Addiction is largely a disease of isolation — of shame, guilt, and fear. As I write this, I reckon with the fact that I haven’t really left the house for nearly three months. While I am sure many of us are dealing with high anxiety right now, thanks to the global crisis which has made isolating at home essentially a requirement, social distancing presents a new slew of triggers for those suffering from addiction.
Socially isolating brings back memories of my own personal journey in recovery. I remember the years I spent drinking myself to death indoors, and largely alone, which was long after I had stopped using social events as an excuse to drink. In turn, the drinking led to feelings of isolation, which led to more drinking. I eventually developed a social anxiety that made it difficult to leave the house.
We are all being poised to take inventory of the ways we choose to survive.
Even for those who don’t live with addiction, it is difficult to accept a socially-distanced world as our new “normal.” We are all being poised to take inventory of the ways we choose to survive. For many with an alcohol use disorder, the shame of illness already makes you feel an outsider. Addiction isolates and imprisons from within.
While I am thankful for my current health, I know many are suffering behind closed doors quite literally, right now (and equating day-drinking/stockpiling alcohol as a “fun” quarantine activity really hurts to see). If recovery is largely a community effort — one that depends, in fact, on making connections, forging authentic relationships, and following healthy routines — then we need to offer those trying to get sober all the help they can get… before social distancing becomes an inevitable road to relapse.
As an alcoholic, survival is a commitment I make every single day. I have made it nearly four years without a drink, one day at a time. It took many years to get to my personal rock bottom, and while I still suffer from anxiety, I realize I am only a drink away from ending up there again. I have to be diligent and keep my practices in check.
A few weeks ago, I broke up with a man I’d met just before our city went on lockdown. We’d spent two solid months pursuing a relationship online and through daily phone calls and only met once (with masks and gloves) for a brief time. And then it was over because he wanted to be friends with benefits and I wanted something more.
If anything, the lack of physical contact as a result of social distancing rules gave us a chance to develop a more solid and less superficial connection. Of course it was the least ideal time to try and start a new relationship. If I were being completely honest, I didn’t really see how it would work out. I think I enjoyed the idea of someone caring for me during a time of uncertainty (who doesn’t?).
I’m four years into my journey, and it is really only now that I see how much I’ve learned over this time — about myself, and about permitting myself to feel.
Still, I invested my time, and there was true emotional intimacy. Something we were building came to an end, and that hurt.
Still — and the more important “still” — I didn’t have a drink. I didn’t need to numb to get through it. What this breakup did do, though, was put my progress in recovery in the spotlight.
I’m four years into my journey, and it is really only now that I see how much I’ve learned over this time — about myself, and about permitting myself to feel. In the past, for instance, I’ve seen my recovery toolbox put to use, for example, when I let self-destructive thoughts come and pass. I take a deep breath, maybe apply a few CBT techniques to lessen my anxiety.
My anxiety has gotten much better, as a result of putting my tools to work, reaching out to online groups for extra support. While I don’t attend 12-step meetings specifically anymore, I continue to read recovery literature and keep my social media feeds wellness-focused. I still have days when triggers get the best of me, but I try to never lose sight of how strong I must be to have made it this far.
I applied these same recovery tools when it came time to deal with the emotional rollercoaster that comes with a breakup. I worked through it by writing a lot, and mostly in creative prose. I reorganized my freelance work for the summer and recommitted to a workout regimen.
Of course, the real work would be the inner kind, which for me looked like a combination of a gratitude practice (“better to have loved and lost” type deal), reaching out to my intuitive/healer friends for advice, and prayer.
I didn’t have a drink. Today, I understand the paradoxical fear of leaving that accompanies the fear of staying. While my recent quarantine bae and I weren’t that serious, the whole breakup didn’t throw me in self-love mode overnight. It took work. It took putting my tools to use and re-investing in my recovery and self-care. In another life, I would have taken the edge off with a drink… and then another… until I found myself thrown way over that edge.
It gives me relief to know that I don’t have to live on the edge anymore, that even when I feel myself approaching an emotional abyss, I can peer over it in an effort to understand it and work through it, which is so much more satisfying. I can see the edge, but I also see the other side.
These days, I find a daily hour of reading keeps me grounded — strangely — in that it keeps my imagination alive, keeps me dreaming, keeps me alive and dreaming of new possibilities… maybe even new loves. The breakup showed me that still today, I choose to live rather than survive, and that means living sober.
One hour of reading, one tool put to use, one day at a time… one moment at a time, I make the choice to live.