Editor’s note: All individuals are identified by first name to respect their anonymity.

Recovery communities focused on addiction issues regularly meet around the world on a daily basis. During these times of social distancing, though, in-person meetings have pretty much stopped and been replaced by modern technology.

Whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Celebrate Recovery or other 12-step-influenced programs, a core element within recovery is seeing and talking with others who can help the addict and his or her family.

Virtual meetings have been filling that face-to-face interaction void, allowing not only locals but those who have moved out of El Paso to connect and continue following “a design for living,” an oft-used phrase from the book “Alcoholics Anonymous.”

Chips marking recovery time are a common feature of 12-step recovery programs. (Photo courtesy of http://www.hellsbestkeptsecret.com/)

“During the week, we have been meeting through Zoom and with regular home groups online,” Pete H., who has long-term sobriety from alcohol, said. “For a Saturday morning meeting, we have people who have put out the word through social media — I’m not on it myself — and we direct them to a Zoom link.

“I go to all my regular groups that I attend and they all have Zoom meetings,” Pete said. “I attend them just like I was in the rooms of AA.”

When he started seeing that meeting places were closing, Jeff S., who has long-term sobriety from drugs, said his friends in recovery “jumped on board since most of our meetings are in churches or recovery-based places to meet where they have reasonable rent.

“We started running virtual meetings,” Jeff said. “What we actually did was form an ad-hoc committee of eight addicts who help open up the virtual meetings and answer questions. We try not to tell groups what to do and those members are there for technical support. So far, it’s working pretty well.”

Two in-person meetings for drug addicts are opening up again, Jeff said — one in Central El Paso and another in Far West El Paso.

“The members are practicing social distancing and keeping attendance to 10 people, which is around 25 percent of the number of people usually at those meetings,” he said. “This virtual meeting format is something we are continuing because we have members that might not be able to attend in person because of personal health concerns.”

As for missing those in-person meetings that help addicts deal with isolation issues, Jeff said virtual meetings are “never the same” as face-to-face ones.

“All of us are eager to get back to regular live meetings,” he said. “We have virtual movie nights. We also have virtual morning coffee chats and let people use these virtual rooms for sponsorship when asked. This helps give them contact in different ways.” 

Kim, who also has long-term sobriety from alcohol, said these virtual meetings are good “especially when we get someone new and they find out there’s a Zoom meeting. It almost recreates the same thing (an in-person meeting).”

He said that the only area where in-person AA meetings are currently taking place is in Northeast El Paso. 

“There is a limit of 11 people per meeting,” Kim said. “If it gets bigger than that, then they go outside. People who attend are required to wear face masks and observe all regulations in place. They had the building professionally cleaned before having a meeting there again.”

When asked if he missed actually seeing other people in recovery, Pete said, “God yes. While we’re grateful for Zoom meetings, we really miss the human interaction and when people are in the rooms you can sense a higher power’s presence.”  

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is having a problem with alcohol or drugs, then contact the following organizations:

Alcoholics Anonymous: http://aaelpaso.org/

Al-Anon: https://texas-al-anon.org/

Narcotics Anonymous: https://elpaso.riograndena.org/

Celebrate Recovery: https://www.celebraterecovery.com/

Joe Rutland is a freelance journalist who lives in El Paso. He's a former assistant city editor with The El Paso Times and has worked for newspapers in Texas and Arizona as a reporter, columnist, and copy...