Alcoholics Anonymous wrestles with challenge of physical distancing

Alcoholics Anonymous wrestles with challenge of physical distancing

Alcoholics Anonymous wrestles with challenge of physical distancing

When the International Convention of Alcoholics Anonymous was cancelled to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it became clear the fellowship had to start getting creative.

The conference, originally scheduled for the first weekend of July, would have seen nearly 50,000 members meet in Detroit to share experiences and lessons in their shared struggles with addiction. But restrictions on public gatherings forced the cancellation of that event, as well as weekly meetings in countless communities.

“We just went, ‘Oh my God, this is real. Like, this is really real,’” said one AA member, who is also the alternate general service delegate for Area 82, which serves Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

“We were hopeful that this wasn’t going to be too long and then we got an email from General Service Office saying that the international world convention was cancelled,” she said.

Alcoholics Anonymous groups often meet in legion halls, churches, or other public meeting spaces. Those buildings have been closed by public health officials across Canada to help the slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Finding alternatives to in-person meetings has been a challenge.

The teleconferencing app Zoom has become a popular alternative because it allows people to call in from a land line.

However, for the first few weeks of physical distancing, AA was posting the co-ordinates of its Zoom meetings online and making them open to the public, which led to several incidents of online “trolls” posting graphic photos in the chatroom or harassing participants in other ways.

Passwords have since become the norm. But in a decentralized organization where anonymity is a central tenet, it’s hard enough to get the word out about online meetings, let alone passwords.

“I was in bed and my phone started ringing and it didn’t stop ringing for about three hours because people were trying to figure out how to find passwords for meetings because we didn’t have passwords the day before,” said the AA member who, as a service delegate, had her number posted on the area website. “That was a little learning curve.”

Another challenge is that AA works on the principle of attraction rather than promotion.

Members not only remain anonymous, but abide by the idea that the organization should have no opinion on outside issues. AA also never endorses or offers financial support or prestige to any outside organizations.

That makes it exceptionally difficult to announce that all meetings have moved online. Even for one member to be interviewed for this article, it required a vote by local members that then had to be approved by AA’s General Service Office in New York.

In the Atlantic region, AA has reached out to doctor’s offices, hospitals, and detox centres where addicts might wind up. Public service announcements have also gone out on community cable channels and radio stations.

The general service delegate says that to simulate the socialization of in-person gatherings, the Zoom meetings usually open 30 minutes early and people stay on long after the formal portion of the meeting is done.

“We miss hugging and handshakes. And, you know, Joe always brought cookies,” she said. “But we’re trying our best.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2020.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Member Terry Parsons’ custom built track vehicle.
Forestburg’s Area 53 Racetrack gears up for action-packed season

Site will also host a portion of the ‘Miles of Mayhem’ event in July

Sabrina Wilde in front of a recently purchased monster truck. Submitted.
Thorsby business women a finalist for 2021 Alberta Women’s Entrepreneurship Award

Sabrina Wilde with Lone Wolf Mechanical is a finalist for the entrepreneurial award.

Grade 12 students at Wetaskiwin Composite High School took place in the annual water fight off school property on June 11, 2021. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Graduating students in Wetaskiwin throw water fight after being told it could result in suspension

Students were told their participation could result in them being barred from graduation ceremonies.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Most Read