Why Does Online Recovery Work? (Guest Post)

Tuesday 24 Oct, 2017, 2:25pm by Mrs D 44 comments

This guest post comes from Thomas Mabon a.k.a @behind_the_sofa who also volunteers as a Community Moderator on this site.

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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.

@behind_the_sofa

44 comments

  1. This is spot on. Sure I could rely on my journal (which I do keep one) to help me sort my feelings and find some comfort, but it’s with others that we find it. Not always alone. I like reading the posts of others, seeing what they’re going through, seeing that they’re celebrating their sobriety at times or coping with day to day issues – just like me.

    Part of the biggest hurdle for me is finding confidence in knowing I can actually do this after all the times I’ve failed. If you can do it, maybe I can do it too. :)

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  2. So here it goes……
    I’m lying in a bed, at my mothers house. Bottle of Chardonnay at my side, 7 beers in. I’m 36 years old, two beautiful children & until yesterday a beautiful wife to complete the picture. I will likely buy a house tomorrow, for myself (yes I am lucky enough to be able to afford to). I will also leave everything that mattered to me… a stable life, wonderful family (two young girls) & a wife who’s had enough. Why? Because I coped out in life & turned to alcohol to cope. Many a stage of brief abstinence but always back on the horse at some stage. I’m here for advice but hopefully also to offer advice (likely on what not to do)

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    1. Hi there…… sometimes it takes dramatic circumstances to spur us on to get sober……. hopefully you can take something from your situation which motivates you to stop drinking….. plenty of advice and help over in the members feed of this website if you haven’t been there already….. a sober life is entirely possible. You can change your mindset to a point where it will no longer have a grip on you. All the best.

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  3. I would never publicise what I am doing in becoming alcohol free just at the moment unless I could tell someone genuinely cared which some people do but many others just don’t get it and I’m not willing to let that affect me and my new found confidence to do this and keep going. I have failed many many times in the past to stop drinking due to peer pressure and just wanting to fit in and nobody see me as different and now through having this wonderful online forum I have built up enough of a tough exterior and feel surrounded by people just like me so that I can think fuck it I will do what I want (in a nice way obviously!) but that’s the general gist of it – yes yes online community works for me. I also feel I need regular inspiration and prompting and reading new posts whenever I feel throughout the day spurs me along.

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    1. Hi peacemind….. it took me about six months before I started telling people that I was quitting drinking…… and even then I didn’t tell them that I was absolutely quitting drinking forever…… I think it’s difficult to tell people before you become more certain within yourself that you can stick to your new path. Glad you are feeling more confident, keep going, it gets easier.

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      1. Thanks for your reply – yes I found a few weird looks to begin with and comments so I kept quiet about it or avoided social situations where it would be super obvious – now I don’t care and feel strong regards to it and am happy to stand strong in what I say and it truly wouldn’t concern me what anyone said as I know it to be unimportant to me and my journey now.

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  4. I’m already so thankful for finding this site…it’s my very first (and hard by the way) day of gearing up my mind against that 5 o’clock drink that always turns to blanking out..I’m lookong forward to delving more into this. And I love the “rabbit hole” scenario bc that’s exactly how I feel…like I’m falling OVER AND OVER AGAIN and I don’t know why!? I have a wonderful husband and a beautiful baby and still continue to make the choice to lie to myself and say “I can have just one”…and we all know how that ends…in tears and shame and an angry hurt husband the next day and looking your baby in the eyes and thinking “I want to be a better mommy to you”….it’s heartbreaking

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    1. Hi Changing4I ……. we always think we can have just one or two, that this time we’ll be ‘sensible’ and ‘control it’, but it never works out that way…… it’s just the nature of alcohol addiction, we crave that feeling of numbness but it just soothes us temporarily, then comes the oblivion, then comes the next days feelings of sickness and regret and then comes the need for another drink, which of course we think we will control better this time. It never works…… I remember reading something, “The chains of addiction are too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Don’t beat yourself up for getting caught up in this addiction, it has nothing to do with any deficiency on your part…….. go over to the members feed if you’ve not been there already, plenty of advice there, and there’s a section too under the ‘sober toolbox’ tab at the top of the page, all to do with getting through ‘wine o’clock’….. you got this, all the best : )

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  5. Great post, and thank you for taking the time to write it! I love the online sober community and in particular the raw, vulnerable and sometimes brutal honesty in the way we are ALL encouraged to share the inner workings of our hopes, dreams and demons. In a way the online community is like “The Voice” for recovery and as the reader, all we see/read is the soul of the person sharing, whether they are sharing a victory or a despairing story. The sharer gets their stage, the keyboard, and is able to pour out their heart. The good news is no one is sent home. We are all welcomed, encouraged and sometimes coached to do our best. Sometimes, it’s a virtual hug, a pat on the back or the most powerful words of all, I believe in you.
    It’s a wonderful thing to be part of and I am so glad I found it. I’ll sign out before I start getting all mushy.
    Xx. Sober loves to you all.

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  6. Love this, and completely agree. I looked into a few different communities, but really love the vibe here at LS. I’m now part of a few groups and am realizing there are some crossover folks – it’s a delight! I knew going into this that a community would be critical for support and accountability, but was not about to go to AA, for many reasons. Maybe one day I will, but for now this online group of friends has been wonderful and all I need.

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    1. Thanks AnonAlcoholic, this really is a great tool to help beat alcohol addiction. It’s just great to know that we’re not going it alone. All the best : )

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  7. Great post @behind-the-sofa you write very well :-) I think you have beautifully expressed the positives of online support – immediacy – empathy – support – along with humour, constructive advice, the occasional bit of politics, :-) what the weather is wherever in the world and the sharing of glad and sad moments Thank you and Mrs D

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    1. Thanks ieltje, yes, good points, I think keeping a sense of humour about your predicament is very important. We’re addicts, we don’t always want some heavy pity party, sometimes we just want some light hearted, good natured humour : ) ………………careful with the politics!! ; )

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  8. Brilliant post. I loved every word and agree with every word. If it wasn’t for the online recovery world, I doubt I would have ventured into the ‘real life’ recovery world.

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  9. Great post, great writing style – I love the line ‘you carry the words in your pocket’. That for me sums up the life saving benefit of this site so well in that ‘you don’t feel alone, and you start making the ‘right ‘ decisions. Thanks again

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  10. Well said. I know for sure the road to sobriety would be a whole lot more tricky if it weren’t for this online community. I am now checking in less, but in the early days I was constantly on here reading and receiving messages of support and encouragement that I honestly believe have hugely helped to get me to D257. Thank you for your wonderful post.

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  11. HI @behind-the-sofa.
    I love the way the long time sober stories all contain different “truths” and wisdom which comes from real experience. Your writing covers the bigger picture so well in a balanced way.
    I,ve also wondered, is this just changing to a less harmful addiction? The goal being to make my behavior more intentional, less habitual.
    However, life is the journey and I,m enjoying it more this way, than when I was drinking alcohol, like most of my adult friends and family.
    Thanks for all that you do on here,
    Still, wondering why you might be behind your sofa?

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    1. oh, behind-the-sofa refers to hiding alcohol in different places. In the closet, in my coffee mug, in a drink of juice, in a drawer, in my bag, strapped to my stomach, in a water bottle, in a cupboard, or behind the sofa. Got to hide it, can’t let people know how much you’re drinking.

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    2. Hi Nina. Thanks. It almost seems like everything is an addiction in some sense, from watching TV to taking drugs, to the relationships we form, to the food we eat, there is an argument that all of life is one big addiction. Heck, life itself might be an addiction, we in general tend to keep going on with life even when it doesn’t always seem fruitful or worthwhile. But we still think it’s worth hanging onto, that there’s something about it which interests us and holds our fascination……. I think as people with alcohol addictions, when we stop alcohol, then inevitably the addiction comes out in other areas. Internet addiction is certainly a thing, but it is far less harmful than alcoholism, you could even argue that it’s a positive addiction, if you spend your online time wisely, learning things. However, we all know that half the time we end up watching stupid YouTube videos and getting jealous of people’s ‘False’Book posts. Moderation of online time is the key, set yourself boundaries and try and keep to them, once in a while maybe have a complete tech detox, and maybe in the future make a plan to be completely technologically free (I’ve thought about that last one myself, although, I think I’d have to be retired and living up a mountain before I could do it : )

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    3. @nina I love the thought of the goal being to make behavior more intentional, less habitual. Not even a month into my journey but can already see more clearly the other areas in my life that need a reset. Thanks to both you and @behind-the-sofa for sharing.

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  12. Really great post, thanks @behind-the-sofa! Online totally works for me. So glad that AA is not the only game in town anymore. I went to one meeting, almost all males, one older guy asking to be my sponsor, didn’t make me feel safe. This is a great site, and people are consistently kind + supportive. The mention of the ‘rabbit hole’ struck me as being really important – some people, including myself for a long time, wouldn’t know that there is a rabbit hole, that it might be really hard to stop drinking if you try moderation. Of course moderation makes sense on paper, but I had to learn the long and hard way that it just does not work for me. Thanks again! : )

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    1. Hi JM. Thanks. I tried to moderate for the longest time. I would only buy two cans of lager and take them home, drink them, and then go back to the liquor store and buy a six pack, drink that and then go back and buy a hip flask of whiskey, drink that and then try and get back to the liquor store before it closed!…… I then tried to drink wine and only with food. One or two glasses a day I thought. I’d get the shopping home, open the wine straight away, (I deserved a quick glass before dinner) then another, then finish the bottle, go to the liquor store, get some beer and whiskey. Forget about dinner, that would just take the edge of my buzz…… and on and on. I always kidded myself that I could moderate, now I know that the part of myself that wanted to moderate was actually the part of myself that wanted to get wasted, and that it had to play that game with me in order to get what it wanted.

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  13. Exactly, @behind-the-sofa. It’s quite I find being able to tell the truth quite exhilarating. I don’t think that I’d ever go to an AA meeting. It’s a small community here – you’d have to be very careful about what you’d say.

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  14. This is a great post. I don’t like most social interactions, much less interactions where I’m expected to bare my soul. The online recovery community works perfectly for me.

    One thing you didn’t mention is how much helping others helps us. Reading the stories of others helped me get started. My recovery really began to feel solid when I started reaching out to provide advice to others. The act of writing down strategies and support and providing them to newer members (or even older members who were looking for help) made me realize how much I’d changed and helps me to stay focused.

    Thanks for sharing. I’d love to know the success rate of online support groups vs. traditional methods of recovery. I bet its comparable or better.

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    1. haha Wvheel….. me too – could not imagine baring my soul publicly in person…. maybe I’ll do it one day though, ’cause I think it might be good for me as well as other addicts, to get the message out there……. we shall see….. I know Mrs D has done it a few times and kudos to her……. agree with the giving back to other people, I think that’s an important part of the journey and kind of relates to what I just said previously : )

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  15. Sums it up perfectly, Thanks Tom!
    I know personally that writing my truth has helped me accept my truth. You expressed this beautifully, and a little thank you from afar, I’ve been on the receiving end of your support and it has helped me big time!

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    1. I like that about writing your truth helps you accept your truth…….. so true, it solidifies your thoughts and makes them more real……. love your work ; ) xxx

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  16. This was great, behind-the-sofa. I’m in a book club here, and we just started reading Brene Brown’s new book, “Facing the Wilderness.” In the first chapter, she shares a lot of her struggles earlier on in life and mentions having gone to AA. My friend totally surprised me by saying how she just couldn’t understand how anyone could just use alcohol to help a situation, when it “clearly” made things worse. Total judgment, no empathy…just cut and dry. She is not aware of my struggle, nor will she ever be now. I think that is what I love about this online community, and the others that are out there helping us overcome this addiction. Everyone on here “gets it.” There is no judgment. People are vulnerable and raw, and it’s connection on a level that is so much deeper than what we seem to get in our everyday lives in this society today. All I know is it is making all the difference for me, and I’m so grateful.

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    1. Thanks barnmomma. Some people just don’t get it….. some people can just take or leave alcohol (weirdos!). And then there are people like us who have complex and intimate relationships with alcohol. We hate it, we love it, we hate it, we love it some more. It hurts us, it heals us, it beats us round the head. It takes us on a rollercoaster ride and always ultimately dumps us out, upside down at the apex of the loop de loop…….. agree with that connection we get here lacking in our everyday lives! What’s up with that! We need a way of getting more unity and togetherness and openness into our communities. Guess we have a way to go on that front. (Dare I blame Capitalism and Materialism? guess that’s a discussion for another day : )

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  17. @behind_the_sofa , Sums up the safety net of Living sober perfectly ! i for one would never dream of attending an AA meeting ! In my public life i could not /would never talk honestly with peers or family about my drinking problem ,it is a shame I have carried silently for more years than I care to remember, yet here on this online community not only do I feel support , I can also offer support ! that in itself is very therapeutic .
    I genuinely worry when members disappear under the radar because I can understand what could be happening right now ! and that is the beauty of this site . We come from all over the world, different social classes, different ages , different sexes , but we are truly one ! with a common goal to help each other out with our drinking problems ! I could go on and on , but actions speak louder than words I DO NOT DRINK.

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    1. Good on you DeKomp! This is the perfect platform for us silent sufferers who have been keeping it locked up inside for so long. Glad it’s working for you : )
      I DO NOT DRINK EITHER!!! – (ALCOHOL IS A SHIT AND EXPENSIVE POISON!!!)

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  18. Love the online community here at Living Sober. When i first acknowledged that i had a big problem with alcohol i thought the only way i could get help was AA. I felt bad enough about the stuff i had done drunk and so ashamed of myself that i couldnt face people and i also live in a small town full of gossips that AA was not an option for me. (i had kids at the local school and a biz in town). I saw Mrs d on tv and got in touch with her and she told me to just hang on, she was setting up an online community. Love the fact that i can lurk and learn, or reply if i feel i have something to share. The people here are a lovely bunch who really ‘get it’. I call the process ‘leapfrogging’, helping each other along. Thanks behind-the-sofa for writing this piece. :)

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    1. Thanks Janabel. Can completely relate to not being comfortable at AA. Have found the sharing and honesty at this site so helpful to me. They have guided me through 27 days of sobriety that took me 3 years to get to. Thanks again to all of you.

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    2. Hi Janabel. Thanks. Yes, it’s extremely hard to out yourself in public as an ‘alcoholic’, especially early on, and especially, in a small town. Not only does it leave you feeling very vulnerable but also if you relapse, then people will really know what a big drinking problem you have…… not a good place to be……… love the ‘leapfrogging’ terminology : )

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