For me, learning to trust a few sober people, then a group, then a sponsor, then a program of recovery was what led to my sober life. Trust was the lynchpin.
Once I opened up candidly about my situation and the role drinking played in it to a few people I trusted, it started the chain reaction that has given me decades of recovery. Trust, then, is a bit like the “For the want of a nail” proverb, only, “For the want of trust, the recovery was lost.”
Something Was Off
Despite all the best efforts of Zoom to ensure security (aka “trust” from a technology perspective), AA Zoom meetings for me have been hard to embrace fully. Initially, I was confused as to why. After all, the Zoom meeting was pretty much the same format with the same readings as in-person ones. Initially, many attendees were the same people at traditional meetings. Yet, still, something was off for me.
I use WebEx, Teams, and Zoom to engage in sensitive business conversations at work every day, for years. My discomfort, therefore, wasn’t coming from technology; I think it had more to do with something else.
I realized my business teleconferences have few participants. This was a difference. Everyone on the business call is unmuted and free to comment anytime. With few people, commenting is easy to do and folks don’t talk over each other. The result is the teleconference feels like a traditional phone call only with video. The whole experience feels very natural.
In contrast, on the significant AA Zoom calls, everyone is put on mute. Otherwise, the call can be a very unpleasant experience. Everyone talks over each other.
But, with the muting, there is this very odd silence that happens if you are speaking. It’s unnatural and at first, can be a bit unnerving. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in not liking that.
Trust is the Issue
After much thought and reflection, I’ve determined my consternation for AA Zoom meetings is rooted in a lack of trust I feel in them. It’s not the technology and the muting wrinkle.
The more I internally I tested this emotion of not trusting, the more I am convinced that is what it is. Opening up fully and feel safe is the “magic” of AA meetings. Not having that is the root cause of my frustration.
And, it’s essential to add no one is at fault here. During the lockdown caused by the pandemic, there has been a huge demand to have online meetings. Many fellowships and sober folks with the help and affordability of Zoom have risen to the occasion creating and promoting robust online meeting schedules quickly. The result of these efforts was hosting hundreds of thousands of AAs literally in meetings across the globe. Great job, AA!
Initially, these early AA Zoom meetings were a bit of novelty, exposing many for the first time to video conferencing. The result was the technology wowed many. In fact, at many of those early meetings, the topic could have easily been, “What do you think of Zoom and teleconferencing?”
But once the novelty wore off, the long-established realities of teleconferencing shortcomings for larger groups set it. It became nearly impossible to attend a AA Zoom, and not here at least one person comment on how they prefer in-person meetings and that something was missing. This complaining became another annoyance in and of itself.
After much thinking, I have come to believe that this lack of trust comes from two primary sources.
First, I don’t know all the people in the Zoom meeting. Over time the number I know has become less as more people find meetings “on the internet” and just show up.
Not knowing who I am meeting with creates problems developing trust. At least for me, it does. For me to build confidence, I want to know if people attending the meeting are serious about recovery? I also want to know, are they sober? Do they have a desire to stop drinking? Do they work a program? Are they who they say they are?
With online strangers, I can’t know any of those details. Then there were the “bombers” – folks whose plan was to disrupt a meeting. They didn’t help either. Things got weird. There was one meeting I attended where there was an “observer” from a graduate program in Psychology.
All this dovetails into the second issue, that of anonymity. If I don’t know who is on the call, can I trust they will respect my anonymity? Am I safe to share the types of personal things at meetings where someone can be recording the share on their iPhone? No, you can’t.
So because of these issues, no “authentication” requirement of open Zoom meeting, and the ability to take pictures and make recordings of sessions without consent, I decided to no longer attend AA Zoom meetings. I need trust.
So What To Do for Meetings
Because of the resumed lockdown in CA, if I don’t want to attend AA Zoom meetings, I have very few options.
The best option for me is to simply have 1:1 connections with other AAs I know and trust. “Nothing so much insures sobriety of intense work with other alcoholics.” This “work” can be connecting on the phone or through teleconference. I make it a point (and have for many years) to connect with other AAs every day. This regular activity has led to many friends and an intense level of trust.
Another option if you are meeting deficient is starting small, intimate, Zoom meetings with folks you know and trust. Zoom licensing for hosting is just over $100. Surely someone in your AA circle can afford that (or you can pass the hat). I have been to some of these, and they have been excellent.
They used to say, “all you need to start a meeting is a pot of coffee and a resentment!” I guess now you need a Zoom license as well.
Is the Problem Just Me
I know there will be naysayers here who will claim I’m just oversensitive about the trust issue. And, “there is nothing to worry about!” with trust in Zoom meetings. “It’s more about you than it is the meeting!” Or,
There is also the argument that “you’re fooling yourself, you can’t trust attendees at in-person meetings either!”
OK. I hear that.
Barrier to Entry
But, there is a massive difference between a Zoom meeting and an in-person meeting. I think this “barrier to entry” is an excellent indicator of the attendees’ sincerity.
If I want to attend a Zoom meeting, all I need to do is click, and if I have the right settings on my device, I’m in—a shallow barrier to entry. I can also do this in less than a minute.
On the other hand, if I want to attend an in-person meeting, typically I will have to:
- Plan to be there (in advance).
- Get dressed.
- Drive there.
- Park the car.
- Walk to the meeting.
- Walk back to the car.
- Drive home.
That is a much higher barrier to entry. I say someone who does all that, really wants to be there, and has a higher likelihood of being sincere.
And What About the Big AA Zoom Meetings
This same “barrier to entry” concept with more significant AA Zoom meetings is recommended. I would add that this “barrier to entry” is something online businesses require ALL THE TIME. Fellowships and people who host these bigger meetings could ask for some type of registration that would require some additional information that may scare off the insincere.
I recognize that asking for a credit card (or other information that verifies identity) might be a non-starter. Many in AA seek to be as inclusive as possible and maintaining anonymity. But, this is a new situation. Bill and Bob never had to deal with it. Hence, more thought and discussion will be required. Online meeting for the masses is uncharted territory.
I’ve made my decision about big, open-call AA Zoom meetings. They aren’t for me.
I would encourage you to reach out to other alcoholics more frequently during the pandemic. Therefore, start your own intimate, Zoom meeting. Mostly I hope we all stay sober.