Staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus pandemic may seem futile.
After all, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recommended canceling or postponing events with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks . And while many recovery meetings around the world average less attendees than that, concerns over COVID-19 have led to numerous closures – including many of the facilities where recovery meetings are held, according to Rolling Stone : “(As) much of the rest of the country shuts down to stem the spread of the new coronavirus – with concert venues, churches, restaurants, and movie theaters closing – some people in the 12-step program have found themselves without access to an integral part of their recovery or sobriety routine.”
While there are numerous building blocks of sobriety that are crucial to building a solid foundation and maintaining it over the weeks, months and years to come, few are more important than interconnectedness. Newly sober addicts and alcoholics are encouraged to attend 90 meetings in 90 days at the outset of their journeys – to build a healthy habit of meeting attendance, but also to develop relationships with peers in the program who become lifelines.
Even scientists recognize that need for community. Neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman, in an interview with The Washington Post , credits social connection with being an important addiction recovery tool: “By connecting with other people over and over again, she says, people with (addiction) can reduce their compulsive behaviors and their chance of relapse or overdose. This change relies on neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself when new behaviors are practiced again and again.”
But if meetings are temporarily suspended and church basements are closed and individuals are being urged to avoid leaving their homes – how is staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus even possible? It takes some ingenuity, and perhaps a bit more technical interaction than some of you are used to, but it can be done – and for those who need such connection to maintain their recovery, it has to be done.
Staying Connected in Recovery During the Coronavirus: Try Something New
For many people, the internet has always been a tool of convenience rather than necessity. We use it to send emails, to interact on social media, to play games – but COVID-19 has flipped the script and made digital communication a vital means of connection: “But if there is a silver lining in this crisis, it may be that the virus is forcing us to use the internet as it was always meant to be used – to connect with one another, share information and resources, and come up with collective solutions to urgent problems,” writes Kevin Rose for The New York Times . “It’s the healthy, humane version of digital culture we usually see only in schmaltzy TV commercials, where everyone is constantly using a smartphone to visit far-flung grandparents and read bedtime stories to kids.”
However, there are just as many individuals – especially older Americans – who never got on the internet bandwagon or who have purposefully avoided the digital age as much as possible because of the impersonal and sterile nature of online interaction. Ironically, that sterility is one of the key safety features of staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus, because if connection is a necessary component of addiction recovery … and social distancing protocols have slowed or stopped in-person recovery meetings altogether … then online meetings are the next best thing:
“With stay-at-home orders across the U.S., meetings and counseling sessions for those who struggle with addiction issues are now taking place online during the coronavirus pandemic,” according to a CNBC report . “These types of resources are more needed than ever, according to addiction groups, mental health counselors and individuals who struggle with substance abuse issues.”
So what are some of the best digital apps – short for applications – can individuals use to make sure they’re staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus?
- Zoom is, by far, the go-to app during these times of social distancing, according to Forbes , and the free version comes with a great many bells and whistles: “You can host up to 100 participants and unlimited meetings, but the meetings only last for 40 minutes. It offers video conferencing features like screen share, the ability to dial in from a telephone and, most importantly, use of virtual background and touch up (more on that later). You can also record your meeting, use the hand raising function, schedule with Chrome extensions, group message and make use of a virtual whiteboard.” It’s important to note that many organizers of recovery meetings go with the “Pro” plan, which costs roughly $15 per month and allows hosting of meetings that can last up to 24 hours and include 300 participants.
- Google Hangouts, which many Android users likely already have installed on their devices, which is “a video platform that allows 25 people and can be accessed through an app, Gmail or other Google accounts.”  It can also be expanded as Google Hangouts Meet, which is an ideal communications tool for business professionals.
- Skype for Business is available on desktop, mobile, tablets, and even through Alexa” and “lets you join a video conferencing session on three steps, with no sign-ups or downloads required. Users can generate their free unique link with one click, share it with team members and start the meeting. As per Microsoft, ‘the meeting link does not expire and can be used anytime.'” 
There are, of course, other apps, but those three are most commonly used among the recovery community. Of course, for the technically challenged – or even for recovering addicts and alcoholics who don’t do well with change – downloading and using such apps may seem frightening, annoying or off-putting. It’s important to remember the tenets of the Serenity Prayer: We seek acceptance of the things we cannot change, such as COVID-19 and its impacts on the world … and we ask for the courage to change the things we can, like downloading an easy-to-use app and using it as a recovery tool. If you can launch and use an app like Facebook, you can use one like Zoom. The key is willingness, which is a core component of recovery anyway.
Staying Connected in Recovery During the Coronavirus: What Next?
So you’ve overcome your hesitation and decided to download one of the aforementioned apps to your phone, tablet or computer. What’s the next step to staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus? Well, that depends on what you’re program of choice might be. There are literally thousands of meetings taking place in the digital space at all hours of the day and night, but many recovering individuals are particular about where they get their experience, strength and hope, so start with the program that fits your needs.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
According to the Online Intergroup of AA , “The first AA meetings online used Bulletin Boards and were around 1986. Email groups started forming in the early nineties and the development of the worldwide internet rapidly fueled the growth and variety of groups. The first online AA group, Lamp-lighters, was formed in 1990, and has met by email continuously since then. Now there are hundreds of AA groups with thousands of members, connected together through this Online Intergroup. Using various mechanisms – video conferencing, phone conferencing, message boards, email listservs, chatrooms and even games – the AA community is constantly connecting and finding new, creative ways to communicate the experience, strength and hope of recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous.”
The fellowship offers email, chat, audio and forum meetings in a variety of languages, as well as a Meeting Directory that displays the next available meeting at the top, so a simple refresh of the web page will display the next meeting. According to the website, “You can filter by day, language, format, and focus area,” and “you can also find meetings available at any time, by selecting the 24/7 option. Times are presented in your current timezone.”
Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
Because of the autonomous nature of the majority of 12 Step programs – meaning that what passes for policy is determined by the individual group – there’s not a specific edict that governs how addicts are staying connected in recovery during coronavirus : “While it is not our role to make statements regarding health issues, we encourage NA groups to discuss the situations you are facing and the options you have to provide safe environments for those who attend your meetings.”
The World Service Organization of NA encourages individuals seeking information on the status of meetings to contact the individual areas to which groups belong; many decisions on meeting closures or cancellations because of COVID-19 are made at area level, and those areas often include an impact statement on their websites. However, the autonomous nature that allows each group to govern itself independently can also mean that some trusted servants may not update their closure/cancellation statuses – in which case, using the NA meeting search option to locate online or web-based meetings is probably a better idea than driving to a meeting location only to find it shuttered.
Celebrate Recovery “is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind,” and for years, it’s provided recovery programs around the country of a more faith-centric bent. Up until COVID-19, CR organizers have declined to hold online meetings (although a number of Celebrate Recovery groups will broadcast their services online). While organizers are still encouraging smaller meetings of 10 or fewer attendees, they’ve also changed their policy: “By creating Celebrate Recovery Crisis Response (CRCR) online Open Share groups, we believe this can be a temporary solution for you still to be able to connect. As soon as we get through this pandemic, we will go back to face-to-face meetings only.”
A robust set of regulations is in place to ensure that safety guidelines are met and Celebrate Recovery protocols are followed, according to the response page: “These groups will be formed from existing groups from a local ministry. These groups will be overseen by the Ministry Leader from a local CR,” and the national CR office has provided a list of eight guidelines that participants and group leaders must follow. Visit the website for more information, or follow up with a local Celebrate Recovery group in your area for additional details.
Refuge Recovery (RR)
Refuge Recovery is “a Buddhist-inspired path to recovery from addiction” , and participants “practice a daily recovery program that includes meditation and personal inventory, mentorship, retreat and service as integral components,” as well as “regular attendance at group meetings.” Except, of course, when there’s a viral pandemic raging. Organizers recognize that members find refuge, especially during times of fear and uncertainty, at RR meetings, but at the same time, according to the program’s COVID-19 statement , “we honor each RR group’s responsibility to discuss and determine by a vote what is best for their meeting.”
Recovery Dharma (RD)
Another program based on recovery through Eastern philosophy, Recovery Dharma “uses the Buddhist practices of meditation, self-inquiry, wisdom, compassion, and community as tools for recovery and healing.”  Although fairly new to the recovery world, RD has found a foothold in recovery communities … and has also been impacted by COVID-19: “Because of this, numerous local Recovery Dharma meetings may be canceled or may have moved online,” according to the program’s website . “We are asking sanghas to submit meeting changes due to Covid-19 (and) … we recommend that before you travel to any in-person site for a meeting that you contact the sangha responsible to confirm if they’re still being held.”
“An abstinence-oriented, not-for-profit organization for individuals with addictive problems” , SMART – Self-Management And Recovery Training – Recovery eschews the labels of addict and alcoholic, choosing instead to “teach scientifically validated methods designed to empower you to change and to develop a more positive lifestyle.” It’s a nonprofit organization similar to AA and NA that’s been around for more than a quarter-century … but like its peer organizations, SMART Recovery hasn’t been spared from the reach of COVID-19.
“Many meetings across the country have been put on hiatus or have changed from in-person to online due to the concerns over COVID-19, and more are expected to do the same,” according to a coronavirus statement from the organization’s website . “SMART Recovery will remain fully operational at this time, and will continue to support individuals and their family & friends with their recovery in the best way possible.”
Staying Connected in Recovery During the Coronavirus: Apps and Tools, Oh My!
Still looking for a ways of staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus? Fortunately, there are a number of sobriety-related apps designed to do just that. Some of those include:
- In The Rooms, “a free online recovery tool that offers 130 weekly online meetings for those recovering from addiction and related issues. We embrace multiple pathways to recovery, including all 12 Step, Non-12 Step, Wellness and Mental Health modalities.” 
- Pocket Rehab, which “offers 24/7 real-time recovery support and relapse prevention for its members for free through an online community of volunteer providers.” 
- Sober Grid, which bills itself as “the largest mobile sober community” that allows users a free “personalized, easy-to-access resource for tracking and sharing progress with others, giving and receiving support,” and now includes “24/7 live peer coaching.” 
- I Am Sober, which allows users to  “connect with others that have the same addiction, and at the same point in their sobriety.”
- Nomo, designed by a recovering individual as a simple sobriety counter … with so much more: “If you attend meetings, it’s common for everyone in the group to connect with each other in the app,” according to the website . “If you don’t go to meetings, Nomo can search for accountability partners! Once connected, you can share your clocks and message each others. It’s a great way of staying accountable!”
There are other tools out there to help you with staying connected in recovery during the coronavirus, or just to stay motivated. All of the aforementioned apps are available through the Google Play or Apple stores, and they’re at your disposal whenever you want – or find the willingness – to make use of them.
In this tumultuous age, it’s important to remember that connection is one of the ties that binds those of us in recovery together – and as long as they “are stronger than those that would tear us apart, all will be well.” But that strength is derived from our willingness to take advantage of the opportunities to stay connected, through whatever means are necessary.