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Staying Sober Through the Pandemic

Life and Death


Photo by Neal Hemphill


Coronavirus. COVID-19. Covid.


It’s been a hell of a terrible three years of this disease spreading worldwide, bringing with it death and suffering as well as immense controversy and confusion.

 

Isolation is dangerous for alcoholics/addicts.


As an alcoholic, what I crave on a deep level is connection. I need, in order to not only stay clean and sober, but to thrive, is to seek and maintain a connection to other people, and in my case, to have a spiritual connection also.


What the illness of alcoholism, which is still very much alive in me, wants, is for me to be isolated and disconnected. When that occurs, it can begin to do its work by creating negative thinking along with the illusion that “maybe it wasn’t all that bad,” and “I’ve been sober a long time so I could probably handle a drink.”


This is the way to ruin.

 

It was a shock to have the world shut down as it did. I live in NYC, the insanely busy metropolis that never sleeps. Well, it slept.


We live in an area that became, for a time, the epicenter of the virus. There’s a hospital within 2 miles of us that was the site of much reporting because the deaths were happening so fast that refrigerated trucks were brought to the parking lot, and corpses in body bags were being put into these trucks.


This was early on when there was a dearth of information as scientists and the medical community were desperately trying to get a handle on just what was going on.


We received a lot of incorrect and conflicting information. I remember watching a video of a sincere young doctor with a family, illustrate, in his kitchen, how to unbag groceries and wipe everything down with alcohol pads before putting it away. It seemed that this was going to be necessary from then on.


Both my wife and I had sudden job changes. We were each sent to work from home, which was a godsend and also sort of a nightmare. It added a further element to the isolation, not that I’d have gone anywhere in any case. But being chained to a desk and a computer for 40 hours a week, doing very stressful work, completely different from my usual work, made me feel even more locked in.

 

The situation at the hospital with the refrigerator trucks traumatized me in ways that didn’t become clear until much later on.

 

For me, I need to keep in my mind that my sobriety comes first. Without it, as a true alcoholic, everything else goes.


So, to be overwhelmed by such worldwide havoc and reports of overrun hospitals and the terrible toll of deaths happening is to be perilously close to losing track of what I need to keep upfront in my mind and heart.

 

The company I work for, before putting me into my new role, had a stretch of time where we had online meetings. It did a tremendous job of fostering community. They emphasized the resources available, especially mental health counseling through the Employee Assistance Program. And we talked about what we were facing and how we would get through it.


This got me some connection.


But I also needed a connection with sober alcoholics.

 

The idea of drinking or drugging did not occur to me. The fact that I cannot drink or use safely is ingrained in me.


There is nothing, however, that says I can’t lose that idea and have a relapse. It happens, and often with disastrous results.


I was OK for a while, but that wasn’t going to last forever.

 

When I spoke on the phone to sober friends, they were as lost and baffled as I was. And of course, there were varying opinions on what was real, and what wasn’t. Sadly, this situation was politicized and the controversies that came from that led to differences, which can be an isolating factor itself.

 

After a time, some of us sober folks started to meet up on Zoom. It was new, and kind of weird, but a community quickly grew. It became a lifeline for me.


It’s quite different to talk to people online where you can see them than it is to speak on the phone. We were able to be real with each other about what we were facing, and we always steered the conversation toward staying away from a drink.


As I write this, I’m struck by the beauty and the simplicity of what occurred. I need connection, and alcoholism needs isolation.


Human connection is such an extraordinary thing, and when it is literally life-saving it’s incredible. I connected with people I had never met as word spread of what was happening. And I reconnected in new ways with people I hadn’t seen for ages.


Once I got on that footing, the fear of what was happening abated as I knew I was taking care of my primary problem. There is strength in numbers and shared experience.

 

There was not much I could do about the devastating pandemic that brought suffering and death and fear and loss with it. I’m not a scientist or medical professional.


So, what would drinking do? There would still be a pandemic, and I would soon be drunk and craving the next drink. For me, that leads to drugs and tobacco. And a cycle of panic attacks and…well, that’s all for another day.


If I remove the option of drinking, I have to deal with reality on the ground. It was scary. I had to consider a) how do I stay sober, b) how do my wife and I protect ourselves from the virus, and c) how can I help others to do the same?


Well, I’m here for it, the good and the bad. There’s no escaping the fact that I’m a human, and I’m subject to the same realities as everyone else.


My reality is that I cannot drink safely. Pandemic, or not pandemic.











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