Surviving Quarantine Without Alcohol

Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

In late December, I predicted that 2020 was going to be “the best year ever” and set the most ambitious New Year’s resolution imaginable: I would attempt to give up alcohol for a full year.

It’s now March 29, and only one of those statements is still true.

I won’t get into the reasons I took a vow to quit drinking. Maybe I’ll save that for “Quarantine, Part II: Therapy Edition.” But I will say that the first two-and-a-half months of my Dry 2020 challenge were going well. Surprisingly well. Thanks to my newfound coping mechanisms — fancy non-alcoholic beers, overpriced coffee drinks, black licorice jelly beans, brisk walks and 10 very white knuckles — I survived business trips, my own 40th birthday and a lot of random Tuesday evenings without so much as a sip of booze. (What is it about Tuesdays, anyway?)

The sacrifices were well worth the benefits. After a few short weeks of ditching my craft beer and single-malt scotch habit, I noticed improvements in my sleep, my skin, my early-morning workouts and even the fact that I could button my jeans without emptying all the precious air out of my lungs. “I’m never going to drink alcohol again!” I wrote in my journal in mid-February. I even downloaded an app that told me I had already saved tens of thousands of calories and hundreds of dollars. What can I say? I like the good stuff.

All was well and good on the proverbial pink cloud. And then, out of nowhere — almost like a miracle — the major global crisis of our generation walked into a bar. A crowded bar.

March 12 — I’ll never forget that date as long as I live, which will hopefully be through this pandemic — was the day our life fell apart. It was the day we got the text that the kids’ schools would be closed for the foreseeable future. It was the day my company told us to work from home until further notice. It was the day it finally hit me: this isn’t happening just in China, or Korea, or Seattle. It’s not happening somewhere else. It’s happening here, to us, to me.

It was the day I walked in the door after the longest and creepiest rush hour of all time, and announced— for the first time in more than two months — I need a drink.

It was the day I realized that my so-called coping mechanisms, the ones I’d worked so hard to build and so confidently boasted about to anyone who would listen, weren’t as effective as I thought.

When I say everyone is drinking during the coronavirus pandemic, I do not say that lightly. Everyone is drinking, except maybe the people who actually have coronavirus, although perhaps some of them are drinking too.

I don’t blame the world for drinking. Everyone is bored and lonely. Everyone is anxious and scared. People have stopped going to work, driving cars and operating heavy machinery. Healthcare providers and grocery-store workers are putting in 15-hour shifts. Liquor stores and restaurants serving to-go margaritas are the only places open. It’s the perfect recipe for boundless-yet-socially-acceptable intoxication, and Zoom happy hours are finally having their moment. (I’ve been invited to two this week, in fact.)

On March 12, I really needed that drink. I needed to crack a bourbon-barrel-aged stout and feel the warmth and comfort of the alcohol coursing through my veins, to melt into the couch cushions and let the anxiety slowly float away and say to my husband and son and stepdaughter “It’s okay, we’re okay, we’ll make it through this.”

But I didn’t have that drink on March 12. Or March 13. Or March 29.

Today marks 92 days since I made the decision to give up alcohol. Today I’m sitting on the porch at 6:56 p.m., willing myself not to shiver in the unseasonably warm 55-degree weather, sipping chamomile tea and writing. I’m all of the things everyone else is — bored, lonely, anxious and scared. But I’m also incredibly thankful.

I’m thankful that while the entire world is falling apart — and while the global news is terrifying and the local news is even more terrifying — at least I have this. I have this goal to work towards, this reason to make it through the end of the each day feeling good about myself. “One day at a time,” some people have been known to say after putting down the bottle. And it’s one day at a time that I am taking this, with the only certainty being that I am doing something every day to make my life better.

If the global coronavirus pandemic would have started 92 days ago, things would be different. I would not be sitting on my porch drinking tea. I’d be sitting on my porch — or, more likely, sitting on my couch — drinking scotch. Or trying not to drink scotch. I probably wouldn’t be drunk, because I rarely had enough to get drunk. But I’d be artificially relaxed, yet slightly on edge about what anxieties and headaches the next morning would bring.

But tonight, with a clear head, I can look out at the sunset (fine, it’s cloudy, but let’s pretend there’s a sunset for the purposes of this visual) and know that while tomorrow morning will inevitably bring anxieties and headaches, at least they’re not the ones caused by my own doing.

I realize there’s a good chance one of my loved ones or even I will fall ill during this pandemic. Aside from the measures I’m taking to stay at home and stay safe, that’s basically out of my control. And despite my best efforts, the uncertainty and fear I’m experiencing during this unprecedented crisis are out of my control, too.

But the one thing I can control is the way I react, and tonight, the best way I can react is to not drink. So each day, until the next new year, I’ll continue to white-knuckle my way through this crisis without alcohol. And each day, I’ll fall asleep knowing I’ve been able to celebrate another small victory.

Maybe, just maybe, those coping mechanisms are working after all.

Writer, podcast addict, runner, stick-shift driver, parent & step-parent. Not necessarily in that order. Personal page: all opinions are my own. (she/her)