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I Found Cleveland
I am what is called a “Zoom baby”. My first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, and for the next two years, was all online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I love online meetings and still chose them over in-person meetings because online meetings are easily accessible and convenient—there’s a meeting anytime of the day, every day. And, although I live in Canada, I’ve developed close relationships with my online home group: AA Freethinkers in Lakewood, Ohio. I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to back up and share how I discovered AA online.
“It’s either me, or the bottle,” my partner of 15 years said to me. An ultimatum. Hmm. I chose my partner, afraid of losing our house, our animals, everything we’ve built up together over the years. I’ve heard in the rooms that fear will not keep you sober. It may not, but it sure is a good starting point.
My partner, a trauma and addictions counsellor, knew about AA and recommended I find a meeting immediately as my drinking was out of control. A meeting? During COVID-19? It was November 2020 and we were in a lockdown. I had no idea what to do so I turned to Google and typed in the words, “AA meetings in Ottawa, Ontario” (where I live). At the top of the page was the website of the Ottawa Area Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous.
All meetings listed were moved to online only and mostly on Zoom, a platform with which I was familiar through my job. I searched for women’s only and LGTBQ meetings, both of which weren’t offered until Thursday and today was Tuesday. I needed a meeting fast. So, I broadened my search to any online AA women’s and LGTBQ meetings and found an International Women’s meeting open 24/7 and an LGTBQ meeting in northern California open every night at 6:30 pm PST. These were my first two meetings, which I eventually left because they were too religious for me and I’m not a religious person.
By fluke, someone in the LGTBQ meeting shared a link to a Google spreadsheet that had many, many secular AA meetings listed on it that spanned the United States and went around the world, including Canada. What a smorgasbord of choices! I went to meetings in the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and New Zealand—places in the world I only dreamed of visiting. I also went to many meetings across the US, such as: Colorado, Arizona, California, Seattle, Oregon, Indiana, South Carolina, and several around NYC, just to name a few.Over the first year, I dabbled in hundreds of meetings (I was going to at least three meetings a day), but I never felt grounded or at “home” in any of the groups until I found Freethinkers in Lakewood, OH, a suburb of Cleveland Ohio.
There was something about this meeting that intrigued me—Freethinkers, what does that mean? I discovered quickly that a lot of secular meetings talked more about, or rather complained a lot about, God than the traditional meetings I frequented, and that bothered me. I just wanted a meeting where I could believe in what I believe in, or not, and feel welcomed.
I found my place when an old-timer in the meeting said, “You can believe in what you want, or not; it’s none of our business. We do AA here and everyone is welcome.” I am so grateful for that comment. I instantly felt welcomed and have been attending Lakewood Freethinkers for a year and a half now. If it weren’t for this group, I don’t think I’d be sober today.
Service work became an incentive to quit drinking. And, as more service work emerged, more drink-less days emerged until Monday became Tuesday became Wednesday and I started to accumulate days, then weeks, and now 16 consecutive months of sobriety!
I love my home group so much that I drove eight hours to visit them in May 2022! We had a special picnic in my honor in the park behind where we have in-person meetings: Lakewood Public Library, Madison Branch in Bird Town. It was wonderful to meet in person the core group of Clevelanders. We hugged, we laughed, we broke bread.
It was a momentous occasion for me and because of the success of that trip I returned for Founders’ Day in June and got to experience what it is like to be surrounded by 10,000 sober people! It was a phenomenal event for me and would not have happened had I not found Freethinkers Lakewood.
I would never have gotten my passport, driven to Cleveland, and met so many lovely sober people had it not been for online meetings. The landscape of online AA meetings expanded my world to include friends across American, the globe, and especially in Cleveland—now my home away from home both virtually and in real life.
By Tracy L.