With the recent pandemic and resulting, widespread social distancing mandates, those who rely on in-person support groups have had to get creative. For many, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a crucial component of their recovery programs, and without attending daily or near-daily meetings they might find themselves in a bit of a rocky place. Fortunately, the majority of American citizens have internet access, whether they have their own service or access to the internet service of a close friend or relative. This makes connecting much easier, even when it means connecting from afar. Since the stay at home orders were first implemented numerous online, virtual AA meetings have sprung up across the country – well, across the world, as a matter of fact. Getting connected is actually easier than ever before – you can join an AA meeting at any time of the day from the comfort of your own home. As with all technological innovations, there are pros and cons when it comes to virtual addiction recovery. First, we will explore why AA is such an integral part of the recovery process; next, we will weigh the pros and the cons of recovery in the digital age.
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous is a free, no cost 12 step program geared towards helping those who have struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction build solid support groups and successfully maintain sobriety. Program participants will slowly work through each of the 12 steps, which are outlined in a book written by two men in the 1930s. Those who work through the 12 steps will be guided by a sponsor (usually of the same sex), who will help them along the way, offer them support, and answer any questions they may have. The program of AA revolves around spirituality and personal spiritual growth. It is asked that those who are in the program work towards developing a belief in a higher power. The guidelines for a higher power are far from strict – it can be anything from God or the sky to a group of people or an inanimate object, like a door handle (yes, really). It is only asked that those in the program come to believe that there is something more powerful than themselves out there, regardless of what that might be. AA meetings are generally held in places like churches or mess halls, and any donations that are provided by members during the meeting will go towards things like continuing to rent a space. The only requirement to join is a desire to stop drinking, and though meetings are usually limited to alcoholics, anyone is able to attend an “open meeting.” Finally, it is important to note that AA is a program one never graduates from. It is a lifelong commitment to recovery. While you will eventually finish working through the 12 steps, you will then go on to help others just like you get and stay sober themselves.
Why is AA Important?
Alcoholics Anonymous is important for a variety of reasons. The obvious – the program helps those struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction get and stay sober. Before drug and alcohol rehab existed, men and women of all ages and walks of life would turn to AA to get sober. Now, we understand that long-term sobriety is more easily maintained when a multi-phased process is completed. This process generally includes medical detox, residential rehab, intensive outpatient, sober living, and aftercare. For most, AA is a fundamental part of their long-term aftercare program. How does it work? In part, AA works by providing recovering addicts and alcoholics with a vital level of accountability. It is important to be thoroughly honest in meetings. If you are, and you share about your struggles openly, you will receive the support you need from those who have previously been where you are now. AA keeps you connected. The program itself actively works to teach you fundamental life skills, and helps you build self-esteem and a sense of self-worth through helping others.
One study found that 67 percent of individuals who attended AA meetings regularly for 27 weeks maintained sobriety for at least 16 years. If you are still skeptical about the benefits, those who have maintained sobriety for years while active in AA will gladly share their stories! All you really need to do is ask.
Pros of Virtual Recovery
Clearly AA is important for a lot of people; many individuals rely on the program to help them stay clean and sober on a day-to-day basis. Virtual recovery resources allow people to stay engaged in the program of AA while social distancing. Here are some of the pros of virtual recovery/online AA meetings:
- Staying connected. Staying connected to your peers is crucial to the maintenance of long-term recovery. Virtual AA will help keep you connected – and not only that, you will have access to meetings wherever and whenever you feel like you need one.
- Connecting with old members of your sober support group. A little personal account – I got sober in Florida, and three years later I moved to Oregon (where I currently reside). While there are glaring and obvious downsides to this pandemic, it was really cool to reconnect with my AA homegroup in Florida – virtually. I got to see a lot of familiar faces that I would not have seen otherwise.
- Sticking to a consistent schedule. Sticking to a schedule could mean the difference between relapse and recovery. Structure – especially during uncertain times like these – will prove to be essential.
- Staying accountable. It is a good idea to attend at least a few of the same virtual meetings every week. Give out your phone number, and tell some trusted people in the meetings to call you if you happen to not “show up” when you said you would.
- Maintaining the ability to learn from the mistakes (and successes) of others. One of the biggest blessings of AA is the ability to learn from other like-minded people. This will be especially beneficial now, as we all attempt to navigate completely uncharted territory.
Cons of Virtual Recovery
Unfortunately, there are also cons to this method of recovery – but it’s important to remember that despite the cons, online AA meetings are definitely better than nothing! The downsides of virtual recovery are as follows:
- It is easier to stay accountable when you have friends to pick you up in person. While this is true, you can find creative ways to keep yourself accountable while practicing social distancing. You just have to make sure that you are committed to your recovery and are going to the lengths you need to go to in order to maintain it.
- Online bullying is still a thing, unfortunately. The world wide web is a breeding ground for people of all kinds, including not-so-nice people. Remember that cyberbullies do exist, and that they don’t actually EVER have anything good to say.
- Hackers have been known to hack into online AA meetings. Just be weary. If something seems off, it might be off. Alert the group leader and move on!
Chapel Hill Detox Center
Fortunately, we at Chapel Hill Detox are still offering our services amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. If you are struggling with a severe addiction and need help to quit, we are able to assist you in any and every way that we can. Simply give us a call and we will get you started on your own personal journey of addiction recovery today.