Support Groups See Well-Attended Online Meetings

Local recovery programs are adapting with Zoom videoconferencing

By Maggie Dresser
The Alano Club of Kalispell is closed in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, as seen on April 1, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As soon as Flathead County received its first positive COVID-19 cases on March 20, the Alano Club of Kalispell board of directors made the swift decision to close its doors to all 12-step support groups that use the space for meetings.

Groups were given 48 hours to make alternative arrangements, which has since evolved into Zoom meetings, allowing individuals to continue their recovery process.

Instead of sitting in a room at the Alano Club, 12-step program participants sit in the comfort of their own home in front of a screen, sometimes with 60 to 70 people on the same Zoom call.

“It’s like any other meeting,” a 12-step program participant said. “We have readings from our books and literature and we share experiences of hope with each other.”

The participant helped organize the Zoom meetings, which she says are very constructive and well attended since everyone is homebound with more availability. Even former participants who left the valley now have the opportunity to say hello, connecting with each other from across the country.

“Even though it’s kind of weird at first, there’s something very intimate about the discussion when it’s face to face like that,” she said. “It’s an odd kind of intimacy rather than meeting in a public place with 60 people.”

Alano Club of Kalispell Board Director Tim Harmon agrees. Harmon says the groups seem to be working well, and the technology allows individuals in recovery to maintain contact with their program. In meetings, he’s heard people say they are reaching out more now that they are stuck at home in quarantine.

Although the Zoom meetings are so far successful, Harmon says the lack of physical presence is a big challenge for some people.

“Just that physical presence of everybody in the room, or if you’re meeting with your sponsor,” Harmon said. “To be sitting across the table from them, you can’t replace that. I would liken it to calling your mom and dad over the phone versus siting at the kitchen table talking to them.”

While the current COVID-19 crisis is testing all walks of life, Harmon says the recovery programs are meant to help people regardless of their circumstances.

“Although this current COVID-19 pandemic affects all of us, we as individuals can have our own little pandemic at any given point in time,” he said.

Whether someone is dealing with death, a divorce, job loss, or a pandemic, the goal of recovery programs is to stay connected to that recovery and survive whatever happens, Harmon said.

Harmon has witnessed a positive response from those participating in the Zoom meetings, but he can’t speak for people who aren’t reaching out.

“The people I’m worried about are the people that we’re not hearing from,” he said. “(If) they haven’t reached out or don’t make that phone call, unfortunately, those are the people in true danger of turning to something else to maintain that feeling.”

Harmon encourages individuals in recovery to avoid isolating themselves by reaching out to their fellow recovery members.

“There’s no (better) time to get clean and sober and straighten out your life than (during) a pandemic,” Harmon said.

The Alano Club is a nonprofit, 12-step program meeting space that serves more than 700 people in recovery. It is nondenominational and unaffiliated with individual programs.

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