Online Recovery Support Meetings: From New to Ubiquitous in 20 Years
Necessity of Pandemic Spurred Acceptance of Innovation Launched More Than Two Decades Earlier
By Jeremiah Gardner
One widely acknowledged silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was that online support meetings for people recovering from addiction became commonplace. And today — while in-person meetings are back — virtual recovery meetings remain available nearly every hour of every day, a comforting reality that means the understanding and support of others will never be far away again.
To many, online meetings sprung from seemingly nowhere. But the idea was not new. It just took a couple decades for the innovation to gain acceptance. The forerunner to it all was an online community known as Sober24, which — thanks to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation — still exists today under a different name, The Daily Pledge, and celebrated its 23rd anniversary this week.
Sober24 and the Origins of Online Recovery
The idea of online recovery community is believed to have gotten its start in the year 2000, when two people in treatment together hatched the idea of a website to remind them every day “what to do” to stay sober. Greg Wright (a senior banking exec) and his new friend (a systems network architect who had invented one of the Fundamental Internet Protocols and went by the username CapeCod) registered the domain name Sober24.com while still in residential treatment. They set out to protect their long-term recovery, and invite others to join them, by focusing on “what to do” rather than “what not to do and which warning signs to watch for.”
A bulletin board and chat server were included on the original Sober24 site, which welcomed its first member other than Greg and CapeCod on Dec. 4, 2000 — the site’s recognized founding date. On Friday nights, Sober24 even hosted a recovery rock ‘n’ roll party by hacking the code for the chat server to include code from Napster, the original digital music streaming site.
Word-of-mouth soon turned Sober24 into a popular place that eventually took on the slogan: “Best Damn Recovery site on the Net.”
Sober 24 Stills Exists Today as “The Daily Pledge”
Sadly, Sober24 founder Greg Wright passed away in 2003 at the age of 40. Four years later, in 2007, Guideposts — a publisher of inspirational magazines and other products — took over operation of the site. And in 2010, the Hazelden Foundation assumed its stewardship. A couple of years later, the site became known as Hazelden’s Social Community and later it was relaunched as The Daily Pledge, based on the name of one of the most popular discussion threads — which encouraged members to build a helpful habit of coming to the site daily to commit to recovery for another 24 hours, one day at a time — connecting the modern site to its Sober24 roots.
Today, The Daily Pledge remains a free online community that serves as welcoming place for those curious about recovery, those just starting out, family members of those in recovery, and long-timers willing to stick around to support others in their recovery journey.
The first thing you’ll see when arriving on the home page of The Daily Pledge are recovery pledges made that day by people around the world. It’s always inspiring and encouraging to see that others are on this path of recovery with us. Right now. Today.
On the home page, you can also add your gratitude for the day or share one word that means something to you in that moment. And when you go inside, you can participate in deeper conversations in the Discussions area and even write your own blog posts. There’s also a page where you can upload artistic photos, snapshots of family, and funny or inspiring memes. And there’s a very robust page of family resources curated by Hazelden Betty Ford professionals.
In addition, since the start in 2000, the site has offered online recovery-meetings facilitated in real-time by someone with lived experience. Unlike many of the Zoom-like meetings available today, however, The Daily Pledge meetings take place in a chatroom — just one of the many varieties available to people today.
The COVID lockdowns that began in March 2020 dramatically increased the number of people coming to The Daily Pledge for support and especially for chat recovery meetings. People who could not attend meetings in person found a place to continue connecting with others in recovery on a daily or weekly basis. The number of meetings increased from 5 per week to 25, allowing the community to host about 1,100 meetings at the peak in 2020 and 2021. We sent out approximately 1500 confirmations of meeting attendance and welcomed over 15,000 individual users during those two peak years.
I’m a member, too
As you get to know people on a site like The Daily Pledge, it becomes ever more meaningful to see them commit to recovery for another day. Those anonymous usernames and the little picture icons next to them quickly progress from strangers to the identities of people in the real world — people you’re rooting for to succeed for another day.
It doesn’t take long before you get the sense that those people are rooting for you to survive and thrive, as well — people like MusicianThomas, for example. I guess that’s what a real community is like. Bonds and friendships take root, and a cool kind of a family emerges.
Shortly after I signed up in 2013, I was greeted by two people who soon became very important to me. One called herself mudka. Another was known in the community as mugzy. Both made a point to welcome newcomers into the fold. It turned out lots of folks do that. Before long, newcomers are friends and then they become part of the welcoming committee themselves.
Said one longtime member of The Daily Pledge just this week:
“I came out of desperation. I stay to try and give back what was so freely given to me all those years ago.”
“In the Rooms”
Another wonderful resource available today is IntheRooms.com. In 2008, eight years after the humble launch of Sober24, two other friends in recovery, Ronald Tannebaum and Ken Pomerance, co-founded their own site dedicated to recovery meetings —IntheRooms.com — and included audio-visual capabilities. Long before Zoom, Webex and Teams became common tools for everyone, this was a significant innovation, and the founders went all-in on the concept. For more than 1 million people in 136 countries, it paid off. Today, IntheRooms.com hosts an astounding 160 live online meetings per week. Happy 15th anniversary to IntheRooms.com!
Today, thanks to pioneers like those early adopters of Sober 24 and then other sites like In the Rooms, and thanks to the great need that arose amid the COVID-19 pandemic and all those who responded, recovery community is everywhere — in-person, online and more accessible than ever.