What Social Distancing Is Like For A Sober Person

Photographed by Michael Beckert.
I’ve been sober for the past two and a half years. And with the exception of the first few weeks, I’ve spent the better part of the last 30 months free from cravings. In the presence of alcohol, I’ve had the ability to hit the fast forward button in my brain and recall the undesirable effect that drinking has on me: the anxiety, nausea, and regret that inevitably consume me the morning after a night out. While I have certainly had moments of discomfort, I haven’t had a real desire for a glass of wine, a joint, or a strong cocktail. 
Until now. 
In the last week, we’ve all been instructed to stay inside, postpone social gatherings, and isolate ourselves. That advice is the exact opposite of what I’ve learned to do to support my recovery. In sobriety, I built a nourishing life for myself filled with meaningful relationships, exercise, travel, and work. But for the foreseeable future, I won’t be getting on a plane, going to yoga, or having coffee with mentors or friends. The world is on pause, and for the first time in my recovery, I have been thinking about drinking.
It’s not that my fast forward button is broken. I was a “wake up with mystery bruises and a missing purse” kind of drinker, and I know that adding a pandemic to the mix would not be pretty. But I’m anxious, going stir crazy, and watching my friends start pouring wine on their Instagram stories at 4:59 p.m. every night. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t uncomfortable, that I didn’t wish I could check out from our collective current reality and slip on some pyjamas, turn off my phone, and drink until this whole thing is over. 
Put simply, being an adult feels scary right now, and alcohol looks like the fastest route out. If connection is the opposite of addiction, what does recovery look like when the world is social distancing? 
Zoom is emerging as an essential platform right now, providing virtual spaces for work meetings, fitness classes, and even remote family dinners. Luckily for me, the sober community is following suit. In lieu of church basements and university buildings, 12-step programs are holding recovery meetings on Zoom on an hourly basis. While I’ve never written openly about attending recovery meetings before (many of these programs are, after all, anonymous), now feels like as good a time as any to share that they are helping. A lot. Attending meetings is a source of communication and connection, two cornerstones of sobriety, and in the absence of the IRL variety, I’m clinging to my Internet connection for dear life. 
“This has been a really difficult time, but it’s actually solidified my sobriety,” says Britni Bender, a New York-based Pilates instructor. “Before all of this, I always felt like I was too busy to get to meetings or call other sober women. But in the last few days I have been waking up every morning feeling so excited to log on to my Zoom recovery meetings and hear what other sober women are experiencing. It’s become a really grounding and lifesaving part of my new, weird schedule.” 
Virtual meetings have been helpful in separating my sobriety from the general panic and fear that we are all currently experiencing. They're a reminder that I did something incredibly uncomfortable once: I gave up alcohol and drugs and learned to be fully present in my own skin. The old adage “one day at a time” helped me then, and it’s just as comforting now. Yes, there is more fear, uncertainty, and empty space in my life today than there was a few short weeks ago. But I can fill the gaps left from cancelled workout classes and postponed in-person gatherings with activities that still feel meaningful to me. I can show up for each day in quarantine with my boyfriend and be present, clear-eyed, and helpful instead of hungover or numb. Being scared is normal right now, but it doesn’t mean that I have to drink, and virtual meetings help me remember that. 
“Being forced to spend all day alone in my apartment has felt really weird, but I don’t want to drink or do drugs,” emphasises Arielle*, a graduate student who has been sober for four years. “I realised yesterday after sharing in a Zoom AA meeting that it was the first time I had heard myself talk all day, which was kind of crazy. I’m really grateful to be going through this sober and to have such a strong community that helps me stay calm in chaos.” (*Name has been changed.)
My first couple of days quarantined felt a lot like a free-for-all. Panic was palpable, and I found myself on constant phone calls, absorbing and echoing the same anxious sentiments. By the end of day three, I was drained from doling out reassurances that I wasn’t even sure I believed. The format of virtual meetings and the opportunity for everyone to share with the group provides space to both listen and be heard without needing to have all the answers. This structured setup is a good reminder that we are still allowed to have boundaries in quarantine
So, yes: I thought about drinking this week. I also thought about eating an entire pan of brownies in one sitting and online shopping for extremely overpriced sweatpants. Luckily, thanks to sobriety, I don’t have to act on my irrational impulses or fears anymore. I can acknowledge, redirect, and write out those thoughts instead. And if I’m feeling really squirrelly, I can even dial-in to a virtual room filled with women who feel the exact same way. No glass of wine has ever done me as much good.
The World Health Organisation says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever. If you suspect you have the symptoms of COVID-19 you should call NHS 111 and stay indoors.

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