and similar sites where recovering folks can find support for any kind of addiction imaginable.

Often we old-timers tend to resist such changes in the recovering community. That’s akin to the attitude of “Cold turkey worked for me; why should these kids go to detox.” Times change. Resources become available, and people take advantage of them. Just because I’d prefer to attend a face-to-face meeting, that doesn’t mean that the digital natives aren’t able to get support elsewhere. Heck, I’m part of that system myself, come to think of it, both here at Sunrise and on my own sites.

Bill and Doctor Bob pioneered the use of the telephone in recovery, and opportunities to connect long-distance have since improved a hundredfold. Does that mean I think electronic meetings are as good as face-to-face? No. I still believe that human interaction works best at close range. Even Skype, as great as it is, can’t convey the feeling and compassion that comes from a look and a nod across a meeting room, or from a hug. But I do think that alcoholics and other addicts who fail to avail themselves of online connections with other recovering people are missing out on some of what present-day recovery has to offer.

Why not join an online forum, and maybe get involved in an online group? It’s convenient, and you might help someone who needs it — maybe even yourself.

Get started now:  http://goo.gl/mn13y   or

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.