Normally, Charlottesville’s Alcoholics Anonymous members sit in chairs in a circle. Now, they appear as squares in a grid.
Coronavirus has forced much of American life online, and addiction recovery groups are no exception—they’re now holding meetings over Zoom instead of in their usual church basements. But social distancing is a tricky proposition for groups that are built around finding human connection.
“One of the things in our literature we always talk about is how you don’t want to isolate, because it leads a lot of people to using, to relapsing,” says Brian, a recovering addict and a member of the Piedmont area’s Narcotics Anonymous public relations team. “And here we are in this situation where we’re told to isolate.”
To combat that feeling of helplessness, the local NA chapter has been holding at least two online Zoom meetings every day. AA has started a similar program, with many meetings available every day.
A local AA leader, who wished to remain anonymous, says Zoom meetings have the same structure as regular meetings, with some small exceptions: “Well, you can’t hug each other. We’re a very close-knit group. So it’s true that you can’t do that,” he says.
In general, though, “Attendance is excellent,” the AA member says, “and we’ve had newcomers who have come to their first meeting virtually.”
People without internet access can call in and participate via landline, he says.
Brian is similarly enthusiastic about NA, saying that the meetings have been going smoothly, once everyone got accustomed to proper “Zoom etiquette.” NA has also been conducting occasional in-person outdoor meetings, limited to 10 people per meeting.
Despite the early success of the online meetings, this indeterminate period of distancing could be a difficult time for many in the recovery community. “I have a sinking feeling that some people are going to drop out of contact,” Brian says. “This is an opportunity that some people may take to go, ‘Oh, I’m going to close down completely.’”
Joanna Jennings, Region Ten’s community relations coordinator, says that the women in Region Ten’s Moore’s Creek residential substance recovery program have shifted to videoconferences, too. They often attend SMART recovery meetings, a newer program that removes the religious overtones of groups like AA and NA.
The Moore’s Creek facility generally has around a dozen residents, but that number has decreased as admissions were halted and some residents moved elsewhere due to the virus. The remaining women have been participating in virtual meetings, and “really enjoying” them, says Jennings.
“One of them described this experience, where she had an idea about how the meeting should be run, and they went with her idea,” Jennings says. “That made her feel really good, that someone across the country—that they were connecting in that way.”
In a time when everyone’s social routines are coming under new stresses, having regularly scheduled check-ins with familiar faces isn’t the worst thing in the world.
“I think it’s wonderful that we have the virtual meetings. I don’t know what we’d do if we didn’t have that,” says the AA member. “This is certainly a wonderful way to keep in touch with people, to see each other two, three, four times a week.”
Brian agrees. “My girlfriend is not an addict, and I have talked to her about, like, ‘It’s too bad you don’t have this,’” he says. “I have this avenue, that at least twice a day, I can go online and talk to people that I actually know, to talk about how I’m feeling and not be judged. I think it’s really helping a lot of people go through this time.”