Alcoholics Anonymous takes meetings online for New Year’s Eve

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/29/2020 9:25:34 PM
Modified: 12/30/2020 9:21:35 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — In a typical year, the Turning Point Recovery Center hosts an “Alcathon” on New Year’s Eve.

It’s a series of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings throughout the day and night to help people in recovery from an alcohol addiction to celebrate what can be an alcohol-fueled holiday in a sober way. In addition to the meetings, the event usually includes food, music and socializing, said Mike Johnson, the director of the center on Morgan Street in downtown Springfield.

It shows people who may be early in their recovery that they can “still enjoy life and have fun without alcohol,” Johnson said in a phone interview. It also helps to show them “how many people are living a life in recovery without having to use.”

This year, however, Upper Valley chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous, like their counterparts in many other places, have shifted their usual New Year’s Eve Alcathons from in-person gatherings to an online format due to the social distancing restrictions required by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s not good,” Johnson said.

While Johnson said his staff still plans to figure out a way to hand out snacks on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day and to interact with people briefly that way, the Turning Point center can only accommodate groups of 10 people at a time right now, he said.

Online meetings, which have come to prominence this year, have attracted some people who couldn’t or wouldn’t come to in-person sessions due to issues related to transportation, child care or personal preference.

But, Johnson said, the “majority of people would prefer to be in person.”

The Center for Recovery Resources in Claremont has tried to strike a balance by offering some in-person, some virtual and some hybrid services, said Dan Wargo, the center’s manager.

“Some like it; some don’t,” Wargo said of meeting online. Wargo said the center has fliers on hand for the upcoming Alcathon hosted by the AA group that in normal times meets in Newport, N.H., known as District 18. The Claremont recovery center also is open for in-person meetings for a maximum of 13 people, as well as in-person one-on-one sessions with recovery coaches, Wargo said.

“It’s a fine line these days,” Wargo said, noting that recovery centers in other counties with higher rates of COVID-19 have had to halt in-person services. It’s “important to maintain safety with COVID.”

At the same time, he said it’s also important to meet people’s needs to help reduce the risk of relapse, overdose, depression and suicide. People are grateful for the opportunity to meet in person at the center, even with the COVID-19 distancing precautions in place and no hugging or handshaking, Wargo said.

“When you’re sitting down and talking to a person, all the senses are being fired,” he said.

But in a video chat, he said you can only see the other person from the neck up and in a phone call you can only hear their voice.

“I think a lot of things are missed,” he said.

Some people come in to the center just to take a break from their spouse, their kids or their home, he said. It gives them a place to “chill out (and) recharge batteries,” he said. “People seem really grateful for that.”

While Zoom meetings aren’t the same as in-person, the online platforms have given people in recovery a chance to connect with others facing similar challenges around the world, said Lara Quillia, residential manager for Headrest in Lebanon.

Quillia said the Church Street residential substance use treatment facility has a map in the conference room so residents can indicate where the meetings they’ve attended virtually are based. They’ve attended meetings in South Africa and Denmark, for example, she said.

“The biggest thing is the solidarity of experience,” Quillia said.

Hearing other people sharing similar stories helps people in recovery to “know that you’re not alone,” she said.

Headrest staff usually bring residents down to the Turning Point center in Springfield for the Alcathon on New Year’s Eve, Quillia said. There, they play pool or go bowling and participate in meetings and experience a sober celebration with others in recovery. That trip won’t be happening this year.

Instead, Quillia said Headrest’s 12 residents will have a meal, gather in the conference room for games and maybe watch a movie of their choosing. In between group activities, Quillia said, staff will set up a Zoom Alcathon in the conference room.

That way, residents can “join that anytime they want,” she said.

Links to Alcathon meetings via Zoom can be found online at uppervalleyaa.com.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at 603-727-3213 or ndoyleburr@vnews.com.




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