Technology and Recovery

Internet

By D.G.

I was born and raised on a farm in rural Virginia, and many times have heard my parents and older members of my family and community recount tales of their daily lives and practices that would be entirely foreign to almost all of us today. My grandmother’s first ride in an automobile came at age 13; the twenty mile trip to “town” to sell the tobacco they grew took three days and two nights by horse drawn carriage, and the layovers were timed to rest atop White Oak Mountain.

Telephones, televisions, and the like came in due time – but here I am, a mere generation or two later – typing this on a hand held device that can literally connect me to the entire globe with the tap of a touchscreen! The change didn’t occur overnight, but the speed with which technology has changed our ability to interact, communicate, send and receive news and information, etc. has been truly remarkable, and continues to outpace most of our abilities to keep up.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of our dependence on technology, what we’ve gained and what we’ve lost in its application, but I can say for certain that instant internet access, the ability to talk and text without searching for a pay phone or a mailbox, has been an invaluable tool to me in my recovery from alcoholism and addiction.

I live in a medium sized coastal city now, but the old farm in Virginia has plenty of access to technology with cell towers and satellites beaming signals to even the most rural and remote locales. I can only imagine my Grandmother’s dismissive hand wave if I had the chance today to attempt to explain: “You see Grandma, there are satellites orbiting the earth… and this tablet connects wirelessly to a wifi router… and boom your great granddaughter is talking to us via video in real time from South Africa…”

Twenty-five years ago I was 17 years old and already ravaged by my consumption of alcohol and other substances. I really don’t remember exactly how I was introduced to the 12 step fellowship but I do remember being told to get phone numbers of other members and “dial them don’t file them”. It would be a few more years before I was willing to take even this most basic of suggestions, and many more years still before I finally put together six years of continuous sobriety. Even then I had lots of trouble relating to the religiosity in the literature, to some of the steps, to the traditional meetings I attended and to my sponsor who couldn’t seem to fathom my atheist worldview as genuine – and once again I relapsed. I recently, though, thanks to utilizing technology, have found groups and fellowship online, and even a face to face “We Agnostics” meeting.

Today, for the first time in 25 years, I don’t feel isolated, alone or separate from the entire fellowship, and for this I am exceedingly grateful and optimistic. I choose to put more focus on the “principle” than the “spiritual” and knowing that I’m not alone in doing that makes it all much easier, and I feel much more “at home”.

But back to my story…

At age 23, having made a mess and mockery of school and work opportunities, I begrudgingly started a career as a long haul truck driver, and found that I loved it! A natural loner and explorer, I loved the nomadic lifestyle, not having a “boss” looking over my shoulder, waking up in a different place every day, the incredible diversity of landscapes and dialects and cultures of America, and perhaps the dubious feature of never having to get to know anybody TOO well, and vice versa. My first job was a more or less regular cross country route from the Carolinas to California and back.

Telephone Booth

The classic North American telephone booth.

I attempted to use a “tool of technology” back then to stay connected, which seems so antiquated now – the “phone card”. This was a pre-paid long distance access card that enabled me to call my home area in Virginia from any pay phone in the U.S. by entering a code and being very careful to manage my available minutes. Having had my butt kicked enough by alcoholism to open my mind to the suggestion of staying in contact with others in recovery, I’d purchase as many minutes as I could afford on these cards in Arkansas on my way out west and stop in Arizona to make my weekly calls!

In those days the best truck stops typically had a designated room with rows of pay phones in cubicles for privacy. Of course this required some coordination with loved ones and a sponsor and other members of the fellowship to know what time I’d be calling, or I could find myself heartbroken and frustrated and “out of minutes” by missed calls and connection fees.

Fast forward a decade (or two) and I, for one, love texting and email and use it frequently. Cell phone signal strength can be hit or miss, and “dropping” calls or being unable to hear clearly is a definite problem on the road. Not as difficult as finding and buying calling cards and searching for a phone booth, but still a problem.

Text and email allows me to consider my words before “saying” them, yet offers nearly instantaneous communication, and a record of conversations I can refer back to, as needed. This has proven invaluable in my relationship with my current sponsor and others. Today my sponsor and I mostly communicate via text, email, and cell phone calls from wherever he or I may be geographically. We live a few hundred miles apart but still see each other in person occasionally, and those face to face times are important and precious, but are no longer the only way to stay connected. In my travels, finding a meeting anywhere is usually accomplished in a matter of minutes, using area websites and GPS. Podcasts and recovery speakers keep me in good company on long days alone.

While these are just some examples from my own life and story, I’m not unique in feeling alone and estranged from the fellowship. It’s not only those of us who travel for work who can and do benefit from our modern modes of connectivity, but also those who live in areas without ready access to meetings, those who for myriad reasons are confined or without transportation, those with strong social anxiety issues, and even those who do have access to meetings but have found a particular mindset prevalent at groups in their area that prevents them from feeling “a part of” there, but can and do find a network and fellowship online.

My first memory of this idea came from a conversation I had with a female member who I ran across in a local grocery store. Having not seen her at our morning meeting in a while, she explained that the morning meeting was the only one that her work schedule allowed her attend, but she often felt uncomfortable being the only woman in attendance, not to mention the innuendo and unsolicited, unwanted advances made toward her by some members.

She had found an online women’s group where her experience was common and understood, she felt no intimidation from “the old boys club”, and could share openly and freely. She excitedly told me it had radically changed her experience of recovery, for the better!

Since then, I’ve seen this type of scenario played out many times with members who experience some form of disengagement through distance or inability to attend traditional meetings, or members whose traditional groups haven’t been effective in integrating all alcoholics into their fold; for example, LGBTQ alcoholics or atheist and agnostic alcoholics like myself. I can say from personal experience, after many years of struggle to feel “at home” as an atheist in recovery, that it has been a great relief to find groups and meetings online. Essentially, to find fellowship online. I can’t emphasize this enough – I no longer feel alone… and that has been essential to my hope for continued recovery.

A potential challenge presents itself here regarding technology. As alcoholics and addicts some believe we are inherently resistant to change. I personally have heard it said that online meetings aren’t “real meetings”, that texting is “silly” or something that only kids do, that use of these technologies is splintering the unity so important to the fellowship, and that isolation is dangerous to recovery; that one can “hide” behind a computer screen or phone and never learn to engage face to face with humanity. I believe there is some merit to these concerns, but these are the same dilemmas our world and society as a whole faces with technology, and we as individuals and groups in 12 step programs are not immune to these challenges.

One things for sure though, these technologies are here to stay and not just stay, but continue to advance and morph at an incredibly rapid pace. How we deal with them and integrate them into our lives is up to us.

In my estimation the benefits far outweigh the potential negatives, and in best case scenarios those who can’t get out to traditional meetings can attend online meetings, and those who feel marginalized can find that they are not alone and go on to start new meetings. The lady who introduced me to the idea went on to start a morning women’s meeting in her hometown that flourishes today. I recently, for the first time after spending quite a bit of time just reading online atheist/agnostic recovery websites, listening to podcasts, etc, found an atheist/agnostic traditional face to face meeting on a Saturday morning in a town 600 miles from home, within minutes made friends there, and took part in celebrating a fellow member’s 22nd anniversary celebration of sobriety!

So I conclude technology is like so many things in our lives, it will be what we make of it.

I realize many if not most reading this already use these “techno” tools in their recovery and most of us use them in many aspects of our daily lives. I am mainly expressing gratitude for them here, and hope to encourage those among us who haven’t tried them yet to give it a shot. There’s little to fear, much to be gained, and if we as a fellowship hope to engage with up and coming generations of alcoholics, we’ll need to meet them where they are – online.

Ask for help if you’re unfamiliar with these tools. Use a search engine and expose yourself to new insights into recovery around the world. Enjoy a recovery speaker on an audio or video application, download a daily reflection or recovery literature app on your phone, text your sponsor, email him or her some of your step work, try an online meeting or chat room. If you meet someone who’s isolated by distance or disability or travel, be familiar enough with the area and world websites and online meetings and chat rooms to offer them a chance to find and connect with other members, something that so many of us take for granted.

Let’s be responsible, so that when anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help the hand of the fellowship is there, face to face or via modern technology.


Print Friendly
Share this post:
FacebooktwittermailFacebooktwittermail

Comments

Technology and Recovery — 25 Comments

  1. I so enjoy these articles and comments. I am so grateful that through the tech of the internet I have been able to hook up with other secular members. This has all taken place in the past couple of months.

    You have opened my mind and motivated this old fart to learn new things and find new horizons. As Tim wrote tempus fugit. Yes time does fly… I looked it up.:-) and I too well remember all kinds of things being delivered in horse drawn wagons (ice, milk, bread, etc.). I date myself! Cheers to all.

    Mike

  2. Since email let alone the internet let alone iPhones and androids and iPads and texting and gaming and all, the profit-driven technology industry has promoted this rank conceit and delusion: that you can connect to the entire world, the entire globe, the entire internet.

    Yet that is not true. What one does is one can connect to another human using this technology.

    With 7 billion humans living on the surface of the Earth and MOST WITHOUT INTERNET ACCESS, it is not even POSSIBLE to “connect to the entire globe” either literally OR figuratively.

    These technologies are dyshuman because they are alienating. Yes Facebook is fun and we can read the news we want, play the games we want, read our email if we want, all sorts of clever things which are really just supertechno reiterations of old fashioned things that also worked quite well: reading the morning newspaper, watch evening TV news, play checkers inside or play football or baseball or basketball outside with other humans or greeting the postman outside as s/he delivers the mail.

    That’s all.

    And in some cases the profit-driven technology industry hasn’t improved things a whit. Indeed, the profit-driven technology industry can be said to have made things worse.

    Yet still we want more. Sort of like an addiction.

    And what will we do if and when the grid goes out, into brownouts or blackouts or just down. The US and Nato and Israel have taken out grids in a number of places. Wonder what those people did without their technologies?

    RE: “literally connect me to the entire globe with the tap of a touchscreen!”

    • “With 7 billion humans living on the surface of the Earth and MOST WITHOUT INTERNET ACCESS.”

      Although one might intuit that this is so, based simply on the number of connected places that have been a surprise to me it’s a statement I’m not inclined to accept without attribution. It’s not always in the home and, yes, not everyone has access but “MOST” (your emphasis) may be an overstatement.

    • Hey thom, thanks for reading and commenting… online. Couple of things though – I don’t think using technology has to be an either/or proposition to doing things face to face or outdoors. In fact I know it isn’t because I do both. And I, personally, don’t use Facebook or do any gaming online or otherwise. Just never been my thing but if it was, I’d be glad to play checkers with ya.

      Also, I don’t think anyone reading this would think I meant I can connect with all the billions of people on earth simultaneously – but I’ll be more careful with my use of “literally” and “entire” in the future. But when my niece was in Nepal, and South Africa, I was able to connect with her via “facetime” and I for one greatly appreciate the ability to do that. As well as many of the other things already mentioned, such as responding to you here and now.

      My 14 yr. old stepson is a “gamer” and yes, it does concern me the amount of time he spends on it. It also concerned my parents the amount of time I spent reading books at his age. But he is interacting with other kids and people (and yes, all over the globe) whereas I didn’t. I don’t think these issues are quite as simple as you’ve stated them upon a closer look.

      ALL industries, in our capitalist society and as they function in a global economy, are “profit-driven” – including the evening TV news, newspapers, the people who make and sell footballs and baseballs and checkers. How all that “profit-driven”-ness affects us as a society is another whopping big topic altogether. And so is the security of the “grid”, and I don’t pretend to have the answers to that, but I know personal and national security was a concern pre-Internet and smart phones, and will likely still be a concern when these technologies are just memories.

      Today, I found the address for a 10am “We Agnostics” meeting in a Midwestern city online, emailed a member there, and I have my truck-route specific GPS guiding me there. Could I have done that and made a meeting tomorrow being almost completely unfamiliar with the town or any recovering alcoholics there without the use of technology? Maybe… but for now, the grid is up and humming and helping me stay sober another day and meet other sober folks, and for that I’m grateful.

    • I say, whatever works, to each his own. If I hadn’t found this group, on line, after my Christian based noon meeting today, I might have said to hell with it and had a drink plus 12 more. BUT.

  3. D.G., thanks for a very timely and personally relevant article. This is one of those moments of identification when I ‘hear’ someone else telling my story. What springs pointedly to mind is that these moments of identification are much more likely to occur online at sites such as this one, or aabeyondbelief.

  4. Thanks, very much. I was the second sysop of Recovery BBS in San Francisco back in the dark ages of 1987. We were, for a time, a formal group registered with WSO and listed in the local meeting schedule. That evolved within a year of so into a Fidonet network (“echo”) of as many as 120 similar bulletin board systems around the world. I wonder if any of you remember the SRO panel on “electronic AA” at the 1990 International in Seattle that I’m to have been asked to chair? So anyway, here we are, a quarter century later, and have arrived where we are. What’s next? Skype meetings? Maybe they already exist?

    But here’s the kicker, in the vein of D.G.’s post: Even though I’m a member of the rock and roll generation and only missed Haight Ashbury because I was in the service at the time, I can remember, as a child in 1952 the ice man delivering ice for our icebox with a horse-drawn cart! I also remember, in a somewhat different vein, attending the 1st grade in a segregated 1-room country school in the border state in which I happened to live at the time.

    Not to be trite about it, but tempus fugit.

    • There is indeed already an atheist/agnostic Skype meeting. More info at the bottom of the meeting list on
      agnosticaanyc.org

      • Thank you for that information. Are there traditional meetings on Skype also? I’m afraid I have no idea, technical background notwithstanding, how to search for such things.

      • Tim, I’d be surprised if there weren’t also traditional meetings via Skype. Without knowing, I’d suggest trying intherooms.com or just go to Google and search AA meetings online.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story.

      There are Skype meetings, as well as telephone, chat rooms, and email based meetings right here: Online Intergroup of AA Directory.

      Many in the fellowship still haven’t embraced online or any other types of meetings other than face-to-face. That’s changing though. In fact, it’s changing faster that f2f AA can keep up. Social Media is of grave concern to some due to anonymity issues.

      Hal H.
      San Francisco

  5. I have a close friend who posted the lead for our weekly Yahoo group topic meeting this morning from China, where she spends 8 months a year on a teaching assignment. Almost all of her AA contact during these periods as a stranger in a strange land is virtual. The closest English language AA meetings are more than an hour away.

    Any reluctance or reservations I have about increasing technology are irrelevant. Increasing tech in AA is INEVITABLE.

    I have trouble visualizing the coming generation going to lots of f2f meetings, even if they are around the corner. Young people will want AA delivered on their phones. Will this work as well? Probably not, but a bunch of geezers whining about it is unlikely to change the unchangeable reality of what will be.

    bob k

    • Bob thanks relating the story of the person on assignment in China. Being in the trucking business, while not quite China, can present unique difficulties in getting to F2F meetings. It only takes one time of paying a $60 cab fare to a meeting and returning to find that your truck and trailer and load have been towed away to the tune of $250 to appreciate online connections!

      I agree an increase in use of technology in recovery is not only inevitable, but also exciting and holds much promise.

      Today has been a perfect example for me – I spent the day “on hold” at a shipper and if not for this website and all of you whom I’ve read and admire, now reading and commenting here on my little article, I wouldn’t have had this oh-so-cool chance to engage and feel part of this recovery community. I have a friend who recently broke both legs in a scooter accident, and I’ve been able to send him all these links. Hard to quantify just how valuable this ability to connect online is! Thanks everybody.

  6. A delightful and well-crafted story, D. G., one that I, an old F – – -, have read on my iPone and I’m responding to, one letter at a time, with my pudgey forefinger !~!~!

    And, Roger, has also been an immensely helpful editor of my sometimes verbose & rambling articles here as well — thank you, Roger.

    I just read an article that a Google computer beat the world’s champion Go player, which is many times more complex than chess. In 1996, Deep Blue, an IBM computer beat the then greatest chess player, Garry Kasparov.

    Technology ever changes at an ever-accelerating pace, so get used to it folks. At PRAASA, Joel C., Pacific Regional trustee, announced that soon the Grapevine will release it’s mobile platform App.

  7. Should have mentioned that I’m a Luddite and an old crank-I think the electric typewriter is new technology. But I still appreciate the internet.

  8. Warm wishes to everyone in the WAAFT community from AA History Lovers. I wouldn’t know about this community – academics, archivists, hobbyists, writers, film-makers, rank-and-file AA members who freely share with each other primary research and answers to some of the most unusual questions about AA – if it wasn’t for Yahoo Group’s AA History Lovers.

    I wouldn’t have learned about the worldwide network of secular 12-Step members 15 years ago, if not for technology.

    As some of you know, I was invited to make one of 13 presentations about “Unbelievers” in AA. I drew on some of my research at Toronto and GSO archives and borrowed from what many of you have written and talked about.

    Our community is well loved and a few from Sedona’s Symposium on AA History expressed an interest in showing their support for us by attending Austin’s November International Conference. So let’s have the welcome mat out with some freethinker hospitality.

    The weekend focused much of the time on marginalized members, with presentations on Marty Mann (first “first lady” of AA), LGBT firsts, how African American members endured second-class citizen status in AA until the rest of us started behaving better. I get very emotional talking about 0 – 10 record of GSO visits on atheist/agnostic literature, there was a one-on-one with Ward Ewing who spend some time on his concerns with AA better exemplifying “spiritual not religious.” We saw an extended version of the doc Bill W. and both film makers were there for some Q&A.

    All that was face to face f2f but we all know each other from online.

    Like D.G.’s personal account I have seen a very different world emerge and AA is aware that we are not keeping up. Our local Intergroup and http://www.AA.org both have emails and phone numbers but no online chat option. I’ve just had dealings lately with Google and my bank and in both cases, chatting online maintained my anonymity to the extent that I wanted and it got me the information I needed – fast and accurate.

    This is a good discussion to be having: how can we carry the message better and are we missing an opportunity with tech; or are we complacent about thinking “the info is there for anyone who wants it” but forgetting about the personal touch?

    Thanks D.G. and those of you who have commented. I will follow along with interest.

    Joe C.

  9. Good article. I echo your appreciation for the internet in finding meetings when out of town, especially secular meetings listed on agnosticaanyc.org.

  10. I’m hip, sorta. If I can just remember that particular password, OR the new protocol connected to the “upgraded” software I was told I must use.

    And then my hard drive crashes, after just two years! No apologies from the vendor.

    Can we focus on recovery with tools that are durable and relatively simple? Hope so.

    • Haha I feel your digital pain. But maybe it’s us who complicate the simple? All I use is a good ol’ iPhone and an outdated iPad and I wrote this essay, read this website, download and listen to the beyond belief podcast, send/receive text and email, find meetings in towns I’ve never been in before etc etc with ease. I’m learning as I go too…don’t leave 5 minutes before the…latest software update 😉

  11. Thanks. Good post. I like detailed autobiographical narratives. Makes points I hadn’t thought of.

    • Cool thank you. I was concerned it would be “preaching to the choir” – talking about using technology to folks reading on a website, so I’m glad to hear it made some points you hadn’t thought of!

  12. Brilliant. I heartily agree. I was so very lucky to come onto this site here a few years back and feel “No longer alone. ”

    We need to embrace every single tool available to us.

    Thanks for this.

    • Awesome thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed! I wish I had found it a few years back, I only discovered it recently.