Having hope during a terrible situation isn’t the same as false hope. Hope is a fundamental ingredient of human resilience, a mechanism that sets our brains apart from other species.
Imagine waking up one day and everything has changed. Overnight you’ve lost the ability to go to work. All the places you eat, drink, and socialize are closed. You walk down the street and people cross over to avoid your path. You are living the definition of empty. Void. Vast nothingness. You have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but if it’s more of the same, you might not want to have another tomorrow.
Welcome to the reality of COVID-19. Many of us are currently living under stay at home orders where the situation feels similar to what I’ve described. Overnight, jobs lost or sent to work from home, daycares and schools closed, the few restaurants remaining open offer take out only, and, for some reason, toilet paper has become the national currency. I’ve noticed life during a pandemic has some clear parallels to life when contemplating going from substance abuser to sober.
Fortunately, most of us can survive this pandemic if we practice some safety guidelines and weather a storm that has an uncertain end date. Again, the same can be said for sobriety. When I first contemplated sobriety, the uncertainty of what the future would look like kept me from moving forward. Eventually, I had to embrace this. I looked at what my life had become versus what I wanted it to be and I knew even uncertainty was better than the present.
I made the decision to become sober six years ago. For me, sobriety meant losing a routine I’d become comfortably habituated to. A destructive routine that involved daily consumption of alcohol, often until I couldn’t drink any more on any given night. Right now, we are being told our normal routine could lead to a worsening of the pandemic, the potential to spread the disease and expose those most vulnerable to its fatal effects. We’ve been asked to willingly adjust our routines with the absence of an end date.
In sobriety, I had to define a new normal. This happened both purposely and organically. Part of what I did was attend counseling and AA sessions. That was on purpose. I also started writing more and performing better at work. That was more organic. I didn’t order alcoholic beverages while out with clients and colleagues. That was on purpose. I fell in love with ice cold seltzer water. That was organic.
We don’t know what our new normal will look like after this first round of COVID-19. There are some behaviors many of us have adopted that will probably persist: wearing masks, avoiding handshakes, increased hand washing. We will adopt other behaviors or adapt in ways we can’t foresee in the coming months. Many of these will bring us joy, or at least decrease potential future situations like our present condition.
The Present and the Presence of Hope
Everyone–sober, drunk, or indifferent–is facing some unexpected hardships right now. We’ve been told by experts we are experiencing loss and should feel permission to grieve. This is true. But we have permission to feel hopeful as well. Hope is what led me to embrace and eventually thrive in sobriety. Hope will get us through this pandemic.
I could have never imagined the wonderful things waiting for me on the other side of sobriety. A marriage (later a divorce, but hey), a child, Saturday mornings, physical health, mental clarity, reduced anxiety, and vomit-free carpets are only some of the things I wouldn’t have accomplished if I were still drinking.
Having hope during a terrible situation isn’t the same as false hope. Hope is a fundamental ingredient of human resilience, a mechanism that sets our brains apart from other species. Hope has kept individuals and societies moving forward to better ourselves since the time our external gills disappeared, and our tails fell off. Or we were fashioned from dust. Whatever you choose.
Hope is what countered the fear and uncertainty I felt initially entering sobriety. Excitement for a future without the shackles of alcohol. We are in the same situation now; there’s no other motivation to go through this if we have no hope the future will bring something better than the present.
We have some time before this will pass. Spend some of it dwelling on hope. Make a list of things that might be better post-pandemic. Plan your dream vacation (we will travel again). Do something you’ve always wanted to do for yourself. Along with anxiety, fear, or grief, you are allowed to feel hope and excitement in our current situation. Something different is waiting for you. Potentially something better than you can imagine.