Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane* attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings in Franklin County four times a week.

Meetings are a great way to stay grounded, she told The Missourian. Hearing from newcomers reminds her where she came from.

“You can easily slip back into your old habits, and before you know it, you’ve got a drink in your hand,” Jane said. “I can’t do that. That is death for me. I have three children ... had I not found Alcoholics Anonymous, I wouldn’t be here with them right now. It is vital for me.

“It helps me keep the crazies at bay,” she said.

Not all AA members feel the same way. Some go to meetings every day and have been for 30 years, while others go once a week or even once a month.

“For some, a meeting is like a refresher course,” Jane said. “They go to a meeting every morning before work. It’s how they start their day.”

That changed when rules about social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 became the norm in mid-March.

A lot of AA meetings, especially those held at churches, were canceled, forcing members in District 16, which covers Franklin County, to come up with a new approach. They decided to follow the lead of the St. Louis district and offered online meetings through Zoom, an online videoconferencing service.

Pat, an AA member who organized a weekly AA meeting on Zoom, said early on people recognized that it was a worthy alternative to no meetings at all, and after a few months of meeting that way some people found they preferred online to face-to-face meetings.

“At District 16, we made a decision to continue to have Zoom meetings even after the virus is history,” Pat said.

“Younger people like it better, and we can reach people who are in nursing homes or other places like that,” Jane said.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” Pat said, of AA’s greater accessibility now. “There is a telephone conference meeting out of Cape Cod, meets four times a day, seven days a week, and there’s over 100 people at each one of those, and it has worldwide attendance.”

A Zoom meeting organized in Franklin County has had people from as far away as New York attend. Someone found the District 16 website and dialed in.

“It’s kind of cool to hear from people halfway across the country,” Jane said.

The local AA groups had never offered anything like Zoom meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic. The success they are experiencing now as a result is one good thing to come out of the crisis, Jane said.

Zoom meetings are held on Sundays and Tuesdays at 9 a.m. and Thursdays at 6 p.m. A monthly district meeting is held the first Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. The Zoom links and other information are available at https://aamodistrict16.org/.

Although Zoom is a videoconferencing service, people have the choice of whether or not to turn on the video option.

And for people who don’t have a computer or internet access, a phone number is available for them to participate by phone.

Newcomers are always welcome, and so far they have been showing up.

“We have seen an uptick in newcomers through all of this,” Jane said. “I don’t know if it was because people had more down time, because as you know, alcohol sales went up 60 percent during the lockdown.”

A survey from DrugAbuse.com found one in four Missourians admit to drinking more alcohol since the lockdown began. Read the survey results here.

He Feels Better Prepared

While stress brought on by the upheavel to schedules, lack of social contact or loss of a job due to COVID may tempt some people to turn to alcohol, for Pat that hasn’t been the case, and he credits AA’s 12-step program with helping him learn to weather such storms.

“All of this is just another occurrence of upset that happens in people’s lives,” Pat said. “Loved ones continue to die and jobs continue to be lost regardless of whether there is a virus or not. The nature of the (AA) program is it allows us to take life in stride and not let it bother us too badly.

“I get strength, spiritually, emotionally and every which way, from AA to be able to not let things like this bother my daily life.”

He knows not everyone who struggles with addiction has been as fortunate.

No Substitute for Real Thing

AA meetings held through Zoom have been a lifesaver for members right now, but Jane said they are no substitute for the real thing.

“There’s nothing like that one-on-one contact with somebody in a face-to-face meeting,” she said.

“For me it’s accountability. One-on-one, they can see my emotion more. On the phone, over text and even on Zoom, I felt like I could hide if I wanted to,” she said. “Face-to-face, you can’t hide your emotion. I feel like people would have called me out, asked if I was OK.

“That is what AA is all about. It’s one alcoholic helping another alcoholic. There’s nothing like it in the world. You are with people who understand you, where you can see the look on people’s faces in person and give them a hug at the end of a meeting, and feel that comfort that comes from being in the same room or space as someone.”

Jane has returned to attending face-to-face meetings, but she said District 16 will continue to offer Zoom meetings indefinitely. It’s the best of both worlds and a great way to provide support to people who want it, she said.

For more information, go to https://aamodistrict16.org/.

*Jane is a pseudonym to protect her anonymity.