Having turned her life around, internet sober coach helps others

Posted 6/6/24

Esther Oden, of Warwick a former clinical research monitor at Rhode Island Hospital, will be 10 years sober in July.

Now, Oden is a sober coach and the East Coast coordinator for the Remote …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Having turned her life around, internet sober coach helps others


Esther Oden, of Warwick a former clinical research monitor at Rhode Island Hospital, will be 10 years sober in July.

Now, Oden is a sober coach and the East Coast coordinator for the Remote Sober Support Network, a free online program that provides daily virtual meetings for alcohol and drug addicts in recovery.

“I had always said to myself that when I retired, I would work with addicts,” Oden said. After her last job, she found a posting on LinkedIn for a “sober coach” who could provide day-to-day support for recovering substance addicts—not just in staying sober, but also in “life skills,” like creating effective to-do lists or daily schedules.

RSSN was founded six months ago in California by Jill and Daniel Ross. Meetings take place multiple times a day via Zoom and can be scheduled at

“I didn't begin drinking until I was almost 40,” said Oden, who is now 78. “I was fired from two jobs because I was an alcoholic. They never said they fired me for that—they let me go for non-performance. But the basic reason I couldn't perform was I was drunk.”

It took Oden seven years and multiple relapses to get sober. She first tried an outpatient program at Roger Williams Hospital, which proved ineffective for her.

“I drank before I went. I drank after I got out of there,” Oden said. “I promised I wouldn’t drink, but I did. So Alcoholics Anonymous is how I got sober.”

Oden attended multiple AA meetings a week and worked with sponsors in South Providence. Her peers there didn’t “give (her) an inch” — which was exactly what she needed, she said.

“Getting sober for me was the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life,” Oden said, adding that she would rather “go through undergraduate school and have a baby at the same time.”

Once sober, Oden’s “life turned around.” Without sobriety, she said, she would not have a home, a successful career, or a husband.

“For me, my sobriety is everything. And I really believe that this is important work.”

For those seeking sober support, RSSN holds four 40-minute meetings a day. Oden runs one-hour “12-step-study” sessions on Wednesday nights. Twice a day, RSSN holds family support meetings, for people whose loved ones struggle with substance abuse.

“Every substance abuser has a family, and every family has heartbreak,” Oden said, recounting a time she couldn’t make it to her grandson’s birthday party because she was too drunk to stand up.

To Oden, RSSN supplements in-patient or out-patient treatment programs and in-person Alcoholics Anonymous programs by providing greater access. Frequent travelers can schedule meetings on-the-go, she noted — an especially vital service because alcohol is so widely available at airports, on planes, at restaurants, and in hotels.

“For anybody that’s newly sober and wants to stay that way, it is readily apparent that alcohol is such a part of the culture that you’re almost expected to drink,” Oden said.

The remote setup also allows immunocompromised or elderly people to cut down on exposure as they take meetings from the comfort of home, she added.

At a recent 3 p.m. sober support meeting, RSSN coach Steve Widrig opened the session by reading Narcotics Anonymous’ daily Just for Today meditation.

“We don’t stop being addicts after we’ve been clean awhile. We still need to identify with other addicts,” the meditation read. “Every meeting reminds us that we’ll never be cured, but that by practicing the principles of the program we can recover.”

“Just for today: I will attend an NA meeting to remind myself of who I am, where I’ve come from, and where I can go in my recovery,” Widrig finished.

Including Oden and Widrig, six people attended the 3 p.m. meeting. Each attendee shared experiences from their addiction and their recovery, expressing gratitude for the network. RSSN attendees echoed a speaker’s name back to them when they began to share — an age-old AA tradition, Oden said.

Later that day, at the 4 p.m. family support meeting, the session leader prompted attendees to discuss “cultivating play and rest.”

“Play is the first thing to go,” an attendee admitted.

According to Oden, every RSSN coach also attends sober support meetings to maintain their sobriety. She herself attends a meeting “nearly every day.”

“I don't know one alcoholic that will tell you after they've been sober a while, ‘I don't ever want to drink again,’” Oden said. She recounted an adage she had heard from a mentor early on: “Once you’re pickled, you can never be a cucumber again. Once an addict, always an addict.”

Sober coaches with multiple years of sobriety under their belts continue to attend meetings because sharing that experience can be valuable to someone newly sober, Oden said.

“That executive who's gone to the Christmas party and had too many and said too much — maybe he needs to hear from me,” Oden said. “Hear me say: you need to apologize to somebody. But your apology is not going to mean anything if you continue to drink because you're going to do it again and again and again.”

In the six months since its founding, RSSN has developed a close-knit community, with a robust Slack workspace featuring a “bragging rights” channel for coaches to share their families and a “bookstore” channel where they discuss favorite books.

“I really want to share that experience. Not just in Rhode Island, but with RSSN, I’m sharing it with people in California, Utah, Maryland, and New York City,” Oden said. “We would like to see it be global.”

Anisha Kumar studies English and Political Science at Brown University. Hailing from Menlo Park, California, she is passionate about telling stories and solving crosswords.

Oden, sober, coach


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here