Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

For this Maine resident, going to Alcoholics Anonymous has become a nearly daily routine and practice in sobriety. In fact, he often goes to both a morning and evening meeting. That is, until the coronavirus pandemic shut down most public gatherings.

On May 9, the man celebrated the 26th anniversary of his sobriety. His anonymity is respected because of his chosen recovery process, but his words make it clear: He would have liked to celebrate that anniversary with face-to-face laughter among friends who share his experience.

“The effect of this shutdown on the recovery community has been awful,” he said. “AA and other recovery meetings have shifted to Zoom, but that’s not a long-term solution. Even with password security, the Zoom bombers sneak in to disrupt meetings with obscene comments, dirty pictures, pictures of whiskey bottles (I mention the latter not because it has some triggering effect, merely to show that the attacks are targeted), and so forth. Those attacks, in turn, have caused meetings to require still more passwords and a host deciding who to let join. That, in turn, means newcomers and people without the secret word and known to the host can’t get in.

“And the meetings are an essential part of AA recovery. If, as it’s been said, addiction is a disease of isolation, the meetings offer an end to that isolation; a place to crawl out of the hole of despair and loneliness and spend time with fellow sufferers, people who ‘understand’ precisely because they’ve been in the same exact condition.

“There’s an energy in the rooms because of that, and lots of laughter, the laughter of survivors. Only those who have themselves been the subject of horrible, embarrassing public humiliation can laugh when someone describes his own. Even those of us who haven’t personally endured the ‘blue light experience’ of being stopped for DUI can identify with that sinking, fearful feeling; ruined lives and careers, estranged children, engaging in thoughtless cruelty to others. All are fodder for humor, because it’s the laughter of survivors. Non-alcoholics would be appalled at what we laugh at, but we can laugh only because we’ve gone through it all and come out on the other side. And we can laugh at a confused, bewildered newcomer because we’re laughing in identification – we’ve all been there.

“Online meetings bleach out that humor, and I miss it. Even more important is the loss of the opportunity to lend the support that was always available to struggling people, newcomers, or those with long term sobriety (life’s difficulties don’t go away when the bottle is put down – ask any non-drinker). An arm around the shoulder, an invitation to have coffee after the meeting, a walk together on the Eastern Promenade, all that’s impossible now. A tenet of AA is that to keep the gift of sobriety you have to ‘give it away’ – it’s by helping others that we break out of our isolated, selfish and self-centered lives that kept us miserable for so long, and, for now, the opportunity to reach out has been curtailed.

“I worry about those who have finally admitted that they are alcoholics or think that they might be, and decide to go to a meeting to find out what all this AA stuff is about. Right now, there are no meetings for them. Perhaps that person can hang on until the world reopens, but many, I fear, will lose that moment and continue to drink or, hopeless, end it all, as life becomes unendurable.

“For those of us who have been around for a while, this pandemic won’t be disastrous, though we are hearing stories of relapse, a common enough phenomenon at any time, but perhaps increasing now. But again, it’s the loss of mutual support that’s so sad.

“Certainly other groups have similar problems. Friends of mine who belong to churches report the same sense of loss, but I can speak only to my own situation. (I’m certainly no spokesman for AA. There are none). We’ve lost our home.

“Robert Frost’s poem ‘Death of the Hired Man’ contains this passage in its narration of the tale of an old, tired, useless man returning to die: The farmer, resisting his wife’s request that they permit the man to stay, says:

‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, 

They have to let you in.’

The wife responds, 

‘I should have said, it’s a place that 

Somehow you haven’t to deserve.’

“Certainly, based on our behavior, few drunks deserve rescue and salvation, yet we received it anyway. That’s a small miracle that, I hope only temporarily, has been diminished.”

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