Twelve Step groups have been online since the dawn of the internet. I joined my first sober “BBS” (bulletin board system) meeting in early 1995. We shared experience, strength and hope via group emails.

The internet was brand new, and it was exciting to be talking sobriety in real time—very nearly for free—with other drunks in Oklahoma, Maine and Scotland. All went well until one day when my sponsor asked why I hadn’t been at my usual morning meeting. “I’m doing internet meetings instead,” I told him.

“You’re doing what?” he thundered. I explained, but he was having none of it. “I guess it’s okay if you want to do them in addition to, but not instead of your regular meetings.”

As far as my sponsor was concerned, real meetings needed to be face-to-face. “You need to let other people hear and see you,” he insisted. “Words aren’t enough.”

The internet has changed a lot since the nineties, and the experience of an online meeting has changed with it. Now it is possible to hear and see the other participants online. The intimacy and honesty of the online meeting is much greater than it was 20 years or so ago.

Yet my sponsor’s concerns remain valid. Despite the tremendous expansion of the internet’s capabilities—so much so that virtual reality meetings are more or less a thing of the present—they still lack the sense of accountability and stewardship that can make in-person meetings so valuable. Having floors to sweep or coffee to make isn’t just a chore, it’s a vital part of what keeps us sober. And being SEEN making the coffee or stacking the chairs helps us stay accountable.

On the other hand, online meetings have the huge advantage of being available around the clock and without the necessity of leaving home. If you’re ill or home with children, online meetings can be a lifesaver. For travelers, seeing familiar faces on the screen may be preferable to going to a new meeting in a new town.

What’s your best resource for online meetings? Check out the AA Online Intergroup or the NA online communit. Almost every other recovery organization offers its own online program. Check them out and make use of all they have to offer, but consider too the benefits of getting that extra help in recovery with the in-person meeting.