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The Unexpected Difficulty of Finding My First Recovery Meeting

by Shawn Thomas on

It was a cold January 7th, 2021, when I sat down in front of my laptop, having decided to attend my first addiction recovery meeting. I was in the throes of physical withdrawal from alcohol dependence, my hands shaking as I typed in a meeting search and clumsily used the trackpad to navigate the results. My emotional state was a hot mess of nervous, scared, unsure, and desperate.

I hadn't decided which recovery program I wanted to use, but I had done some Google searches and made a short list of a few I was willing to try. What I encountered in all of their websites was a shockingly difficult maze to navigate: lists of meetings in no helpful order, links to spreadsheets to download, and terminology known by veterans of the recovery programs but not by a newbie like me. And I don't mean a newbie to computers and websites... my entire career has been in high tech, yet I found these sites incredibly challenging to use.

I had also joined a few Facebook groups related to my recovery programs of interest. I scrolled through post after post of people begging for help finding a meeting. Other group members did their level best to explain the arcane sequences of steps required to navigate these sites and how to sort and filter Excel columns. The sheer magnitude of the problem struck me then, because for every one person posting for help there were certainly many more just giving up. Their moments of bravery were being squandered.

The world was in the midst of the COVID pandemic then, which accelerated the adoption of online meetings by many recovery programs. While those online meetings were a lifeline for those in recovery, they introduced new challenges. Participants often had to do timezone math to figure out when to join meetings, and recovery programs struggled to replace "pass the hat" donations when there was no hat to pass. Participants needing proof of attendance slips would send emails to the meeting host, hoping to get a reply in time.

Having worked in the software industry building some of the well-known products people use every day, I understood how these sites ended up being so difficult to use. On each page I could see the best efforts of volunteers and tiny IT departments on non-profit budgets. None of these organizations could afford to build a professional-grade experience for their participants, volunteers, and staff. But modern cloud services were perhaps a way to make such experiences available to these organizations and their participants. A seed had been planted.

Fast forward a few months into my recovery and an early version of Pathminder Meetings was launched. The feedback was so encouraging we built a company around it, and have continued investing to make addiction recovery meetings easier to access and more affordable to provide.

Now when I visit those Facebook groups people are connecting with each other about their recovery, not about how to find a meeting. Which is exactly as it should be.