Monday, October 7, 2013

12 Step Recovery: Using Social Media to Work Step 12 (especially with Church people)

Step Twelve
"Having had a spiritual awakening
as the result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics,
and to practice these principles in all our affairs."

God only knows what Bill W. and anyone else involved with writing The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions would have included had the Internet been invented by 1952. Until now, I haven't spent a lot of time contemplating this counter-factual. Now, thanks to ongoing situations and recent events, I'm pondering how social media might be used as tool for recovery.

Some situations have been on my radar for the 5+ years I've been actively engaged with (contemporary) social media. On Twitter this includes observing circling-the-drain behavior that sometimes shows up as a near-constant stream about what the person is hoping to drink, is drinking (while posting increasingly incoherent tweets), or drank.

On rare occasions, I've seen people in this category tweet about feeling crappy the next day without connecting the dots between feeling that and their drinking. I've also observed the swift segue into defensive public outrage when their public blahblahblah is questioned as…questionable.

Crash-and-splash landings also show up as ever-increasing amounts of chaos, conflict, moodiness, outrage, and grandiosity in public tweets. Believe me, I've been in recovery long enough to know this is a reliable indication that either a whole lot of out-of-control drinking is going on, or someone in recovery is on a dry drunk.

Because I'm disproportionately involved with church people (i.e., clergy, lay leadership, seminarians), I cannot help but notice tweets from those who are "giving up alcohol for Lent!" and who then spend 40 days posting about the agony of having done so – not as a joke, but as true distress.

Yes, there are church people who are active drunks.*

Let's get real: A call to ministry neither magically nor mysteriously exempts anyone from alcoholism. There have always been church people wreaking havoc in and around church-the-building because of their addictions; no surprise they'd do so online as well. (For the record, I do not believe drinking is inherently evil and that anyone who drinks is destined for alcoholism.)

Relative to events, I've become aware (over the past decade-ish) of the frequency with which high-profile authors write about their addiction and recovery. Yeah, I know, Hazelden published my book about recovery and my name is on it, so what's my issue? 

No issue per se, just noting how it's no longer considered a violation of Traditions 11 and 12 to write about recovery in memoirs. True turning point for me: reading Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber's new book, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saintas well as #grateful tweets from readers who identify with her story. I gotta believe some great percentage are clergy who either are or need to get clean and sober.

And so here I am, someone with double-digit recovery called to digital ministry, offering these suggestions for using social media to work Step 12 and maintain hard-earned sobriety

  • Use the tools of social media to minister to those who are acting out on social media, especially the "back channel" (i.e., direct messages on Twitter, private messages on Facebook); also links to informative, educational resources. 
  • Pull screen shots (or maybe create a Storify?!?) of (wet/dry) drunk tweets to document what's going on, then email them to the person. Think of this as a virtual intervention which, like face-to-face interventions may/may not work. As we know, people do not sober up because other people beg or threaten. 
  • Become sensitive to Program language encoded in tweets and reach out to find others in recovery. Send a back channel note asking, "Are you a friend of Bill W.?" and then if they are, consider them your online go-to people for near real-time support and accountability.
  • Either block or remove from view (e.g., in a Tweetdeck or Hootsuite column) people whose acting out puts your serenity and therefore sobriety at risk.
  • Add tweets and Facebook posts to practicing "restraint of tongue and pen." And you'll screw that up, so remember to add online activity to your Step Ten practice of taking a personal inventory and promptly admitting wrongs.
  • In addition to being a "walking copy of the Big Book," become a cyber one.
FWIW, recovery seems to unfold online as it does "in the rooms." I've seen people hit Step Zero ("This shit has to stop.) and eventually get to Step One ("We admitted we were powerless over alcohol–that our lives had become unmanageable."). I've watched days get counted, pink clouds get floated upon, more crap hit the fan o' life, slips happen, and support provided.

In the world of church, I've seen all this lead to people leaving churches for healthier environments, or leaving active ministry altogether. And although I've never taken the time to tweet the entire Serenity Prayer, it certainly comes to mind and heart whenever I see Program support being played out online.

For some, alcoholism is biochemical, for others it’s psycho-spiritual; for most it’s a blend of all these factors and more. In the end, havoc is havoc and wreckage is wreckage.