Tips For Staying Sober During A Pandemic
Drunk me would’ve loved a quarantine…at first.
I know I’m not alone in saying that.
The old me would’ve stockpiled early on alcohol and cigarettes. Money be damned. The old me would’ve been giddy at the prospect of sheltering in place where I could smoke and drink myself into a daily oblivion without any real world obligations getting in my way.
It’s normal to drink alone during a quarantine, right? At least more socially acceptable. We all hunker down with our glasses, congregating online in virtual spaces, commiserating.
There’s no reason to feel bad about the things you should be doing with your life instead because you’re not allowed to do them. And because your drinking brain is very one-tracked, the only natural thing to do is drink heavily and pass time.
Sure, you can play around online, watch Netflix, and do your civic duty by ordering from your favorite restaurant to help keep it afloat. But mostly, you’re just happy to be drinking.
You’re free to dive as deeply as you want. Who can blame you? The whole world is reeling.
But you are no longer your drinking self and this quarantine is going to stick around a while.
So that giddy anticipation of days and weeks of drinking just as you please is now replaced with fear.
How can I do this? What about my meetings? What about my routine? My classes?
Since you’re not drinking yourself into oblivion, your sober brain is now tasked with the responsibility of actually dealing with this pandemic thoughtfully. You get to wrestle with the uncertainty and the empty grocery shelves and the stalled income.
You get to worry about flattening curves and how long your bank account can handle this. If you’re a parent, you get the pleasure of your children’s company 24/7 for the foreseeable.
And if you’re alone?
Well you get to sit with that, too.
It’s enough to make a person want to drink.
Honestly, it’s okay if you want to drink. That’s the human in you coming out. We all are searching for ways to check out of this…whatever this is.
We’re trying to wrestle with a reality that we’ve never seen before. To allow uncertainty into our homes without any idea about when he’ll leave.
But as chaotic, scary, and confusing as all of this is, you can’t give in and pick up that bottle. You know that. I know that.
So we have to come together as a recovery community to make it all work. Here are some tips and resources I’ve collected from my wonderful support network that can help you manage.
Sober Quarantine Tip #1: Connect with your sober community online.
If you attend AA or a similar recovery program, those in-person meetings are a lifeline. It’s the one reliable thing that you can go to when you’re teetering on the edge.
The good news is that many of these meetings have relocated online via Zoom and other platforms. And while they certainly can’t replicate the magic of an in-person meeting, they are available, should you need them.
On a side note, if you’ve been managing your sobriety without meetings until now, but find yourself getting thoughts of drinking, these spaces can help you refocus. It’s fine to start online.
Here’s a list of online meetings to help you stay sober throughout this quarantine:
Please note that every headline is clickable and will take you to the website for the corresponding resource.
1. Alcoholics Anonymous – Intergroup
This is a wonderful resource for anyone in AA who needs a virtual meeting. There is a wide variety of meeting types (ODAAT, 12 and 12, beginners, atheists and agnostics, you name it)!
Additionally, you can reach out to your local AA groups to see if they’re offering online or Zoom meetings. Go onto AA’s main website, www.aa.org, and find the URL for your local AA. They will have info on how to connect to the various meetings.
Don’t worry if you’ve never attended a meeting before. You will be welcome!
2. In The Rooms
In The Rooms is a wonderful resource for anyone seeking virtual meetings. There are a ton of great resources available to help you navigate this crazy world of sobriety and recovery.
Here’s a screen shot of their recovery offerings:
There really is something for everyone here. Sign up is easy. You enter a user name, email, and password and then select which fellowships you are interested in joining, and go from there!
You can create a profile (to the extent that you want), chat in forums, read articles, and join meetings. It’s all pretty straightforward.
3. SMART Recovery
If you’re not into AA or the offerings from In The Rooms, SMART Recovery is an excellent resource. SMART Recovery focuses on behavioral change and avoids labels like “addict” or “alcoholic.” Here’s the meat and potatoes of their objectives:
SMART Recovery’s approach to behavioral change is built around our 4-Point Program®: (1) Building and maintaining the motivation to change. (2) Coping with urges to use. (3) Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors. (4) Living a balanced, positive, and healthy life.
If that sounds more your speed, give them a go!
4. Refuge Recovery/Buddhist Recovery Meetings
Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist approach to overcoming addiction and living a healed life. They use Buddhist principals to address the underlying causes of what leads us to addiction and apply those same principals to the recovery process.
You can hop onto the Refuge Recovery website to find in-person meetings. From there, you can contact your local group to see if and where they’ve moved meetings on line. You can also use this link to find a variety of Buddhist-centered online meetings happening across the country.
Sober Quarantine Tip #2: Fill your time with (mostly) healthy endeavors.
It is very easy to slip into couch potato mode in lieu of getting blitzed every afternoon. Can’t drink? Fine. I’ll eat my feelings and binge watch 90 Day Fiancé. (Guilty!)
And hey, that’s cool for some days, but it can’t become the new normal. Eating fatty, salty, sugary, processed foods all day long and only getting up to pee is a recipe for mental health disaster.
Sure it seems like a good idea for a few days, but it WILL make you feel like shit.
Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually.
And feeling horrible is not something you can afford right now if you can help it.
We’re already so isolated. Piling on with a junk food induced shame fest is not helpful. Besides, it can be a short road from f*ck it, I’m going to eat this entire pizza to f*ck it, I’m getting beer.
Use this extra time to do positive stuff.
Routines are important for everyone, but for people in recovery, they can be practically nonnegotiable. And since I’m pretty sure a global pandemic has disrupted all our lives in one way or another, it’s our responsibility to create a new, healthy normal.
If you’re working from home now and/or homeschooling your children, you have to structure your day in a way that lets you get all this stuff done while maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing. (That includes regular bathing, folks!)
Does that mean meal prepping healthy recipes down to the last micro while pulling two-a-days on your Pelaton or Beachbody course? No.
(I mean you can, if you want.)
But make sure to nourish yourself: mind and body.
See Why Nutrition Matters In Sobriety.
You know that your body needs exercise, and your brain needs to be occupied with something that is halfway productive in order to thrive. And since we are all kinds of stuck here for the foreseeable, it’s our responsibility to “make it work” in this new setting.
Your routine is whatever you want it to be. You can exercise as hard or as lightly as you want. If you can get outside and run around, go do that. Kick a ball with your kid. Play with bubbles.
Eat food that gives you energy, not a coma.
Take this time for yourself as much as possible and put it to good use.
Okay, but I have kids and they’re driving me crazy.
Hey, me too!
There’s definitely a big difference between single quarantine vs coupled quarantine vs parenting quarantined.
For the sake of everyone’s sanity, YOUR mental health has to take priority at some point in the day. Which is not always easy, I realize.
I’ve got a two-year-old and she could not care less about my stress levels.
So I have to be a team with my husband. We are intentional about who is occupying the child, when the other needs a break, and providing space to do that.
Carve out space in your day to relax.
It’s totally fine to just chill. Feeling pent up and powerless is a huge driver back to drinking, especially when you feel physically cut off from the healthier alternatives you’ve put into place.
Give yourself room to breathe.
I meditate every night before I go to sleep. Without fail. Even if it’s late. Sometimes I fall asleep on myself. Other times I wrestle with a whirling brain. But I show up for it all the same.
Don’t allow yourself to become so tired and run over that you start reaching for old escapes.
ALL of us are going to get tired of being around the same people (or alone) day in and day out. We love our children, spouses, and roomies, but spending every waking moment with them can be…challenging.
You are going to need a break and that’s okay! Make it a priority.
Sober Quarantine Tip #3: Keep your mind occupied!
Do NOT use this time to have an existential crisis.
The mind and internet are FULL of sobriety-risking rabbit holes to fall down. So we have to stay vigilant.
You can spend five hours mindlessly scrolling Twitter and mourning the loss of our collective humanity OR you can choose something different.
I’m using (some of) this time to read books and play sudoku. I purposefully chose tech-free activities because I need to feel more unplugged and these help me do that.
If you’re looking for some good Quit Lit or other books to help you sift through your emotional landscape, these links will give you some solid recommendations:
- 15 Books About Personal Growth And Addiction To Help You Through Recovery
- 7 Books About Anxiety And Depression That Are Actually Helpful
- 3 Books About Meditation For People Who Aren’t Interested In Meditating
If you’re in the United States, you can actually check out ebooks from your local library for free! Not sure how? This article from CNET will show you.
You can also get a Kindle membership from Amazon and download all kinds of books. Signing up gets you a 30-day free trial which will HOPEFULLY last you through the end of this quarantine. (Hopefully)
If you’re more into listening than reading, get an Audible membership. They’ve got a free trial, too.
Feed your brain useful, enjoyable, and inspiring information. We need it right now!
Find something to learn about or do.
You’re going to get bored at some point, if you haven’t already. Boredom is a slippery slope in sobriety. To guard against it, you have to proactively seek things to do…in your house.
- Download an audio book or one of your favorite podcasts and give your house a spring cleaning. (Could probably use a good disinfecting considering all that’s going on)
- Take up a craft like knitting, crotchet, or painting if you have the means/time to do so.
- Start learning a new language.
- Do a little baking.
- Join a home workout challenge
- Take an online course. Here’s a list of 500 free online courses from Ivy League schools to dive into.
Whatever interests you, honestly.
If these ideas seem lame, I’m sure you can come up with better ones. The point is to not allow yourself to become stagnant. It’s much harder to do that when you’re not supposed to leave your house so you have to make an effort.
Sober Quarantine Tip #4: Don’t isolate yourself.
Whereas you might not have a choice in being physically isolated, it is really important to maintain social connections during this time.
Human beings are innately social beings. Social isolation and loneliness not only feel terrible, but they can dramatically impact your overall health.
And for many of us who are struggling with alcohol and sobriety, those social connections are critical lifelines to our recovery.
It’s why you need to attend your meetings online. If you go to therapy, it’s why you need to keep your bookings and do your sessions remotely.
Resist the urge to shut down and retreat.
If you’re having a hard time, reach out to somebody. There is an extensive network within the recovery community ready to open their arms to you, even virtually. (See links above for online meetings and forums.)
We’re all a little confused and unsure about what our lives will look like a month or year from now. Sometimes those feelings look like fear and anxiety. It’s okay. We’re human.
But it doesn’t have to interfere with our sobriety.
Stay safe. Stay inside.
And please, for the love of God, stop hoarding toilet paper.
Thank you! 4 months sober and starting to go crazy. I WILL
NOT give up my ‘no hang overs’ way of life, but I did need this article.
Brilliant post! I am trying hard to keep myself busy during the quarantine and also trying to maintain proper hygiene at home as I used to maintain at the office. One of my friends is a great alcoholic and facing many issues in this situation, I will share your post with him at priority so it can help him out. Thanks for sharing this post, it will help many people surely.
Awesome post I really enjoyed reading it and your tips are key to overcoming the urge to have a drink. I’ve been sober just about 2 years now and yes the thought has crossed my mind over the course of this pandemic. I have a clothing brand that promotes sobriety and I shared your article with my fans! I want them to know they can get through this as well. Now they have some tips they can use if they’re not already are.
I am a mental health and addictions professional and am so glad I came across this! Thank you for writing this. I have shared this on my business page. <3
I’m a month away from two years sober, but quarantine is kicking my behind. Stuck working from home with three kids has me at the end of my rope. I’m thinking about drinking by rationalizing it as: you’ve proven you can be sober no problem during ordinary times. These are not ordinary times and you can go back to being sober when it ends
I completely empathize with that feeling. I promise you, though, it’s just the addiction talking. Try playing the tape forward. If everything is driving you nuts now, imagine adding a hangover and gut-wrenching guilt to the mix. Take it day by day, or even minute by minute if you need. You can do this! And definitely check out an online meeting if you feel like you’re going to lose it – we’re all going a bit nuts right now. You’re in good company 🙂