The global pandemic has taken its toll on millions of people, and though each experience will share some similarities, no two are the same.
Experiences are like snowflakes; at first glance, they all look alike. It is easy to generalize, yet each snowflake takes a different shape with an unlimited number of variations, all dependent on an array of conditions.
Some people are home alone without a support system. Some are in abusive environments. Some are essential workers without the option to work remotely, putting themselves at a higher risk every day for contracting COVID-19. Others are juggling high-pressure jobs, spouses, babies, and homeschooling all while making every effort to stay composed. The stress this puts on a person and those around them, as well as the wear and tear on the psyche, can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Then, there are those who battle addiction and substance abuse or dependence. For anyone who struggles with these afflictions, the pandemic is a catalyst for precarious situations. Whether it is alcohol or food, drugs or an array of other vices deemed dangerous to one’s mental, emotional, and physical health, this trying time will test one’s strength, resilience, and faith.
The Nielsen Company reported a 54-percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week ending March 21, 2020, compared with one year before; online sales increased 262 percent from 2019, which coincides with the stay-at-home orders that were started in some U.S. states as a mitigation strategy for COVID-19 transmission.
It is easy for some people to say that alcohol use is a choice and, indeed, that is correct. We choose healthy or unhealthy habits. We make our decisions, and most will make good ones, but for the addict, that burden of choice may be too heavy to bear. We make every effort to stay clean while simultaneously contemplating what harm one drink could do. With isolation, familial stress, and work—or lack of work—the pressure is substantial. The mind can play tricks on us, and if we do not have or seek a support system, we are at a high-risk of falling off that wagon.
For those who are not addicted yet battle alcohol abuse or dependence, the mental and emotional roller-coaster ride is tumultuous. Weighing the decision to drink or abstain, we are caught in a vicious cycle that tends to be all-consuming. The constant, conflicting thoughts and feelings that cruise through one’s entire being is exhausting. We do not always struggle—but sometimes we struggle all the same. It is a crapshoot, never knowing if one drink will relax us and we go unscathed, or if that one will lead to two, three, or more—catapulting us into hell.
“Just one. It cannot hurt. I can moderate. I have gone this long without a drink. It’s only one,” said every substance abuser, ever.
So I say, H.A.L.T. No matter how difficult it is and how badly we may feel, as the duration of this pandemic stretches on into the unforeseeable future, drinking will not help. For those who battle abuse, dependence, or addiction, no good will come from it. A cocktail may taste good and ease our angst at the start but, inevitably, it may take us down a dark path. It will not take away our problems, but it may take away our rational ability to face them. It will not pay our bills, but it will push us deeper into debt. It will not end our stresses, but it may increase it as hangovers and mood swings inevitably serve to damage not only our relationships with others but, even more importantly, our relationship with ourselves.
Here are some tips for avoiding the drink, easing stress, and finding ways to not only survive but, maybe, thrive during the pandemic:
Stay in the present.
When we can’t take it anymore, stay right there in that moment. Take some deep breaths. Allow the mind to drift toward thoughts of whatever brings us peace or tranquility: it could be the ocean, a hot bath, or a walk in the woods. Whatever it is, visualize yourself there. Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t worry about yesterday. Stay in the present, and remember that everything is temporary. If you are alone, explore new interests or reach out to another who may need support. They say misery loves company—but I say in good company, there is no misery.
We wonder how we can get any busier when we are juggling work, homeschooling, kids, and more. But we can. Busy is one thing, but getting smart about our time management and focusing on what we spend our “busy” on is another. If we can make the time to drink and nurse our hangover, we can make the time to do something that will take our mind off our problems.
Take a five-minute walk. Lock yourself in the bathroom where no one can find you, and do some stretching. Reach out to a friend. Find something that will make you laugh. Keep your mind active and focused on things that bring you joy or peace—overruling negative thoughts and exhaustion.
In today’s virtual world, support is at our fingertips. There is a wealth of online resources and groups as well as classes, lectures, and concerts. Whatever it is that could support us through a trying time, seek and find. Some people need other people. Others need a diversion or interest in which to dive.
If you are not sure what works for you, try them all. The most important thing is to realize that you are not alone. There is a world of people who may be feeling and experiencing a similar situation at this time.
H.A.L.T. Are you hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or all four?
We should examine those feelings before we even wonder if a bottle of poison would cure what ails us. Chances are if we address this, we will start to feel better and no longer crave that instant gratification a quick drink would give us. Moderation may not be a reality for us. Make a cup of tea. Go for a walk.
Life’s problems are much easier to manage when we are not tired and sick from being hungover.