With a global pandemic causing widespread chaos, anxiety, and staggering death counts, it might not seem surprising that Americans (and notably, the government) have deemed alcohol essential, but it’s not because we need alcohol to get through this; it’s to prevent withdrawal in those who are battling alcohol use disorders.
As a sober curious individual (and an introvert, for the record), I didn’t know what to expect or how long we’d be in “quarantine,” but I wrongfully assumed this stay-at-home order would be easy. Staying at home is often my preferred option, but this is an unusually difficult time in the world. The last thing this whole scenario is is easy.
Many of us are dealing with extremely difficult situations. Parenting and working full time, living with ex-spouses, waving to loved ones from the window, living alone or avoiding all human contact for fear of contracting a deadly virus, stressing about personal finances, working long, painful hours, or saving lives and watching people die without their loved ones present.
Sure, a glass of wine might calm your frustrations or temporarily eliminate your fears, but I would argue that now might be the best time to stop drinking.
The end of in-person socializing
Alcohol is ingrained in our culture and for many of us, it’s an immediate mood booster. Alcohol for many years made me feel more confident, more outgoing, and more fun to be around. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the way I felt when I drank, and the simple act of fitting in. When I drank, I belonged.
I always liked the taste of alcohol, but it was the socializing that kept me returning to it and I have found that not drinking is easier now than it’s ever been.
I didn’t expect this, and I recognize that this is not the case for everyone. Alcohol consumption has and will likely continue to rise. However, quitting alcohol during a pandemic might be the best time for social drinkers or those who are in recovery and tempted most by social situations.
I’ve participated in countless Happy Hours, family bingo nights, networking events, work calls, and birthday parties (and yes, Zoom burnout is very real), and even though everyone else has held up their wine glasses and beers, I haven’t been tempted to do the same. Only once, during my first virtual Happy Hour, did I open a hard seltzer. After two sips and an hour-long Happy Hour, I poured the rest out (and of course, nobody noticed).
By removing the social situations that often tempted or led me to drink, I have found that I no longer want to drink.
When socializing from home, so many factors are eliminated. I don’t have to worry about standing at a bar, deciding what to order, or saying “no” to a shared bottle of wine, or keeping my hands occupied while being at a public event. I also don’t have to worry about browsing lists of cocktails, or attending a celebratory event where everyone is drinking champagne and mimosas, or faking enthusiasm in a crowd of strangers, or staying out much longer than I’d prefer because I don’t know how to politely leave. Nobody is watching me pour Sprite into a glass. Nobody is wondering why I’m not drunk, or why I’m drinking tea at seven o’clock on a Thursday.
On a virtual Happy Hour or family bingo night, I can join for an hour and then shut off my computer and not worry about goodbyes or having to drive home. By removing the social situations that often tempted or led me to drink, I have found that I no longer want to drink.
And I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Individuals who are tempted to drink in social settings or with peers are having an easier time with recovery, explains Nikki Winchester, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center.
“They are forced to be home by themselves and they do not have access to bars,” says Winchester. Many are also spending time with loved ones 24/7. And for the first time ever, technology is making it easier for individuals who have social anxiety to attend AA meetings or support groups without having to actually show up in person.
With online support groups, you can even turn off your video and simply watch from a safe, comfortable distance, which wasn’t an option before the pandemic.
Pivoting plans and accepting the unknown
Like most of you, I didn’t see the pandemic coming. I had big plans for 2020 and social distancing wasn’t on the agenda. In the first few weeks, I stocked up on the essentials and I spent hours reading through the news, evaluating statistics and predictions, and reading stories of people who tested positive.
I thrive on information, so I wanted to know everything, but this pandemic is largely unpredictable. We can look at historical facts, we can evaluate statistics, and we can (and must) plan on how best to return to “normal” with a possible recession, but the reality is that none of us know how long this will go on for, how truly bad it will be, and until there is a vaccine or a cure, we have to accept that this is our current reality.
Knowing that I’ve shifted my perspective away from the news and the question of what’s going to happen and when? and instead, I’ve started thinking: How do I pivot my plans? How do I adjust my lifestyle in the age of social distancing? How do I find happiness in my day to day?
Many of the things that brought me joy have been temporarily removed. I started to consider how I wanted to get through this and what I would do with all of the time that wouldn’t be spent on things like travel and events, meeting friends or going to the gym. Though I’m still working full-time (which is a blessing), I’m taking this time to focus on my emotional, physical, and mental needs.
I’m returning to the days before adulthood before alcohol became a part of my life, and in those days, I carved out time for the things I loved.
I bought watercolor paints and established a daily writing routine (just 30 minutes per day, though I sometimes miss a day). I started running occasionally. I started a bi-weekly video call with my long-distance friends. I started testing new dessert recipes — many of which ended disastrously — but I found myself pivoting away from social media and Netflix. And I stopped checking the news every hour.
I’m not training for a marathon or limiting my social media scrolling, or stopping myself from watching movies and eating way too many snacks, but I’m starting to re-focus on the things that brought me joy. I’m not focused on productivity either. I’m returning to the days before adulthood before alcohol became a part of my life, and in those days, I carved out time for the things I loved.
Getting through this together
For those taking a hard look at their relationship with alcohol, it might be the right time to seek out an online recovery group, and/or speak to a mental health professional about the best recovery or treatment options. You may feel (or actually be) alone, but there are many, many ways to stay connected to others and stay sober during this pandemic.
Many professionals are offering teletherapy, as well as free online groups, making it possible to access these resources without having to leave home.
The advice “always put your oxygen mask on first” is crucial during this time. Regardless of the individual situations, we’re all facing, mental health is a top priority, and personal time is necessary if possible.
Go for a walk without your family, or carve out an hour a week to talk with your best friend, or attend a 30-minute recovery meeting every day, or simply skip the chores or take a break from work and focus on something more personal like journaling or taking a bath or meditating or listening to a podcast.
No matter how long this pandemic lasts, we’re all just taking this one day at a time, and that’s all we can do.