Mental Challenges

The Pandemic Year Was Also the Beginning of My Sobriety

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Photo: Getty Images/ Dougal Waters
One day in February last year, I pulled my car to the side of a crowded Los Angeles freeway to safely succumb to a full-blown meltdown. My 36th birthday was the next day, and I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a birthday without drinking, or more accurately, without getting hammered. I was existing in a clouded cycle of drunk and hungover, and I’d convinced a lot of people that I was fine.

That day, I knew I wasn’t fine. Alcohol was beating me. I was more lonely, afraid, depressed, and anxious than I’d ever been. But I couldn’t decide which terrified me more: a life that would predictably fall apart (or worst case, end) because of my addiction, or a life where I was forced to feel things and confront all the insecurities, selfishness, and mistakes that I was avoiding, and ultimately compounding, with alcohol.

Six months earlier, my therapist had a gentle and perfectly timed conversation with me. “I’ve noticed you’re bringing up alcohol a lot. Let’s talk about that,” she said. In the back of my mind, I think I had known I was an alcoholic for a while. I took our conversation seriously and at her suggestion, successfully took a 30-day break from booze and attended 12-step meetings.

But after that test period, I spent the following five months or so on the fence about sobriety—specifically, whether I needed to be completely sober. I started bargaining. I told myself that if I could do 30 days without alcohol, surely, I could control my alcoholism without quitting entirely. I gave myself rules—only two glasses of wine in one sitting, only drink on weekends, only after 6 p.m., not at work functions, only natural wine, and so on. I broke them all. What’s worse, I conveniently had no rules about drinking in my apartment where no one could see me.

I had a business, but what could it look like if I found clarity, focus, and purpose? I had wonderful friends, but what might those relationships become if I could actually remember our conversations?

On that tough February day, I knew it was time to seriously pursue sobriety. I had a business, but what could it look like if I found clarity, focus, and purpose? I had wonderful friends, but what might those relationships become if I could actually remember our conversations? I was making huge strides in therapy, but what version of myself was waiting for me without alcohol dependence in the way of my progress?

I committed to sobriety. I reached out to sober people I knew to ask for advice. I went to meetings every day. I bought all the books. I went all-in on my one-day-at-a-time routine. I gave notice at my apartment and planned to look for a new home while I housesat for friends who would be away working for several months. I was looking forward to a fresh start.

Then the world shut down. Suddenly everyone on the planet was living one day at a time due to the new reality that was the COVID-19 pandemic.

When my friends for whom I was house-sitting called to say they were coming back to Los Angeles, I cried. I had a plan to stay sober and move my life forward, and being without somewhere to live (during a pandemic, no less) was not it. But they assured me that we were in this together and their home was my home. We fell into a routine; the three adults and their two-year-old daughter, who ran the show.

Higher Power. God. The Universe. If I had doubts about the existence of any such entity, I don’t anymore. There is no world in which I would have survived the early days of quarantine on my own. Loneliness was often a catalyst for my drinking, and the fact that I didn’t have to be alone can only be divine intervention. My friends knew I was sober, and I knew that they knew. That, along with a continued but adapted-for-Zoom routine, supported me in my initial journey.

There are some aspects of quarantine that have been surprisingly supportive of my sobriety. I haven’t had those awkward moments when you turn down alcohol at a party or order a Diet Coke at a group dinner and feel like you have to justify the choice. The bars have stayed closed for most of the pandemic. There were no summer pool parties, no work events, no holiday cocktail parties. Social anxiety, another excuse for my drinking, has been replaced by social distancing.

But, similarly to most people in recovery, my journey has not been linear. In May, when my housemates left me for a day to take a drive, I drank. I can’t say if I planned it. I just know it happened. I confessed to them and to a friend in recovery the next day. I’m not glad it happened, but I can appreciate the result in hindsight. I found a renewed and more determined commitment to sobriety. I’ve not had a drink since.

Gratitude notwithstanding, recovery will forever be a part of my story.

I moved out in August. I live alone again, but I don’t experience the profound loneliness that I used to, despite the ongoing lockdown in Los Angeles. My life feels full in my new little house. The deeper connections I have with my friends and family can’t be overstated, even if they’ve had to thrive digitally for now. I’ve made a lot of new friends in recovery that I look forward to meeting in person someday soon. I sleep better, eat better, and exercise more than I ever have in my adult life. I have down days and fears, but they don’t overwhelm me like they did a year ago. I’ve filled my metaphorical toolbox with ways to cope that don’t include alcohol, such as writing, meditation, meetings, and most importantly, a long list of people I can call for help because I know for certain I can’t stay sober in a vacuum.

Gratitude notwithstanding, recovery will forever be a part of my story. I think about drinking every day. On the easy days, it’s white noise humming in the background; some days, it’s silent rage at my local grocery store where they insist on merchandising my favorite snacks in the same aisle as rosé. On the hardest days, I can use every tool in my toolbox and still find myself wishing it was easier and furious that it’s not. On those nights, I collapse into bed with only that one accomplishment: I didn’t drink today. I’m okay with that.

In May, I’ll have a full year of continuous sobriety, fingers crossed. I can’t imagine going back to who I was a year ago. I’m certain my life will never be perfect, but I can look in the mirror and be proud of the version of myself that I’m becoming.

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