During isolation, recovering alcoholics have the opportunity to go unnoticed, reverting to old bad habits. Don’t let that be you. Follow the life-saving tips on this page to get through the pandemic sober, happy, and healthy.
COVID-19 sure has put a spanner in the works for us alcoholics. Just when you think the recovery process is tracking well, along comes self-isolation, and along with it, the inability to connect with recovery fellowships. The hope of developing a vaccine in the short-term seems unlikely, and as the virus flares up in communities, we are likely to see continued lockdowns. Unfortunately, no one knows how long this will last.
I’ve never been one for attending support groups, my preference is to create systems, focus on projects constantly, and keep very busy so that I never think about alcohol. It’s a solution that has worked well for me in recent years. But if you’re the more social type that craves some physical connection, then I may just be able to help you. You can take some of the practical advice on this page to get you through this time.
1. Start with a plan
Before the rot sets in, get proactive, and write out what challenges you expect from your new situation. Be brutally honest and write down your vulnerabilities. For example, my wife and daughter are both stubborn and occasionally butt heads, which gives me anxiety. Previously, I’d drink to deal with it. During this pandemic, I needed to acknowledge there will probably be more “flare-ups” and I need an outlet for the anxiety other than booze. A punching bag was my choice and it has been effective for stress relief. What will your lockdown punching bag be during this time?
If you have a mental health provider then contact them as a priority. Set up virtual sessions if they offer them, otherwise set up alternative plans, which may involve using a different provider.
2. Be prepared for rationalization
You probably already know how devious an alcoholic’s mind can be. It is brilliant at rationalizing why drinking is okay, or even essential, during this period. Before it happens, think of the possible wicked reasons your brain will create to convince yourself to visit the bottle shop. Write down every justification and then next to it, write down a solid reason that you stopped drinking in the first place. This is your rock and should never leave your pocket. During those inevitable lows pull it out and read it several times. Don’t quickly skim the lines. Instead, think about those reasons you gave up and create a clear mental picture in your head on one of them. Maybe you quit because your liver wasn’t in a good state. Picture yourself back in the hospital with loved ones staring down at you, scared. Feel your terror. Then get back on with your life and forget the idea that somehow alcohol will help your day.
3. Get involved online
Thanks to technology, you never have to be alone. Addicts can still attend meetings and talk with people who are going through exactly the same stuff that you are. You can still listen to speakers and get that much-needed motivation to continue fighting the good fight.
In addition to video meetings, join online forums and social media groups. Reading other’s stories has, and still does, help me massively in my journey. In fact, as the time stretches out since embracing sobriety, the more distant the bad memories become. Hearing of horror experiences with alcohol helps keep my own memories fresh. It will help you too, no matter how far you’ve come in your alcohol-free life.
4. Take a break from the media
Although keeping up to date with the new of this pandemic is important, don’t let it become an obsession. Choose one time a day, preferably the middle of the day to briefly read the news then shut it off. Why the middle of the day? Reading negative news (which it all is at the moment) first thing in the morning can set your brain up for a negative day. It’s better to read or listen to positive content when you wake up! Any bad news just before sleep may cause a restless night’s sleep. That’s why a quick news update at midday is a great choice. Let’s face it, people around you will update you on anything that affects you anyway!
5. Get active
I can’t emphasize enough how important physical activity is for your body, mind, and soul. For me, my passion is running and it always amazes me how even the biggest problem melts away as the exhaustion sets it. If vigorous activity isn’t a possibility for you, then look for other activities that don’t involve screen time. Meditation, board games, reading a physical book, jarring fruit, baking – it’s all great at keeping the mind distracted from all those unnecessary thoughts.
6. Establish home rules
Whether it’s family members or housemates that you live with, it makes no difference. Any of them will probably irritate you at some stage. After the initial lockdown in China, applications for divorce skyrocketed. This was, in good part, due to people being forced to stick together for a long time, maybe for the first time. Don’t let others impact your moods. Instead, set rules for yourself. If your housemates usually got to bars to drink, they may decide to buy alcohol and drink it at home each night. During this time, make it a habit to exercise, or do anything but hang out with them. If possible, make them understand how it affects you seeing them boozing each night so that they hopefully make an effort.
7. Remember to HALT
Remember the basics of HALT and understand that this has never been so important to pay attention to as right now. This acronym stands for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. These are all triggers for relapse. Identify which of these cause you to crave alcohol and think up ways to avoid feeling them. Here are some quick suggestions:
- Hunger: eat regular small, healthy snacks to avoid getting overly hungry.
- Anger: Try to avoid situations that cause anger and look to undertake physical exercise to get some relief.
- Lonely: Pick up the phone if you’re living alone, or start a video chat. If you can visit the shops then take a walk and buy the groceries – a change of scenery can help greatly with loneliness.
- Tired: Get plenty of sleep each night and if you are tired during the day, consider taking a quick powernap if it is possible.
Who can help if relapse is imminent?
If you’re on the precipice of taking a drink then reach out for help. If you have a sponsor or a therapist then call them. Some hotlines also provide excellent services. And finally, it’s amazing how much a friendly family member can do to your state of mind. Get help and your sobriety is likely to continue.
No one said life was meant to be easy. COVID-19 is just another stumbling block in a long line of obstacles trying to trip you up. By following the advice above and combining it with your own knowledge of how you’ve stayed sober until now, you can get through this. Good luck with your sobriety and leave a comment if you have any questions for me.