As we begin the second month of 2021, you may be reviewing the changes you said you’d like to make in January. Maybe you set goals or made a few New Year’s resolutions. If your 2021 goals/resolutions include starting recovery for an addiction or for codependency, you may have thought about going to a 12 Step meeting. However, like many things in our society, 12 Step meetings have gone through an unprecedented shift due to the pandemic – most meetings have been strictly online instead of in-person. In this article, we give you insight into the New Newcomers this has created in 12 Step communities, and in particular, how one woman describes her experience of starting recovery during the pandemic.
12 Step Meetings Adapt During the Pandemic
When lockdowns began due to the pandemic last year, 12 Step meetings had to make a change they had never experienced before. All of the sudden, (most) people were no longer able to meet in-person, and 12 Step programs had to adapt immediately. While there have been 12 Step programs that have held their meetings via phone or internet for years, the majority of groups meet in-person. Being able to come together for meetings and get together for fellowship is one of the foundations of why/how 12 Step programs work. So, this change has been significant throughout the 12 Step recovery world.
A novel phenomenon has occurred as a result of this global shift – going from in-person to computer-based meetings. A new “generation” of newcomers has emerged. These newcomers are the ones who started recovery for the very first time during COVID and have never been to an in-person meeting before. (Some 12 Step programs in some cities have held in-person meetings during COVID, but many have not).
One such newcomer spoke with us about her experience. Lisa (we’ve changed her name to protect her anonymity), was brand new to Al-Anon when she started attending meetings at the beginning of the pandemic. As of this month (January 2021), all of her meetings are still online. We hope that hearing Lisa’s experience will be helpful for you if you’re new to recovery or you’ve thought about starting recovery while many meetings are still online. We also hope this post will be insightful for you if you’ve been in recovery for a long time and are curious what it’s been like for this novel ‘generation’ of newcomers.
While our interview was with one member of Al-Anon, it seems her experience has been fairly representative of people who’ve only been attending 12 Step meetings online. Our friends Lee Holley, LMSW, LCDC, PRSS and Breslyn McCrory, BA recently wrote an article for Psychology Today entitled Virtual AA & 12-Step Meetings: Four Benefits, Four Downsides. Quitting alcohol is a common New Year’s resolution—could virtual 12-step help? in which they interviewed two dozen AA members about their experience with online meetings. The feedback from their interviewees was very similar to what Lisa’s. Here’s what Lisa had to say:
How Did You Find Out About Al-Anon Meetings Online?
“I had been having a very difficult time with my husband, and we had come to the point where we were headed for divorce. He had been using again (after several years of sobriety), and we were seeing an alcohol counselor to help us sort through his relapse. She suggested that I go to Al-Anon and gave me the Zoom IDs and Passwords for some meetings she thought I would benefit from.
I’d never attended a meeting before so I didn’t really know what I was doing or what to expect. My husband had been in AA, so I had a little knowledge, but he never really talked to me about his program, so I was pretty clueless. When the day and time of the meeting came, I logged onto Zoom (that’s the platform these meetings were using), and I was suddenly in an Al-Anon meeting.”
What Were Those First Online Meetings Like For You?
“They were strange. I didn’t really understand some of the things they talked about or some of the ‘rules’, but I liked that I was able to attend and keep my video turned OFF.
I was pretty anxious about going to Al-Anon in general, so it was actually great for me to be able to stay more hidden with my video off. I was able to listen and observe everything without risking too much.”
How Did You Get To Know People and Connect With Others Since You Didn’t Know Anybody?
“That was the hardest part. It took me a while to get up the nerve to actually turn my video on, so people weren’t able to see or get to know me since I didn’t talk in meetings for a while. But after a few weeks, I started to relate to people who were sharing. I was still seeing the counselor at that time, and she suggested I listen for people I related to and reach out to them. I was in so much pain about my marriage that I reached out sooner than I expected.
People put their phone numbers in the chat textbox – they said they usually pass around a notebook for people to write their names and numbers in or hand out phone lists, but this is what they were doing as an adaptation. So, I wrote down the phone numbers of women I related to and finally made a call. However, this took me a lot of courage to do. In my regular life, I don’t reach out and talk to people I’ve never even met before. But I was desperate, so I did it. I texted a woman who shared things I could relate to and I seemed to have a lot in common with. I asked if she had time to talk to me, and she said, “Yes.” We spoke that day, and I asked her to be my sponsor. I was just doing what the counselor told me to do, and thankfully, it’s worked out great since then.
There was also a part at the beginning of the meetings where they would ask if there were any “newcomers”- people who were attending their very 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Al-Anon meetings. When I said I was a newcomer, people did reach to me in the chat textbox and that helped too. At the end of the meetings, they would also suggest that if newcomers wanted to stay on after the meeting that some people would stay on to answer questions and get to know us a little. That was helpful too.
What Have You Liked About Going to Al-Anon Meetings Online?
“Well, I don’t know any different. It’s been great for me to be able to have the meetings online because I have a two year old daughter, I work full-time, and my husband and I split up. I have primary custody of our daughter so being able to get on a meeting from home or from my office has been so helpful for me. I don’t know what I’ll do when the meetings go back to being in-person. It will definitely be a challenge to work that into my schedule, but I will adapt because these meetings have saved my life.
Like I mentioned before, it was also really helpful for me to be able to do a “slow entry” by muting myself and turning off my video at first. It seems like it would be much more nerve-wracking to go in-person for the first time. But I guess that’s what everyone normally does.
Do You Have Any Concerns About Going To Meetings When They’re Back In-Person?
Yes. The meetings I’ve been going to online are on the opposite side of town from where I live. So, when the meetings no longer meet online, I’ll have to find new meetings that are closer to me. I’ll miss the people I’ve gotten to know in the meetings I’ve been to since April, 2020. But I have my sponsor, and she said she’ll walk me through the change when the time comes.
I also worry about how I’ll fit meetings into my schedule when I have to go to them in-person. It adds on a lot of extra time to drive there and back and to be at a meeting NOT in my house/office. But again, I know I’ll work it out – everyone before me has done this – It’s just not something I’ve experienced before.
The New Newcomers
As Lisa has shared, there is a whole new global group of people in recovery that has never existed before. People who have begun their participation in 12 Step programs online without the option of attending meetings in person (with the exception of those living in remote areas who may have always only had the option of phone or online meetings due to their location). This has brought with it challenges for both the newcomers and people who have regularly attended in-person meetings. No one had a precedent for this. No one knew how moving meetings online would affect people’s recovery, newcomers and “oldtimers” alike.
One of our counselors, Clayton Goldbery, LCDC who participates in his own12 Step program of recovery shared a poignant insight closer to the beginning of the pandemic about this change. He noted that while Twelve Step recovery values the sharing of “experience, strength, and hope” by those who have walked the path for longer than others, that no one who’d been in recovery a long time had any “experience” to share about starting recovery online. No one had done it before. It took a while for regular meeting attendees to figure it out themselves. So, there was a handicap in walking newcomers through “how it works” since this was a novel, unexpected, and unprecedented occurrence since twelve step meetings began in the 1930s.
This awareness has been helpful because it offers those who’ve been in recovery for a long time an important perspective. It’s been a pioneering time for those who’ve been in 12 step programs for decades and those who are brand new. Over the eight decades that 12 step meetings have been around, its members have experienced countless social and situational changes. And they have not only survived, but they have thrived. And COVID has been no different. 12 Step programs have adapted, and will continue to adjust when meetings go back to being in-person.
We’re Here To Help
If you’re new to recovery or you’ve been curious about starting recovery for an addiction or for codependency issues, we’re here for you. We believe there are many paths to recovery. Whether you’re interested in trying 12 Step recovery and want some extra support, or you want to explore recovery without 12 Step meetings, we have a number of services that might be helpful for you.
We offer a variety of counseling services including, alcohol counseling, drug counseling, family counseling, and codependency counseling. We encourage you to visit our website to learn about the services we provide and how we can help.
If you’ve been worried about a loved one’s addiction and think it may be time to do an intervention, Linda Kagey is a certified Love First Interventionist. Linda can address any questions and concerns you have about doing an Intervention, and she can lead your family through the effective and loving process of a Love First Intervention.
We also offer a variety of services to help with treatment for addictions. If counseling is not enough at this time, we offer a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for adults. If you are in early recovery from addiction to drugs or alcohol, we also offer Recovery Coaching to support you on your path of sobriety.
Addiction is a family disease, and everyone needs support and a safe space to heal. We will guide and help support you in creating an addiction recovery strategy that’s personalized for you and your family. There is freedom from the pain and shame. Take a powerful first step – ask for help – and start your healing journey today.
We invite you to call us at 832-928-0211 for a free 15-minute phone consultation. We’re happy to discuss your specific needs and answer any questions you have. You can also call Clayton at 346-355-0395 with any questions you may have about our PHP and/or IOP treatment programs.
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