This guest post comes from Thomas Mabon a.k.a @behind_the_sofa who also volunteers as a Community Moderator on this site.
For some people when they are first embarking on getting sober the prospect of sitting in a room full of strangers face to face spilling your guts while it’s all still so raw and painful sounds about as much fun as waking up with a splitting axe-in-your-head hangover. So typing the words into Google: “HELP, I CAN’T STOP DRINKING!!!” might instead lead you to an online community. Or maybe a GP or someone recommends you visit a sober blog or a sober website. Or, like me, maybe you hear something on the radio that directs you to the world of online recovery and you tentatively start to read and identify … and just like that you are no longer alone wrestling with the beast in your head.
If you’re struggling, within minutes after you’ve tapped your thoughts and fears into words the online sobersphere will ping your digital device with uplifting messages, like a flurry of angels magically appearing to help pick you up. Technology is not flesh and blood and it doesn’t make eye contact with you or physically hug you (not yet anyway) but it can be a pretty good substitute, and people in the online sober community are far easier to get along with: they’re equals, they’re addicts and they’re non-judgemental. We encourage and prop each other up, your successes are mine and vice versa.
There’s something reassuring about writing down words, you can consider them, edit them, make sure you’re saying exactly what you want to say, not have your message skewed and distorted as can happen with face to face contact. Remove our physical presence and let us type out the crux of what we’re feeling and how we want to change and abracadabra, we’re sympathized with and accepted!
Many addicts will feel a crushing sense of isolation. The online recovery world gives you the knowledge that there are thousands/millions of people going through the same thing. Without this window into the addicted world and the thoughts and struggles of other addicts, the ones fighting out in the trenches of early sobriety right now and the lamplighters who show what to expect from further down the trail, I think the sense of isolation would be unbearable to take.
Online, anonymously, you can lay everything bare with people who get it. Friends and family might look at you and say, “You haven’t got a drinking problem! Come on, you can just have one. Can’t you?” But ask the online recovery world if they think you can have one drink, and you’ll discover multiple stories of people who have thought just that and then they’ve tumbled back down the rabbit hole. For some it’s not easy to re-emerge from a relapse, it can take years to claw their way back out – beaten and bruised but carrying with them some vital information which may help deter the next addict from making the same mistake. How would we know these stories without the internet and online recovery? I wouldn’t.
You carry the words and the advice with you at all times in your pocket. You know the strategies and techniques which have been used before and you look forward to completing your evening sober and coming back to share your successful story with the sobersphere. And if you don’t make it, you can unburden your felt shame and guilt only to be reminded that you need not feel that way, that everyone has slipped up and that you are in the fight of your life against an immensely strong and cunning foe.
There are many reasons why online recovery does work, alone or in conjunction with other tools and for some it may propel them into real world support networks when they feel they’re ready. It’s heartening to feel like part of a community who are all striving to be the best versions of themselves. Of course sometimes you get bored of it, sometimes you feel like you’re oversharing and other times you may feel like you’ve replaced one addiction with another as you’ve spent so much time online. But if nothing else online recovery is a great distraction tool.
I’ve spent hours upon hours logging in and reading and writing and replying to messages, all that time spent thinking about sobriety and interacting with people choosing to live sober can only be a good thing. Sure, I could have just kept a private journal and written it out for myself but how less alive and interactive that would have felt compared to communicating with the sobersphere. How less accountable I would have been and how much knowledge and experience I would have missed out on if I hadn’t been online.
There are many ways to use and interact with online recovery, including just lurking, and there are thousands of people who will attest to the power of it. I for one plan on staying engaged here for a long while yet.