2020 has been quite an unexpectedly difficult year for everyone. There hasn’t been a single time in the history of my life that an entire country shut down due to a virus. Many people have lost jobs and are unable to gather with friends and family for the holidays. People from all walks of life are facing extra challenges as we continue to figure out how to navigate the stress of this pandemic.
For those of us who are in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, COVID has caused an even greater challenge. We recover from the disease of addiction by connecting with others. The call for isolation to stop the spread of the virus served as fuel for the flames of addiction. In March of 2020, most of the 12 step meetings in our area moved into virtual rooms online. The pandemic has made something that is already a challenge even more difficult because of the awkward and impersonal new virtual reality.
In the past 9 months, I have watched meeting attendance dwindle and found that people don’t share as much in online 12 step meetings as they do in person. I have also noticed many people feeling more depressed or anxious, and these are not people new to recovery. For some reason, many of us have found it very difficult to feel “part of” moving to online meetings.
During this pandemic I have seen friends, people with lots of time in recovery and people new in recovery, struggle. I have seen people relapse; make a decision to “quit recovery;” come back from a relapse; and, unfortunately, have also seen people die from this disease.
But, guess what? I have seen all that before the pandemic as well.
The challenges faced during the pandemic have proven to me that no matter how much or how little time I have in recovery, I still need to make recovery part of my daily life or I too run the risk of relapsing and ending up back in jail or institutions or even dead.
I’m not sure if you are an addict or alcoholic, but I am sure that I am. I know that I have a disease that wants to kill me. It whispers crazy things to me, even after years in recovery. I say that because I have found that the most important thing for me to do in any situation is “put my recovery first,” because without it, I lose everything.
It doesn’t matter how long I have or if I was just starting. I need the program and the people in the rooms to help me navigate my thinking and my life. This disease loves nothing more than to have me isolated and alone because then it can work its insidious magic on my brain that still feeds me funky thoughts on the regular. I chalk it up to just being an addict, and know that I have found the solution within the rooms of NA and building my relationship with God.
The discomfort many of us are feeling as we show up and share in these new virtual rooms is not so different than being at an in-person meeting. I remember when I first came to the rooms I just listened and ran out the door as fast as I could, and I wondered why it wouldn’t work for me. Ha. Now I understand that it requires a little more work than that. So I encourage you, please engage in meetings, and don’t just observe.
Although the process is different in the current time, recovery is still available if we utilize what is out there. We do this recovery thing together and it’s no different in the virtual world. Below is a list of simple things to do during the pandemic to engage in 12 step meetings online. The list applies now as well as when life, and in-person meetings, open back up.
It’s that simple. Just get there no matter which avenue you take! If you are more comfortable online, just attend. There is one for every day of the week and we can zoom in all over the country and even internationally. There are so many types of meetings, gender specific, lead shares, speaker meetings, open discussion, literature meetings, and other formats that we can find a way to never get bored.
A home group is a 12-step meeting that we are committed to attending each week. In home groups you become accountable and are expected to show up, but you also begin to form meaningful relationships because you get to see the people weekly and friendships often develop. Most often, home group members will have a service position like making coffee, arranging chairs, or welcoming people who come to the rooms. With meeting online there are not the same opportunities for service positions but having a group that is expecting to see you each week can help to hold you accountable to showing up.
Instead of being judgmental, realize we are all there because we are more alike than different. If we listen for the message instead of thinking about what we want to say or letting our thoughts take over, we will usually hear what we need to hear.
I think one of the important facts to remember is that we are all here for each other. When people write or chat message their number over zoom, we need to use them. What good is a pile of numbers if we don’t feel comfortable using them? To build a relationship with anyone requires effort and time. The more we get to know others and build connections with people in recovery, the easier it is to pick up the phone when we are having trouble. It might help the person receiving the call as much as the person making the call.
There are so many people in recovery and honestly working a program, the resources are unlimited. There is really no excuse to feel isolated and alone. Sometimes the phone is heavy, but remember, we do this together. Most of the time, when I don’t feel like reaching out, that is the time I need to reach out the most.
Whether you are working an AA or NA program, the solution is in the step work process. How can you say you’re a member of a 12-step fellowship, but you haven’t worked or aren’t willing to work any steps? I remember just going into the meetings and sitting back and wondering why I wasn’t happy and free from the obsession to use like the people in the rooms seemed to be. I now know that it is because true recovery requires much more than just sitting and listening in a meeting. Recovery is a process and of course not everyone has to work an AA or NA program to recover, but I know I did. Nothing else worked for me, the problem was I was often so unwilling to take a suggestion because I already believed this freedom wasn’t available to me. I needed a sponsor to help me work through the steps and today, when there is a time I go through a rough patch, whether circumstantially or mentally, I know that I need to plug back in and get back to work.
Use the prayers you are used to hearing in meetings – the Serenity Prayer, the Our Father, the Eleventh Step Prayer, Please Help Me! Whatever comes to mind! Read in your literature and you will be sure to find a prayer here and there. Say the prayers from your childhood, or say just what is in your head.
Don’t worry about what that voice in your head is saying. I know now that I have a few years in, that my Higher Power hears me no matter what I say. But when I was new, I would be confused by what other people believed and what I thought I didn’t or did believe. What I know now is that there is a God and I’m not it and that’s all that is important. If I think I am going to use anything, it’s important that I humble myself and admit that I need HELP!!
These are the simple (not necessarily easy) parts of the program that have worked for all of us who successfully use 12 step meetings to support our long-term recovery. They have worked for millions of us and I know they can work for you.
Nobody anticipated this virus changing everything, but the fact is it is here. Instead of complaining about the online platform, can we find a little gratitude and be thankful we still have a way to connect and actually take advantage of what technology has given us? I miss the hugs and face to face interactions just as much as the next person, but my life depends on me staying committed to my recovery.