If you’re in recovery from addiction and haven’t heard of the online recovery community InTheRooms, you may have missed the memo that recovery has gone tech: this five-year-old website hosts 78 online meetings a week and has over 271,248 members from 136 different countries.
Social Media That Actually Heals
The brainchild of Florida entrepreneurs Ron (“RT”) Tannebaum and Kenny Pomerance, who have each been in recovery for over 30 years and are married to women also in long-term recovery, In The Rooms was launched when Pomerance pitched his old friend on the idea of creating a “Facebook for recovery.”
Tannebaum, who owned and operated a chain of stores that specialized in sports products, first met Pomerance—the cofounder of a security company—at the University of Florida in Gainesville around 1971. Though Tannenbaum can’t remember the exact date—“Everything was pretty foggy back then”’—both are clear on the fact that ITR launched on October 6, 2008.
“Most experts and friends said we would never ever get to 10,000 members,” Tannebaum recalls. “We had no idea how big the project would grow.” But the two had the sort of tenacity that a combined 60+ years of recovery can bring. “We knew,” Tannebaum says, “that if we executed our vision, people would come to the site and keep coming.”
A Safe Space to Recover
From the get-go, Pomerance and Tannebaum saw the way interactions on the site could significantly alter people’s perceptions about their own recovery. “There are so many people who search the web for help with addiction but want nothing to do with AA or NA,” Pomerance says. “After talking with the other members on the site, they often find that these fellowships are exactly what they need to recover and become fully immersed in the programs—not just on In The Rooms but also in their local groups.” At present, there aren’t just Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on the site but also Narcotics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Online Gaming Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Over Eaters Anonymous, Dual Diagnosis, Alanon, Adult Children of Alcoholics and Naranon, among others. The meetings have a chairperson who is visible on video and anyone who wishes to share presses a handy “Request to Share” button, at which point they appear in a “Share Box” where the rest of the people signed into the meeting can hear and see them. If anonymity is an issue, computer cameras can be covered so that just the voice is heard.
Praise for In The Rooms
Though the response online has been good from the get-go, Pomerance and Tannebaum have also been noticed in the non-virtual world: in 2011, they received the Prism Presidents Award from the Entertainment Industries Council for outstanding accomplishment and accurate depiction of substance abuse and mental health disorders, prevention, treatment and recovery.
In The Rooms is in no way interested in trying to replace face-to-face meetings with online ones but the site has become a life-saving resource for people who can’t leave their homes. Brian, 33, who lives in Mount Prospect, Illinois, became a quadriplegic after he injured his spinal cord on New Years Eve in 2002. “I found In The Rooms after I heard Kenny do an interview on a podcast called The Recovery Lab,” he explains. “Because of my physical limitations, a lot of meetings are inaccessible for me. In The Rooms has enabled me to do 90 meetings in 90 days, which otherwise would have been impossible.”
Saving Lives and Celebrating Sobriety
Of course, you don’t have to be unable to attend meetings in order to experience the benefits of the site. Naomi, 64, who works in sales, found In The Rooms “by accident” when she was searching for something else online. Although she was sober for over 30 years, Naomi had stopped going to meetings as she became complacent about her recovery and started isolating. “The people I ‘met’ on the In The Rooms meetings encouraged me to return to my home group,” she says. “The site has become a lifeline for me.” In The Rooms has also seen its share of cross-atlantic romance blossom: though there haven’t been any In The Rooms weddings yet, there is a New Zealander who fell for an American on the site and is going to move in with him.
But perhaps the most important aspect of In The Rooms can’t be quantified in numbers or anecdotes. It’s the fact that two long-time friends in Florida have been able to take the joy and gratitude they feel for recovery and spread it to several hundred thousand people they didn’t know and can now call friends. Considering the proliferation of stories about the negative consequences of social networking sites, it’s inspiring to know that there’s one out there that’s spreading nothing but positivity—and possibly saving lives in the process.