With recent world events, most of us cannot be around other people. This is difficult and isolating to even the most reclusive souls. Family dinners, a quick coffee with a friend, church and any social gatherings have all been either cancelled or shifted to online media. This means that those of us in recovery have been forced to shift to online meetings as well.
I am not alone when I say that Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and fellowship have become a huge part of my recovery. So, now, that part of my life is all online. How is that working for someone who depends on AA meetings not only to stay sober but also for social connection? Well, in my opinion, there are good and bad points to be considered.
This is how it works. Online meetings are usually on the app Zoom. The group sets them up, gets a meeting code and password and sends the information to all of the group members. Or the group sends the information to Central Office, who post the info online. Easy enough, right? But, for me, there have been some drawbacks to the online alternative to our in-person Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
4 Negative Aspects of Online Alcoholics Anonymous: An Opinion
1. No Personal Contact
Gone are the handshake and hugs we usually get at an AA meeting. Certainly, for many of us, it is the warm welcome we get at an AA meeting that makes us want to come back. I remember when I was new, one woman made it a point to give me a hug EVERY time she saw me. EVERY time. It made a significant impression on me. I was so socially awkward and afraid of people when I was newly sober. Someone I barely knew made the effort to let me know I mattered. It made a huge difference for me and kept me wanting to come back even when I didn’t want to come back….if that makes any sense. Another thing I miss is the pre- and post-meetings. Time before and after a meeting is spent connecting with others and making lasting friendships. With Zoom we have no time to interact. Or, if we do, it is chaotic and confusing, as many are talking at once. Also missing is the circle of friend holding hands and praying at the end of the meeting. It is a special connection with the group that seems lost.
2. No Energy Exchange
There is a unique feeling that we get when we introduce ourselves at an AA meeting. When I say, “Hi, I’m Chris and I’m an Alcoholic,” everyone in the room says, “Hi, Chris.” That feels good to hear. I feel like a part of the group. This exchange of energy is impossible in an online meeting. Now, when I introduce myself, there is silence. If I can see others via “Gallery View”, I may see someone wave or smile, but it is not the same. Also, there is no audible laughter when something humorous is said. This is not something that will keep me from coming back, it’s just….strange and slightly cold.
3. The Zoom Bombers
There is a dark element emerging in the Zoom AA realm. I call them Bombers, but I am sure there are other terms for them. These are nefarious creepers that find join the meetings, wait for the right time, and then disrupt the meeting with audio recordings, negative imagery, or, even worse, personal attacks on whomever is speaking. It is nerve-wracking and hurtful to attendants. We often have to end the meeting early. This would not be allowed in an in-person meeting, but it is very hard to manage on a group level online. Many meetings have gone farther underground, keeping the passwords more private among the members, or only admitting familiar faces. This leads us to the next drawback of online recovery meetings….
4. Exclusion and Lack of Access
According to the Alcoholics Anonymous Traditions, “Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.,” and “The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.” These are tenets that have survived for decades without interruption. In today’s environment, it is more difficult to uphold them. There is inherent exclusion when alcoholics anonymous is limited to solely an online enterprise. For instance, what if someone doesn’t have access to a cell phone or computer? Wifi? What if a newcomer doesn’t have access to the new meeting codes or passwords. Certainly the tightening of security after Zoom Bomber attacks means that a few people are going to fall out of the loop. That, alongside the need for the proper technology, amounts to exclusion for a portion of our community. While AA stands for inclusion of all, regardless of background, this becomes difficult in a predominantly online environment.
Okay, had enough of the negative stuff? Certainly there are shortcomings associated with online meetings as stated above. While sometime bothersome and hard to get used to, these were not enough to make me stay away. This is life and death stuff for me. I cannot afford to lose my connection with the one thing that helped me to finally get sober. As we alcoholics settle into the online world, there have been some lovely surprises along the way. There are many positive aspects of online alcoholics meetings that we would never known about, had all this not happened. Here is the list:
4 Positive Aspects of Online Alcoholics Anonymous Meetings
1 . We have more free time
No traffic. No parking. No makeup. I can go to an AA meeting any time I want to now. I don’t have to worry about how long it takes to drive somewhere or if there is parking. I don’t have to get there super early so I can get a seat. I don’t have to dress a certain way or spend time getting ready if I don’t want to. This way I have more free time in my day. I can use it to go to more meetings or do what I love best: nothing. I think doing nothing is underrated. There are many spiritual and emotional rewards that come from doing absolutely nothing. But I digress. Maybe that will be the next blog idea. Suffice it to say, I have more time now and I like it.
2. More Inclusion and Open Access
Yes, I know. On the last list I said “exclusion and lack of access.” While there are those who are being excluded, there are others who are getting access to AA meetings who were unable to attend before. I have friends who have small babies. They couldn’t attend meetings because they couldn’t leave their children. Now they can attend their regular meetings and keep their sobriety strong. Also, others who have moved away can now have access to the meetings they loved at their prior location. One friend, who moved away years ago, showed up at my Monday meeting! I was so happy I wanted to cry. What a gift! This is such a special turn of events that it is changing our plans for the future. Two of my meetings have decided to stay online through the rest of the year, not only to keep everyone safe, also to keep access open for new mothers and those of us who have moved away.
3. Virtual Recovery Tourism
Saturday night I was at a meeting in Los Angeles and a woman in Australia shared. What? She had heard about this meeting and promised herself if ever in LA she would attend. Now she can! Amazing. I have another friend who “went” to a meeting in Ireland. Another attends Israeli meetings regularly. I even “attended” a meeting in Northern California and really enjoyed it. Certainly, this is a new and delightful twist many of us never expected.
4. Even More Anonymous
Online meetings, for obvious reasons, can be even more anonymous. I can turn off the video on my machine and no one has to see me. That means I can go to more meetings than usual. If I am driving I can be at a meeting. If I am eating dinner, I can be at a meeting. Die hard old-timers may poo-poo the idea, thinking that our undivided attention is necessary at every meeting, but not everybody agrees…me included. A little bit of AA is better than none, if you ask me. Some people like to knit or crochet during a meeting. It calms them and helps them cope. I have no problem with it but, again, others find it distracting. Online, these “distractions” are not an issue. Knit, crochet, doodle, cook dinner, do what you want! Nobody can see! Perhaps newcomers with the crippling shyness that I experienced will have an easier time of it as well in an online environment, with less social pressure and more anonymity.
So, in summation, the environment for recovery has necessarily changed. With change there has been adjustment and there are things that we miss about in-person Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. After the initial shock, I have found that the negative aspects of online recovery aren’t enough to keep me away and the positive surprises are a delight. Online meetings, while clunky and a little cooler, meet all my needs and are shockingly easy. I, for one, hope many meetings will offer online attendance even after all this craziness is over.