If you turn your attention to the sober community right now (I say turn your attention, because I really didn’t have my finger on the pulse of the sober community until I started personally trying to quit), what you’ll discover is that many of us are having a hard time. For some, this means that they want to drink. For others, it just means we wish we could be numb in a time when being numb feels like the best option for survival. I don’t really want to drink right now, but I do want to check out in a way that was always best achieved by booze; I do find myself wishing that sobriety didn’t make me feel so very awake for all of it.
But right now, my heart is focused on a problem that is true for many of us due to COVID-19, but that feels especially damning in sobriety: isolation. My personal story of isolation is simply that I moved to another state in order to try to build face-to-face connections after 2 years of feeling extremely lonely, and though I made it, I arrived to a world of sheltering in place. There are days when I feel like the light at the end of the tunnel was snuffed out the minute I reached it. More generally for the sober community, there are very few places to go when the witching hour strikes; many of the activities we started doing to take the edge off in a way that didn’t make us hate ourselves have closed their doors. In-person recovery meetings, yoga, sitting in the church that is open 24/7 because you just need a moment in the presence of an altar, dinners with other sober people--they are off the table for the time being. And let me be clear: I believe very deeply in social distancing and sheltering in place. I think these measures are important and I support them wholeheartedly. That said, it has left the sober community in an especially tricky place, as we try to recalibrate our sobriety in a world that has rendered so much of what we needed to quit in the first place as not an option for the unforeseeable future.
And isolation isn’t just about activities; it’s about the interior narrative that we fight on a daily basis. In the work I did with Tempest Sobriety School, the work that allowed me to create a life of sustained sobriety, one of the things we talk about is the re-patterning of neural pathways. We repeat mantras, we meditate, I pray more than I ever prayed before, and we add extra levels of consciousness to how we speak to ourselves, because we know that for many of us, one of the foundational reasons we drank was to silence the internal and insidious voices of shame. But re-patterning was only part of the work for me; I then had to add in practices that did not involve booze to cope with the insidious voices of shame that I still hear, though quieter, now that I don’t have the fire-touching-gasoline effect of drinking-touching-shame. As we find ourselves isolated and feeling disconnected, not only are we faced with a baseline anxiety that heightens an already rough issue for those of us who have anxiety naturally, but we are also faced with the perfect conditions for the insidious voices of shame to speak louder, and with fewer rivals to drown them out, because so many of the rival voices, the good voices that saved us, aren’t open and available.
Being alone, being lonely, feeling disconnected and isolated--interior voices aside, for some of us, these feelings are also why we drank. Imagine the compounding challenge of the voices of shame speaking so loudly to you inside the setting where your drinking shifted, becoming something about yourself that wasn’t fun anymore. Imagine being isolated on the sofa you were sitting on when it didn’t take the edge off anymore. Imagine spending all day in the bed you laid on when you realized booze hurt you more than it helped you.
In these times of uncertainty, I would encourage you to be mindful of the special challenges of the sober community right now, especially regarding isolation, and how much alcohol will negatively affect people during this time of sheltering in place and social distancing. I’m grateful that my recovery community has always been online, but my heart breaks for those who need that face-to-face room of sober people in order to feel safe. I know the feeling of needing the thing you need, the thing that keeps you on the path, and feeling like it is far for you, and it can be devastating, unmooring, hopeless. It can make you forget all the reasons why you got sober, all the reasons why sobriety is one of the best things you have ever done, all the ways it gave you a greater capacity to love. My heart also goes out to those who are sober curious, who want to be sober, who are maybe feeling their drinking escalate, who hear that insidious voice of shame shouting ever louder night by night.
To my people in the sober community: you are doing the best you can, I believe in you, and you are not alone. I pray these voices of love are louder than any of the voices of shame that shout, as tempters, trying to draw us away from the way of life that gave us life. May we be ever mindful that as sober people, we have already died and then lived. Our breath is proof of resurrection.