'Virtual 12-Step Meetings Are Helping Me Stay Sober Amidst COVID-19'2020-04-02
When I finally knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that I needed to quit drinking, one of the most difficult things I ever did was to walk into a 12-step meeting. It wasn’t the idea of a meeting I found intimidating. I’d gone to one before…to support a friend. But going into my first meeting as the one with the problem felt embarrassing and terrifying.
It turned out that being seen as the patient was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was through admitting my problem to others with the same struggle that I found connection, which was the key to my recovery.
Living in Los Angeles, there are many meetings to choose from, so I quickly found my groove attending two to three regular meetings a week. And I’ve continued to thrive with that support for over 10 years. I’m not the only one: A recent study found that 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are even more effective than other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy at helping people maintain their sobriety.
But then COVID-19 hit. At first my regular meeting wasn’t ordered to close, but I didn’t want to risk it since I have three kids, work responsibilities, and a healthy dose of OCD. Then, eventually, everything shut down.
If you’re in recovery and depend on meetings to keep you accountable and connected, then you know it only takes a week of missing meetings to start feeling squirrely.
It’s not that I wanted to drink, it’s just that I’d become accustomed to treating my natural state of anxiety with meetings instead of wine. Now, with the constant barrage of negative news stories and being cooped up with my husband and kids, my serenity was being put to the test.
Going to meetings is a lot like going to the gym.
If I get out of the routine and miss a few, I quickly start to think wouldn’t it be so much nicer to just lay on the couch and watch Real Housewives? Then a few weeks go by and I don’t understand why I feel like crap.
Just like missing a workout, it can take me a few weeks to realize the negative effect of missing a meeting, and even then, I’m sometimes the last to know.
First, I might just getirritable and snap at my kids for forgetting to empty the dishwasher. But pretty soon I’m crying at the drop of a hat, at which point my husband might say, “Do you need a meeting?” I bet you can guess how that goes over. About as well as if he said, “Is it that time of the month?”
At first I tried to manage my sobriety with other tools: reading 12-step literature, calling my sponsor, and eating Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups. But, real talk: I quickly stopped doing the first two things and was just managing my fear and anxiety with too much sugar, which is basically treating one addiction with another.
I knew about online meetings, but I felt resistant.
For some reason, showing up on my computer, while propped up on pillows in my bed,seemed way more intimate than a metal folding chair in a church basement. But I’ve long known the power of a virtual community.
Shortly after I got sober I outed myself on my blog, Baby on Bored, in a post where I admitted to my readers how my nightly wine habit had become more of an obsession, and that I’d quit drinking entirely. Although I was terrified I’d face judgment, much to my surprise the response was overwhelmingly supportive.
In fact, I was inundated with comments on the post, and emails from other moms who were also questioning their booze consumption. So many women were commenting on each other’s comments that I ended up starting a Yahoo group to let these women have a space to talk to each other. It was called the Booze Free Brigade and it quickly grew to thousands of members and spun off into a secret Facebook group called the BFB. These days, there are many more digital communities dedicated to sobriety.
In these online groups, magic happens.
People at all stages of recovery can find help. Just questioning your drinking? Come on in and take a virtual seat, you’re welcome here. Do you have years of recovery under your belt, but find yourself going through a rough patch? This is a great place to get extra support. The nice thing about online groups is there is always someone available to talk whether it’s 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. and you don’t even need to put on a bra!
To help deal with my stress, I decided to check in with a few of my sober online communities. Lots of people seemed to be feeling the effects of novel coronavirus isolation. One woman in my Facebook group for sober Bravo fans (yes, this is a thing) wrote:
“Lots of feelings coming up with the drinking memes and people urging cocktails-to-go to support restaurants. I’m so grateful I can use the tools from my sobriety to get through this. Watching ‘normies’ through social media during this time has been interesting, to say the least.”
The first response was:
“I would be a wasted mess through all of this. So glad to be present and sober. It’s amazing how many people are self medicating with booze… Glad I’m not one of them!”
I could relate to that: Watching the sheer amount of day drinking going on in old seasons of Vanderpump Rules made me momentarily jealous that other people could enjoy that escape. But then I think back to where I was when I got sober.Sure it might start with “just a glass to take the edge off” but within a short amount of time I’d be back to daily drinking, bad hangovers, and worst of all, my kids would see me drunk. Not worth it.
In another group I made a post to ask about 12-step Zoom meetings and got this response: “They’re saving my ass right now! You can mute yourself or even keep your camera off if you want.”
That was the push I needed.I clicked into my first virtual meeting a few minutes later.
It was slightly awkward at first; I had to learn how to virtually raise my hand and find some better lighting so I didn’t look like the Phantom of the Opera lurking in the shadows, but other than that, it was similar in feeling to the ones IRL.
We welcomed newcomers, celebrated birthdays, and shared, which provided the connection I craved. And with a simple Google it’s easy to find meetings, so I’ve been attending one every day—which is actually way more often than my pre-quarantine schedule.
To find an online Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, visit this website.
These online sobriety tools have definitely helped me maintain a fairly positive attitude and kept my anxiety in check. Well that and a daily dose of my chocolate peanut butter cups. As they say in the meetings, progress not perfection.
Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the author of several books including Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay. She’s the previous host of Parental Discretion with Stefanie Wilder-Taylor and the current host of three podcasts: For Crying Out Loud, Rose Pricks, and Bored AF. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children.
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