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Alcoholics Anonymous meetings have gone virtual, and they’ll probably stay that way

AA meetings have gone virtual during the pandemic. (Unsplash)

Virtually everything has gone virtual during the pandemic, and that includes AA meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are now on Zoom, and it sounds like that will most likely remain an option even when in-person meetings resume. It’s just so convenient.

Sarah (all last names have been removed for privacy) got sober, and started going to AA meetings every day, nearly two years ago.

“I was just sick, I had a lot of anxiety and panic attacks because I was drinking every day. It’s hard because I wanted to fit in with the moms who drank the wine and the White Claws, the fun times,” she said. “Nobody knew, I hid it very well. My husband knew the real struggle I dealt with. I called him one morning and I needed help and I didn’t want to go to rehab because I didn’t want to leave my family.”

Sarah says AA has played a big role in keeping her sober, so when in-person meetings shut down …

“I set up my own Zoom account, not knowing what I was doing. And I started texting people that went to meetings I went to before. Nobody really got the word out in AA that there was Zoom meetings yet. So everyone just started showing up.”

Now there’s an easy way to find a Zoom meeting, just click on SeattleAA.org.

“There used to be about 1,200 in-person meetings a week in the Seattle area,” said Mike, who started attending meetings 22 years ago and usually goes to four a week. “Right now, there are still almost 700 Zoom meetings a week in that greater Seattle area. There’s definitely a lot of meetings out there for people to attend.”

While Mike misses the kind of connection you can only get seeing people in person, there’s no denying some big benefits of online meetings. There is now a meeting available at every minute of every day. You don’t have to fight traffic or hire a babysitter; you could attend a meeting on your lunch break or right before you go to bed.

“As far as the positives, I have been able to go to meetings in different states,” said Jennifer, who has been going to AA meetings daily for the past five years. “I’ve been to meetings in New York and Minneapolis, and I went to a meeting in London for awhile. It’s a way to connect with people in a different way. I was not excited about it — I’d never done Zoom and I really didn’t embrace it, and it scared me. Personally, I was afraid of the change, I was afraid of not being able to meet in person. Once I got going with it, it’s been really convenient. We’re still able to reach new people.”

But there are some downsides, namely what’s called “Zoom bombing.” AA meetings are public, anyone is welcome to attend. The AA Zoom links are purposefully posted on websites, so they’re easy to find and people can get the help they need. That means they are sometimes the target of pranksters.

“People come in and start saying rude and crude things,” Sarah said. “In one of our meetings, they started playing pornography. It was horrible, we didn’t know what to do. These meetings are a safe place for people to come. Especially right now, people feel so alone and are trying to get through this without a drink. It makes me sad when people show such disturbing things.”

Staying sober during an isolating pandemic is a big worry, but Mike doesn’t think meeting attendance has shifted much. It’s very common for people to come and go from AA, whether meetings are in a church basement or on a computer screen.

“I don’t have any reason to believe that less people are attending AA meetings in the greater Seattle area,” Mike said. “I just think they might be attending different ones.”

But there is concern for those who don’t have access to computers or internet during the pandemic. They can call 206-587-2838 to get help.

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