July 24, 2020

Sobriety & Covid-19: Imperfect Together

Sobriety is a daunting task and a major accomplishment in any context. It takes determination, humility, and a willingness to roll up your sleeves and discover yourself in all your imperfect manifestations. Under normal circumstances, sobriety also involves and relies on something hard to come by amid the fits and flares of this pandemic: in-person support.

Several of my clients in recovery have shared that they are struggling with the isolation wrought by Covid-19, for various reasons. First, and most obviously, it is impossible in most states to attend an in-person recovery meeting. Although some AA and NA groups have made a successful practice of getting together outside, in public parks or even parking lots, not everyone is comfortable with that. Thus, many in recovery have been relegated to participating in meetings via Zoom and FaceTime, or watching and listening to recorded meetings via YouTube. I’m not going to mince words here: I know it’s not the same. The feeling one gets from sitting in a room with fellow addicts and alcoholics, sharing testimony and fellowship—not to mention hugs—cannot be replicated in an online setting. That said, I commend those who are making this effort to stay connected, recognizing that connection with others on the recovery path is the primary aim of these meetings generally, so any form of connection, even if not the ideal form, helps.

Another reason my recovering clients are struggling with isolation is one we can all relate to: it is harder now than ever to get out and do the wholesome things that distract us from our vices. Whereas, in the past, one of my clients used to throw on her sneakers and hit the gym whenever she was tempted to pick up a drink or drug, many gyms and recreational areas—particularly in Orange County, California, where our practice is located—are closed. That said, if you used to hit the gym or shoot hoops on the beach, you can still go out and take a long walk, even with a friend; I’ve seen some really creative, conscientious people walking on opposite sidewalks, wearing masks and talking to each other through their cell-phone ear buds—or even shouting across the street. The point is, connection is also possible in this manner, even if it’s not exactly what it was before.

A third challenge my clients are facing from the isolation is that being alone and shut inside makes it even more tempting to use. One client shared that she frequently thinks to herself, “There’s no one watching me, no one will know.” It’s a thought she has to process throughout every day, which is exactly what I encourage her to do—process, not push away. If you’re having thoughts like this, then clearly you’re not alone. Your work here is to meet these intrusive thoughts with curiosity, not judgment. “Why is this coming up for me right now?” you might ask. This is also a great impetus for journaling. As you re-read your thoughts, you can gain even more valuable insights than you would have had you been able to escape into society with all its noise and distraction.

In general, know that recovery, even in a pandemic, is not something you have to do alone. You can call your sponsor, sober sisters and brothers, or even a supportive non-sober family member, whenever you need help, as many times as you need. Watch a movie, dance around and listen to music, or—even better yet—eat a giant meal. My sober friends and family tell me there’s no better method of extinguishing alcohol cravings than eating a huge bowl of chili with cornbread, or a plate of lasagna.

But if you’re in recovery, you don’t really need me to share tips like these; you’ve heard them since day one, and you know very well how easy it is to follow them on the good days and ignore them on the bad. Perhaps the best thing I can say to you is that what you’re doing is incredibly challenging, and you should be commended for your effort; even the goal of sobriety is an admirable one. If you’ve strayed from your path or are considering straying, there’s no time like now to get back on course. When this pandemic is over and you’ve fought your way through it, know that, whatever stumbles you may have encountered along the way, you will be all the stronger.