With the new requirements to shelter in place for the next few weeks, online recovery support continues to be essential for our friends in recovery.
Another free, online recovery resource is In the Rooms. Established in 2008 by Ken Pomerance and Ron Tannebaum, both in long-term recovery, In the Rooms (ITR) was designed “to give recovering addicts a place to meet and socialize when they’re not in face-to-face meetings.” The ITR mantra is the acronym HITCH: Help, Inform, Touch, Connect, and Heal all those whose lives have been touched by addiction.
The ITR community includes more than 600,000 members, connecting them to 130 0nline meetings each week. “Through live meetings, discussion groups, and all the other tools In the Rooms has to offer, people connect with one another and help each other along their recovery journeys. Our goal was to reach people in the recovery community in every nook and cranny of the world,” according to Ken Pomerance in a October 2017 interview on thefix.com Since the CoVid 19 restrictions began, Ken and Ron report they are gaining more than 3000 new members every day. "If someone is afraid to attend a meeting due to the coronavirus, then they might be more apt to relapse, especially in early recovery," said Ken. All members support, protect, and encourage each other. Members can post blogs, add items to the newsfeed, and send private messages similar to the Facebook format. The platform also includes a place for private journaling.
In the Rooms embraces all paths to recovery, whether they are 12-step programs or focus on mental and behavioral health. ITR can be used independently or in conjunction with face-to-face meetings.
There is a wealth of information on recovery including member blogs, daily encouragement and material on recovery from experts in the field. The In the Rooms treatment locator database can help you find treatment centers near you.
Ron and Ken designed In the Rooms to be helpful to those who travel, live in rural areas, are hospitalized, or find themselves in any situation where accessing a face-to-face recovery community is difficult. In the Rooms protects the confidentiality of its members to provide a safe, private place to be surrounded by an encouraging recovery community. When you create your online profile, you decide how much information to share. The only requirement for registration is a username.
Although many were skeptical that online recovery groups would provide the support of a face-to-face meeting, Ron and Ken have found the opposite to be true. “People are much more vulnerable because they’re in the comfort of their own home, not looking into 30 sets of prying eyes.” Typically, meetings included 80-100 people. Recently Ken reported attending a meeting with more than 500 online participants. In spite of the size and format, the meetings are warm and friendly. Even though only a few can share, other attendees can message each other, connect, and share their own stories.
For more information, go to Intheroom.com or visit their Facebook page @intherooms. Other resources offer support for friends and family members of those struggling with substance use. There are weekly online video meetings for Alanon and Nar-anon as well as information and resources.
Even before the Corona virus, only 10% of those struggling with addiction were in treatment. Social distancing and closures will no doubt increase this statistic, which has been influenced by many factors: lack of treatment providers, stigma, and transportation barriers to name a few.
As we have discussed before, Sam Quinones, author of the book Dreamland, insists that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, but connection. While we know that social distancing is required to stop the spread of disease, we also know that isolation is a serious threat to our loved ones who struggle with mental health and substance use disorder. Now with the stay-at-home order, mutual aid recovery groups such as AA and NA are unable to meet, and people in recovery may be left without support.
AA and Smart Recovery offer online meetings to assist with this issue. (Online AA meetings may be found at http://aa-intergroup.org/directory.php) (Smart Recovery online meetings may be found at Smartrecovery.org.)
I recently learned of a free recovery app called Connections developed by the Addiction Policy Forum and CHESS Health. Their website states that Connections is evidence-based with years of research to prevent relapse and promote social-emotional engagement.
The app has a variety of features including daily check-ins, message boards, AA meeting locators, goal setting activities, journaling, surveys, suggestions for activities, and e-therapy.
I was especially interested in the e-therapy section. This section provides interactive lessons on topics related to recognizing, avoiding, and coping with situations that may lead to relapse. The seven lessons discuss triggers, cravings, problem solving, how small decisions lead to relapse, and avoiding risky situations that may end in drug use.
The e-therapy lessons are based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps people pay attention to their thinking, allowing them to control their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Each lesson description, video, alternative behaviors, skills practice, and worksheets to evaluate a person’s own behavior and thinking. At the end of each lesson, there is a CBT Challenge to test concept mastery with a series of true/false questions. Additional practice is offered for each skill as well as a downloadable review for each lesson. Viewers are encouraged to practice the skill on their own and asked if they completed the assignment at their next log in.
In addition, an online resource library provides links to online videos, music, and speakers related to various areas of recovery support.
Each viewer is encouraged to personalize the app by entering motivations for staying sober, such as a picture of loved one, a quote or a video to remind them why they are in recovery, contact information of people who support their recovery, ore reminders of risky places to avoid. The hope is that having the information at the viewer’s fingertips will allow quick access when resolve waivers.
A red lighthouse icon will immediately provide connection to a supportive help if the viewer feels very stressed or needs urgent help in recovery. (911 should always be called in a medical emergency.)
There is also an area similar to Facebook that allows the individual to post on his own wall or view the walls of others in recovery.
To gain access to the Connection app go to https://www.addictionpolicy.org/connections-app. Enter your name, email, date of birth and gender, and within twenty-four hours you will receive a link and password to sign in and begin using the app.
During this time of social distancing and sheltering in place, it is helpful to know there are online resources available to those in recovery to aid them in sobriety.
Last time, we discussed the basics of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12-Step process; today we will look at AA meetings and how they work.
The purpose of all AA group meetings, as their Preamble states, is for AA members to “share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.” Toward this end, AA groups have both open and closed meetings.
Closed meetings are for AA members only, for those who have a drinking problem and “have a desire to stop drinking.” In a closed meeting, members can speak openly and honestly about their problem or situation, knowing that everyone else in the room has experienced similar situations.
Open meetings are available to anyone interested in the Alcoholics Anonymous program of recovery from alcoholism. Non-alcoholics, including students, family members, professionals, members of the press, or anyone interested in learning about AA may attend open meetings as observers.
Whether open or closed, AA group meetings are conducted by AA members who determine the format of their meetings. Leadership is rotated, so no one person is in charge.
Meetings often begin with the reading of AA literature, which may include the Preamble, 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, or Daily Meditations. There may be a discussion of a recovery-related topic. In open meetings, a speaker may share a story of recovery and hope. Members respond to the readings and story, taking turns and encouraging one another.
Many AA groups pass out chips to celebrate members’ accomplishments of recovery and sobriety. Chips are small round tokens of various colors marking periods of sobriety. Depending on the group, chips may be awarded at sobriety time frames of 24 hours, 1 to 4 weeks, monthly up to 11 months, and then yearly. The AA organization does not provide chips, but many AA groups have embraced this practice.
When asked which chip is the hardest to earn, a wise AA member said, “The next one.”
Another important component of the AA program is sponsorship. New members are encouraged to find a sponsor -another AA member- who acts as sympathetic friend to guide them into how AA works, answer questions, introduce them to AA resources and group members, and offer advice to deal with rough spots and temptation. In other words, sponsors help new members create a whole new way of life, not just sobriety. But the sponsor is not responsible for maintaining the newcomer’s sobriety; AA views this as the responsibility of the entire AA program. Sponsors should have at least one year of sobriety and enjoy their recovery. Established members of AA find that sponsoring someone strengthens their own sobriety. By becoming a sponsor, they are fulfilling Step 12 of the 12-step process. By helping others, they help themselves.
AA is considered one of the most successful mutual aid societies in helping people recover from substance abuse. If you are interested in learning more, go to the AA website where you will find meeting locations and resources to aid sobriety.
One of the best sources of support for those in recovery are mutual aid societies, or support groups, where people who have experienced various forms of substance use come together to support each other in recovery. Although drug misuse, especially opioids, has garnered media attention recently, alcoholism is the most commonly abused substance in the United States.
Alcoholics Anonymous is the best known and most successful mutual aid society. According to the AA website: “AA is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is free and open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.”
Formed in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, AA began with three members and quickly grew. Although accurate numbers are difficult to obtain because of the anonymity of AA membership, the organization estimates that worldwide there are currently more than two million members within 125,000 groups.
In 1939, The AA Big Book was first published, explaining the 12 Steps of Recovery. The 12 steps are guidelines or steps toward recovery. They may also be seen as a series of personal choices and actions that allow a person in recovery to move away from dependence and toward control over alcohol abuse.
Whether through personal and family experience or through media, many of us have heard of the 12 steps. It’s important to remember that these actions are serious goals and accomplishments for people in recovery. Those in AA call doing the steps “working the program” and take personal responsibility for their efforts. The 12 steps have been adapted by other support groups, such as Gamblers Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to help people recover from various addictions, and the term “12-step program” is often used to describe mutual aid societies that use this recovery technique.
Some people might feel initially uncomfortable with the religious aspect of the AA program. AA does not support any specific religion but recognizes that helping people access the positive emotions of a higher power can facilitate recovery. Members insist that the focus is “spiritual and not religious,” and an individual can define the “higher power.” Just as some people may be uncomfortable with religious tones, some religious organizations find the open-ended spiritualism to be offensive in its vagueness.
Regardless of one’s preconception of the steps or the spiritual aspect of AA, research from various sources suggests that AA is one of the most successful recovery supports available. Its success comes from helping people change their social networks to ones that support sobriety and recovery, increasing abstinence and healthy coping skills, and motivating themselves and others to maintain recovery over time.
If you or someone you know needs to connect with AA, call the AA Hotline: 800-422-3140.
Next time we will continue our discussion of AA.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.