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Austinites Who Depend On Real-Life Connections For Sobriety Find Community Online

Anabel with her dog Howie at her home in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
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KUT
Anabel, who asked that KUT not use her last name, says being alone can be triggering. But, she says, being sober has prepared her for Austin's stay-at-home order.

A lot of us are counting time: Days we’ve been sheltering in place. Days we’ve been working from home. Days since we went to school or since we lost a job. 

People in recovery are used to counting time as a way to measure their sobriety. 

It’s been 1,308 days since Anabel (who asked that KUT not use her last name) has used drugs or alcohol. Thirteen years since Chris Marshall has had a drink. Sixteen months since Kevin Dick has used drugs.

These three Austinites are evaluating – and thanking – their sobriety as social distancing, isolation and uncertainty take center stage in all of our lives. 

Anabel 

I go to at least one [Alcoholics Anonymous] meeting a week. Then I usually meet with my sponsor once a week, also. So being in shelter-in-place mode, definitely has changed my weekly routine. I was very resistant to the online meeting format, but I've found that it’s kind of awesome. So I continue to go to my Tuesday meeting. And I talk to my sponsor regularly.

"The wonderful thing is that being sober, in a strange way, has prepared me for something exactly like this."

–  

At the same time, being alone and in a house and not in your world at work with your people is triggering in a lot of ways. Maybe my mind is just more occupied most of the time. I think a lot of us have this where cravings crop up when they normally wouldn’t. 

I had a lot more idle time when I was drinking and drugging. There is some sort of muscle memory that crops up. Like, "Oh, you’re painting your kitchen ... wouldn’t that be so great with a bunch of amphetamines and the whole house would be painted by now." Thoughts like that. 

The wonderful thing is that being sober, in a strange way, has prepared me for something exactly like this. Because so much of the work is learning how to be alone, where when I was drinking and drugging, being alone was terrifying. 

The reality from one vantage point is this is just another version of the fundamental ambiguity of our lives, that we are always in transition, and this is a particularly strange and scary transition to be in, but we will also grow and change.

Chris Marshall is the founder of Sans Bar, a space for people to socialize without drinking alcohol.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
/
KUT
Chris Marshall is the founder of Sans Bar, a space for people to socialize without drinking alcohol. He says so much of sobriety is about connections, which he has been working to find online.

Chris Marshall

When I got sober, I had that community and that piece stuck with me throughout all of the rest of my life. Where people struggle the most was around building community and building connection, so I started Sans Bar in 2017 as a way for people to connect without alcohol. 

"I don't have to lean on a toxic substance to get through a hard situation."

The last few weeks have been a real grieving of the community that I participate in in my own recovery and then the communities that I created across Austin and the country.

So much of sobriety is about those in-real-life connections, be it in a social context, be it at community-based recovery groups. Those experiences are what make sobriety meaningful. To not have those, I've really had to work to find substitutes. What I’m finding is there is a world to be discovered through digital, community-based support group meetings.

You see all the memes on social media about drinking and people can get alcohol to go and delivered to their homes. For me, all that is is just that is a reassurance that what I've been doing for the past 13 years is the right thing. Because I don’t have to lean on a toxic substance to get through a hard situation.

From someone who’s had many years of sobriety, I would say this thing is always going to be one day at a time. All you have to do is focus on the 24 hours in front of you.” 

Kevin Dick with his dog Boogie in front of their house.
Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
/
KUT
Kevin Dick hasn't used drugs in 16 months. He says when he feels the pressure, he goes online to find a meeting - and it could be anywhere in the world.

Kevin Dick

I moved to Austin in November of 2018. I moved here on my sober date; I basically moved here to go to treatment. I was in active addiction for about seven years before I came here.

"It's actually the first time in my life I've felt grateful for my addiction because it's ... unlocked this endless community of support for me."

Meetings are the bedrock of AA. It’s something that hard to put your finger on exactly what it gives you, being in that physical space, but now that it’s been taken out from underneath us, I think we all are realizing just how important that aspect is. 

There is just the community you get and the physical contact you get. You hold hands at every meeting at the end, you hug people and you get physically close to people. That’s something that was entirely missing from my life before I got sober.

I’m sitting at home all day ... and if I notice these feelings creeping up I can jump into a Zoom meeting, an online AA meeting, any time I want. That’s one thing that this has done that hasn’t been available before. I can go on the internet and find a meeting – whether it’s in Paris or whether it’s here.

It’s actually the first time in my life I've felt grateful for my addiction because it’s ... unlocked this endless community of support for me. That community is available to me now; it’s just online.

Resources:

Alcoholics Anonymous has this list of online meetings for people in recovery.

She Recovers, a national group for women, offers these resources.

Got a tip? Email ClaireMcInerny at claire@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @ClaireMcInerny.

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