Newcomers in the Age of COVID-19

As the spread of COVID-19 shuts down AA meetings around the world, I have begun to wonder what will become of newcomers with meetings now becoming virtual.

The first homegroup I had ever joined was located in the basement of an old church where the regulars included people from highly varied socio-economic backgrounds.

When the person leading the meeting asked for newcomers to introduce themselves, I revealed how I was feeling scared to be at the meeting I shared that it was my first time having a job without taking drugs. 

The group nodded along as I spoke and welcomed me to the meeting. They used nonverbal communications to let me know I was in a safe place and to circle me until I was strong enough to take care of myself.  

The sense of comfort I received from my fellows kept me coming back every day. Small acts of service solidified my existence in AA, such as collecting the Big Books after a meeting or chairing a meeting on Tuesdays. 

AA has attempted online meetings before with minimal success, but those occasions were typically limited to weather events that kept members from driving and for those traveling to places where meetings are sparse; never before on the scale we now face.  

It is usually difficult for a newcomer to bring themself into a meeting, as they often feel insecure and have a slight contempt for the fellowship before even walking through the door. This may be because AA meetings have a way of drawing the newcomer out of anonymity and forcing them to show themselves.   

Online meetings are currently working well for members who have been around for a while and for people who have already been indoctrinated through traditional meetings, but I can’t imagine how it is for the person who is attending their very first meeting over the internet. 

Do newcomers feel as if the online format is good because they can tell their family they’re going to meetings while staying completely invisible, or is it genuinely better because it eliminates their fear of attending a meeting for the first time? 

If newcomers are attending online meetings, how are they getting 24-hour chips or white chips? Who is sponsoring them, putting away folding chairs, and making burnt coffee? To outsiders these are silly questions, to recovering alcoholics, these are important rights of passage.   

I don't yet know the answer to these questions, but I have to think it's more likely the Coronavirus and recently adopted online meeting format is postponing the arrival of newcomers.  

We can speculate what effect COVID-19 is having on people who are choosing to get sober through AA during the outbreak, but only in hindsight will we know for sure. 

Based on my experience both personally and professionally, COVID-19 will amplify existing problems. If a person was teetering on needing professional help for their drinking or using before the outbreak, it most likely these problems will be exacerbated during the quarantine. 

Marc Kantor is the founder of South Florida Intervention which helps families struggling with the devastating effects of addiction. He can be reached at marc@southfloridaintervention.com.