When I was in outpatient rehab back in 2014, my counselor asked me to identify the conditions that made me most want to drink. It wasn’t a hard task: the times I wanted to drink most were moments of anxiety or moments of boredom. I called alcohol my “fast forward button,” and drinking was my go-to activity when I felt stir crazy, restless, or stressed out.
Well, there is nothing that makes you feel more stir crazy and restless than being isolated in your house, and there’s nothing that makes you feel more stressed out than knowing hundreds of thousands of people are dying from a novel virus. Oh, and my favorite place to drink was at home, in sweatpants. In other words, it’s really the perfect storm right now.
I’m not worried about drinking – honestly, that hasn’t been a realistic concern of mine in years. However, this entire crisis has definitely made me refocus on my sobriety and recommit to healthy habits. I’ve also felt a stabbing sympathy for people who are newly sober, and navigating this during their most fragile days. I’m not sure if anything I’ve learned will be helpful… but there’s no guidebook for staying sober during a pandemic so I figured I’d try to put my observations into words.
I can’t let the alcoholic jokes & memes on social media get to me.
Facebook and Instagram are filled with jokes about drinking in the morning, blacking out to get through quarantine, and stockpiling alcohol. I saw one person make a joke that liquor stores are essential businesses because if they closed, that person would go through withdrawals. (I thought that one was pretty gross.) So many behaviors that represented my personal rock bottom are apparently hilarious and relatable now. And I get it – most people aren’t actually slamming vodka at 9 a.m. or frantically hoarding wine. But it still always feels weird (and a little unfair) that my problems seem to be other people’s funny quirks.
I’ve started reminding myself of two things whenever I see stuff like that. Either:
a) Those people aren’t alcoholics, which means they have a skill that I don’t (the ability to drink normally) and why shouldn’t they embrace it?! Good for them.
b) That person IS an alcoholic, and I should both empathize and be thankful I’m no longer in that same overwhelming place.
Either way, I shouldn’t hear jokes or comments and allow them to make me feel left out or sad.
My sobriety has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on around me.
When I drank, I used to always have a reason. Of course I’m getting drunk, it’s my birthday! Who on earth doesn’t drink on a date? Binge drinking is normal at my age, so who cares! Alcohol is mandatory on holidays, duh. It became harder and harder to moderate my drinking, and I was constantly setting weird drinking rules or limits (3 drinks max, only on weekends, no shots, etc.) that I couldn’t seem to ever obey.
Oddly enough, getting sober made everything so much easier. I don’t drink. I won’t drink. Zero drinks is my limit. It doesn’t matter if I’m at a party, or a wedding, or on a date. I don’t drink. So yes, this crazy, unprecedented global thing is going on right now… but that doesn’t affect what I do – or in this case, what I don’t do. I don’t drink.
I cannot romanticize my past relationship with alcohol.
I often find myself falling into a trap of considering the “what ifs.” What if I could enjoy a bottle of wine with my husband on a Friday night, after the baby is asleep? What if we could make fun quarantinis and play board games? Wow, that would be so much fun. I used to love doing that kind of stuff.
But let’s be real: that’s not how my drinking ever worked, and that’s not how it would go now. I’d either go overboard, or I’d spend the entire evening wishing I could go overboard. I’d wake up with a headache and anxiety. I’d watch the liquid in the bottle slowly (or quickly) lower, and I’d start to get nervous about buying more. I’d pick stupid fights with Jeremy. I’d drunkenly binge on junk food, skip my workout, and feel gross when I woke up. Those fun, cozy scenes are realistic and fun for other people, but that’s just not how I operate.
Excuse my French, but it’s just not f*cking about me anymore.
I’m a firm believer that you cannot get or stay sober unless you genuinely want it for yourself. You cannot get sober because your partner wants you to, or your friends want you to, or your parents want you to. That said, my husband married sober Caroline. Sober Caroline decided to bring a helpless infant into the world. So no, my sobriety is not just about me or for me.
I was talking to a friend a few weeks ago, and she asked if I thought I could drink normally now. Apparently, there was some research that said if someone’s been sober for five years, there’s a chance they could drink in moderation. I’ve been sober for nearly six. Could I have one or two glasses of wine without needing more, more, more? Could I become a casual drinker?
This is what I told her. Maybe I could. Maybe I’d have a glass and be shocked that I was satisfied. Maybe I’d drink on special occasions and just leave it at that, no problem. But why on EARTH would I test it? If there is even a 0.0001% chance that I could fall full speed into active addiction again, then there is a 0.0001% chance that I would give Tillie a childhood full of embarrassment, anxiety, and trauma. No thanks. That is not an experiment I’m willing to try.
Whenever I talk to other women who are newly sober, I tell them that every challenge you overcome sober just strengthens your sobriety. When you experience a death sober, or attend a wedding sober, or lose a job sober, or celebrate the holidays sober, you’re becoming more and more solid and confident in your sobriety. I never thought I’d add “survive a global pandemic and the consequent weeks of home isolation sober” to my checklist, but I am – and I’m so proud of that!