“Be well, be safe, see you Monday.” These were the words said to each other by a group of people at an AA meeting on Friday, March 13, 2020, not knowing that the Monday session would never come.
Instead, the Monday of the following week marked the start of lockdowns due to the pandemic and the biggest relapse trigger for recovering alcoholics worldwide, according to an article by The New York Times.
Face-to-face meetings have always been a fundamental part of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups. These meetings are especially essential for someone’s first 90 days of sobriety, where they are encouraged to attend as much as three meetings daily if necessary. One popular approach is called “90 in 90”, meaning 90 meetings in 90 days.
Even after someone has successfully passed this initial stage, recovery meetings are essential for those battling to obtain or maintain their sobriety, and they can mean the difference between keeping years of sobriety under their belt or falling off the wagon.
When governments imposed restrictions and banned physical gatherings due to Covid-19, one of the groups most negatively affected was AA. The isolation alone due to restrictions caused widespread panic and was a relapse trigger for most. With physical meetings out of the picture, recovering alcoholics quickly turned to Zoom virtual meetings for the help and support they desperately needed.
One of those people was Mark. Mark openly shared his story with us about his addiction, recovery, and the tremendous help that the Zoom AA meetings have been to him.
Mark’s struggle with alcohol addiction
Mark was a home brewer and a casual drinker all his life. One day, as he drove down from London to Cornwall, Mark fell asleep at the wheel. Sadly, he totaled his vehicle and sustained major injuries, including several broken ribs.
He described the resulting nerve pain as unbearable, more than he could tolerate. The doctors tried everything to ease his pain, but the only way he could function was with the help of painkillers.
He continued taking the painkillers for five years, and during the course of that time, he started subsidizing them with alcohol in the evenings. He’d come home from work and he and his wife would have a rum and coke and talk about their day.
Eventually, his drinks became stronger, until he was drinking rum with a splash of coke. Around that same time, Mark was able to wean himself off the painkillers, but his drinking increased to
the point where he would find any excuse to drink.
His first encounter with AA
Mark realized his drinking was getting out of control, so he decided to check himself into a rehab center. During that time, he learned a lot about alcoholism and attended a lot of AA meetings. He studied The Big Book, but he never took it seriously.
He believed that going to rehab was going to help him become a responsible drinker, and that he would not have to give up alcohol altogether. Mark managed to abstain from drinking for a year and then decided to take up casual drinking again, but when you are an alcoholic, there’s no such thing as casual drinking.
In front of his wife, he would have one drink and call it a night, but unbeknown to his wife and family, he was buying vodka, hiding it in his house, and drinking a half pint or more every night.
On one occasion, something triggered a panic attack in Mark and he gulped down an entire pint of alcohol in front of his wife and family. At that point, he felt helplessness and desperation set in. His alcohol addiction was ruining his life and the relationship he had with his wife.
His inspiring story of overcoming addiction
Mark knew that he needed to turn his life around but he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. After that harrowing incident, a guidance counselor reached out to him and took him to a local AA program.
At the time, the country was in lockdown and in-person meetings were no longer being held, so Mark was invited to an AA meeting held over Zoom instead. He says he felt just as part of the group as he did with in-person meetings.
He then found a local group and started to take the program seriously. He studied The Big Book and worked the 12 steps of the program. He also got a sponsor who had been five years sober. Mark admired his sponsor’s peace and sobriety and decided he wanted that for himself as well. He worked consistently at becoming sober and he now has two years of sobriety and counting.
Mark outlined the three factors that were essential to his recovery: reading ‘The Big Book’ and executing the 12 steps, finding a competent sponsor who had been in the program a while and could guide him, and attending his AA Zoom meetings religiously.
The benefits of Zoom meetings to AA groups
Anonymity - Perhaps the biggest advantage of holding AA meetings through Zoom is that it actually allows members to stay anonymous. Being that anonymity is one of the spiritual foundations of the program, it’s a huge step forward for Alcoholics Anonymous worldwide. Think about it. When meetings are held in-person, it’s enough for one person outside the group to see someone walk in to label that person as an alcoholic. For many, that fact alone deters them from joining much needed meetings.
However, hosting a meeting through Zoom allows members to join from the safety of their home and retain their anonymity. Furthermore, new members can choose to leave their cameras off if they are not ready to reveal their identity to those within the group. Anonymous members can also join AA groups that are not their local group, if they truly do not wish to be recognized.
Convenience - Another advantage of joining Zoom AA groups is the convenience that comes with being able to join from anywhere. Mark noted that during his first encounter with AA, he would join two in-person weekly meetings. To get to and from the meetings, he had to drive 25 miles and back. He described that process as ineffectual and discouraging.
With Zoom virtual meetings, however, Mark can join a meeting every day without leaving his home. Also, if the local meetings are held too late for his liking, he can choose from countless other groups to join. This is good news for people who tend to travel for work and are unable to find the local groups quickly. Using their AA homegroup site, they can easily find meetings at any time when they need the support.
Connectivity - Being able to join a Zoom AA group at any time from any part of the world has opened a host of opportunities for new connections to be made. In Mark’s case, he has been asked to speak at different groups, and while he does join his home group often, he likes to visit other groups as well. So far, he has joined groups from England, Australia, Germany, and Mexico.
He always looks forward to meeting new people, because it grants him a sense of variety, something that was lacking when he was only able to attend two in-person meetings at his local homegroup.
For Mark, Zoom meetings have been a real game changer in terms of anonymity, connectivity, and convenience, not only for him, but for countless others who consider these meetings a godsend. In fact, since AA meetings shifted to a virtual setting, more people have started attending, especially younger people who are more tech savvy.
Now that government restrictions are loosening, some AA groups are transitioning back to in-person, but AA meetings will predominantly continue to be held virtually. They were a necessity at the start of the pandemic, but now they are here to stay. When we asked Mark if he plans to go back to in-person meetings, he said that he personally intends to stick with the Zoom meetings because of the innumerable opportunities and advantages they offer.