12-Step Fellowship in the middle of a pandemic. This seems like an oxymoron. Aren’t we all supposed to be following an “as-rigid-as-possible” social distancing plan for the next few weeks? Many 12-step meetings have been temporarily suspended and the list of “No’s” and “Suggested No’s” can seem overwhelming, even to those who are not in recovery:
- Stay home
- Only essential trips for groceries and medications
- No visitors in our homes
- No theater/concerts/athletic events
- No gyms
- No restaurants or cafes
- No libraries
- No playdates
- No church services
- No group gatherings
So many of these “NOs” feel like essential “YESes” for those of us in recovery: group meetings, church services, post-meeting breakfasts or coffees with 12-step friends, libraries, or other public refuges free of booze or drugs.
And how do we practice Step 12–”Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”–if we are staying home, if we can’t attend meeting or hold hands at the end of our meetings in our hopeful circle of prayer? If we can’t create that in-person linked chain that relies on common purpose and support? And if we are in early recovery or if we struggle with depression, anxiety, or any mental illness? Or if we are on the front lines, working service jobs that are incredibly stressful and exhausting, particularly in these times?
One of the first refrains clinicians recite over and over: Don’t isolate. Seek out community.
Yet, the advice now given by clinicians to keep us all healthy and to help us be responsible to our communities is exactly (or seemingly) the opposite: Isolate. Keep your distance from each other.
And what of the “Hey! Let’s drink and drunk away the virus while we’re at home!” memes and posts? The online pics and tweets showing shopping carts full of booze? The jokes that “alcohol kills germs”? No, 12-Steppers aren’t humorless, but if we’re sober, struggling to stay sober, or trying to get sober without our 12-step meetings, it can be hard to shrug off the lighthearted banter. These jokes, too, can trigger fleeting or ruminative catastrophic thoughts: i.e., “F*ck it. Why not get drunk or use? No one will know. And if we’re all going to die…”
Yes, we can and should call our sponsors and we can and should call our sponsees.
Revision: No can, no should. We will call each other. Basic 12-step outreach. A few texts across the day to let each other know we are here and still working our program. A quick phone call or video chat to hear one anothers’ voices and to see one another in real time. If you and your sponsor/sponsee have smart phones, download one of the free video chat services and have a virtual one-on-one meeting together.
If you have access to a computer and internet, there are online Recovery/12-Step meetings that you can “virtually” attend. If you worry about privacy, create an anonymous user name and find a meeting that is text/message based (so no video). A computer and basic computing skills are all that is generally required to enter a meeting: click, link, join, and type (or voice text). These online meetings, like those held out in the world, have a regular schedule, and most online options offer daily meetings. Some resources for online meetings are:
Also if you are healthy and able, try to get outside for a walk (keep 6 feet distance from others) or take a (true) breather from your front steps as often as you can (as long as you are not symptomatic). Open skies, sunshine, clouds, rain, wind, trees, bird song–that is, the noise of the world–can help remind us that the world is here and we are still of the world.
If you are reading this in order to find out how you might support friends or loved ones in recovery who can’t attend meetings or follow their out-in-the-world recovery protocols: Please reach out to those who are self-quarantining or social distancing. They might be newly sober. Or in the middle of their 90 Meetings in 90 days. Or might rely on daily meetings. Or weekly meetings. Or meetings only when they need them. For some, their home group meeting might be what has been keeping them sober and alive.
The isolation that can set in as a result of not being able to attend those meetings is real, and while there are online 12-step meetings (as noted above), many in our fellowship might be homeless, may lack access to internet, may not be computer-savvy. And many might struggle with staying sober when contending with the anxiety, potential or real loss of income, and fear I imagine we all share.
Those of us in recovery often dedicate ourselves and sobriety to one spiritual tenet: One day at a time. But this tenet can be a practical and necessary spiritual guide for all of us navigating this pandemic and these perilous times. We do what we can do from home (if we are lucky to be able to stay at home), while also being mindful of our health and well-being. Stay connected to each other as we can. Most of us aren’t prepared for living or working in isolation in our homes and may feel adrift without our usual sustaining routines (12-step meetings, church services, gym workouts, meetups with friends and family). And if we’re being honest? 24/7 close quarters is hard with the people we love, and hard if we’re single–stress, anxiety, boredom, frustration, depression, and ants in the pants.
So yes, one day at a time. Lower expectations if needed. Have compassion for each other and ourselves. If we emerge having learned that we are survivor-thrivers, that we are able to sustain our sobriety and our connections across phone calls, video chats, online check-ins, that we are beings and not just doings? That might be our greatest recovery success yet.