The Covid19 pandemic has changed how millions of people live, shifting work to home, shutting down businesses entirely, and resulting in the layoff of millions of Americans. The CDC mandates that no gathering be held with more than 10 people, and preferably, no gathering be held at all. For the millions of us in recovery, that means no AA or 12-step meetings… in person.
AA and other 12-Step organizations like Narcotics Anonymous have held meetings online for almost as long as public Internet has been available. People already call their 12-Step groups, either while away on vacation, when unable to visit, or as extra support. Today, in light of social distancing, meetings are forced to move online. Millions of people are now logging in via Zoom, Skype, Discord, and other virtual platforms to share stories, read from the Book, and support each other.
No Unified Approach
Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step Groups have largely been unanimous in agreeing that each of the chapters of AA should retain their autonomy. The General Servies Office issues a press release offering recommendations and some guidelines but stating that each 12 Step group has the power to adopt or not-to-adopt virtual meetings and to do so in whatever way they choose, as best benefits their group and their audience. As a result, some groups are closed, open only to existing members. Others offer significant levels of support including social media groups, virtual hangouts where members can drop in 24/7, services to connect members to others in real-time, and scheduled and random virtual meetings.
What does this mean for you? In most cases, you’ll have to check your area to see if your local AA group is offering digital or virtual meetings. You may also be able to join a larger group or meeting and may be able to find resources through social media, where members may be interested in hosting regular calls together, whether or not the larger group is interested.
An International Directory
Alcoholics Anonymous is attempting to ensure accessibility to all virtual meetings. The website is maintaining a list of most open virtual meeting options, which you can visit, scroll through, and request to join. Some require that you be an existing member of the group. Others are more open.
In North America, most people can choose to call in via phone, Skype, Zoom, Discord, and other resources. However, technology options vary considerably from group to group. International groups are mostly limited to Skype and Zoom.
In some cases, a local group may not be on a directory. If you’re part of a group, always ask in your group for information. You may also be able to plan to launch an online group and start virtual meetings if your group isn’t yet hosting them itself.
Some groups are open to specific groups such as women, military, Deaf/Hard of Hearing, persons with trauma or mental disorders, and in different languages. Unfortunately, availability isn’t guaranteed from region to region.
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Multiple Meeting Formats
While meeting formats vary considerably from group to group, many groups are attempting to maintain the same formats and options as in-person groups. However, many of these virtual meetings are relatively shorter, usually capped to 60 rather than 90 minutes.
- Reading – Meetings center around reading the Big Book, with space for sharing. If no one has anything to share after hearing a reading of one theme, the meeting moves on to another theme.
- Personal Sharing – One person spends 15 minutes sharing their story. The rest of the meeting is dedicated to others sharing about that topic.
- Suggestions – Attendees submit topics at the start of the meeting, which are chosen by a chair. Topics are discussed briefly, and then another topic is picked up.
- Newcomers – Most groups are offering newcomers meetings, which you can request admittance to by email. Here, visitors will be asked to share their experience with AA, asked to share what they’re done to stay sober that day, and to share items they are proud of or are struggling with depending on the meeting.
- Topic – Chairperson chooses topic from AA approved literature
- On-Call – Some groups have opened up online groups on Facebook, Discord, and Zoom, where members can simply log in to join at any time. These “Ad-Hoc” meetings are not bound by a theme but are unstructured and allow people to seek out virtual company, to share, and to ask for help.
- Emergency Help – Some groups are offering volunteer support, where if you call a hotline, they will connect you to a fellow AA member who has volunteered to pick up the call. This option offers support in much the same way that a sponsor might for a longer-term member of AA but is open to anyone. Here, you can ask for help, share cravings, or simply have someone to talk to if you are feeling isolated and alone. However, options and what is allowed vary significantly from group to group.
In some cases, these meetings are open to anyone from anywhere, in other cases, they are open to locals or members only. Most are accepting call-ins and visitors from anywhere, providing you are attempting to quit alcohol.
Online Meeting Etiquette
AA maintains a strict policy of anonymity and privacy. This holds true online. Taking screenshots, sharing information from the group, calling in public spaces, and recording information is therefore banned. While most groups haven’t published explicit rules regarding what will happen if information is shared from a group, offline standards usually result in expulsion from the group. Maintaining the privacy and anonymity of members of the group is sometimes crucial to their safety and to their being able to maintain jobs outside of AA.
This is especially critical on groups like Facebook and Zoom, which often require users to share their real names.
Proof of Attendance
Switching to digital meetings makes it difficult to acquire court slips and proof of attendance for individuals who have been ordered to attend AA. Some groups offer this with digital signatures, others do not. You can look for one that does. However, you can also likely discuss options with your case worker to make changes to requirements in light of the global pandemic.
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use, it’s important to get help. Even if you’ve already gone through rehab, reaching out and asking for social support could be the difference between relapse and staying sober. If you aren’t sure AA is for you, you can also seek out alternatives like SMART Recovery, counseling groups, or seek out professional help from a therapist via a virtual counseling session. Most importantly, many rehabs remain open, with simple requirements for early-entry quarantine to prevent possible infections. If you need help, it’s there, even through a global pandemic.
If you have any questions concerning addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, contact us at Truvida Recovery. Call 877-228-1102 to speak in confidence with an experienced treatment advisor now.