This piece originally appeared at HuffPost.
“Keep coming back, it works if you work it, and we’re all worth it!”
That’s the chant at the end of most meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in the Seattle area, done while everyone is still holding hands after saying the Serenity Prayer. It’s an affirmation that a program rooted in mutual, in-person support can keep people sober, as long as they keep coming back to meetings.
But here at the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the United States, where county officials have officially banned all gatherings of more than 50 people and imposed strict requirements on smaller gatherings, mutual support groups like AA, Narcotics Anonymous and Smart Recovery are struggling to cope.
Meetings that were once held in churches, hospitals and retirement homes have been canceled or moved online. Those gatherings that continue to take place are sparsely attended as residents hunker down. Several regional events for AA and NA members have been canceled or postponed.
Brian, an AA member in Snohomish, Washington, just northeast of Seattle, said he hasn’t gone to his usual weekly meeting since the outbreak hit the area a few weeks ago, and he’s feeling the effects.
“Anytime I don’t get to go to meetings, it impacts me, whether I think so or not,” said Brian, who asked that we use his first name only. “The meeting where I usually go is in a hospital, so that’s canceled.”
Amir Islam, a Seattle NA member who works in the music business, said he’s still going to meetings despite warnings to stay away from groups. On Friday, he said he had just chaired a meeting where people tried to avoid touching at the beginning but ended the meeting with their arms around each other — the NA equivalent to AA’s hand-holding ritual.
“People were doing the elbow bump and the fist bump at the beginning, and then it goes from that to everyone hugging at the end,” he said. “It was like, ‘Really? Are we avoiding each other or not?’”