Time has paused, life has paused, why can’t sobriety pause too?
Reader, I will make a deal with you. I will talk to you like an adult and say some uncomfortable things. I won’t be your sponsor and I won’t throw the Big Book at your face. But in exchange, you need to promise me you’ll read this to the end. No skips, no tag outs, no skimmy skims. Okay? Okay, great.
I understand the urge to relapse right now. I’m feeling it too. A lot of us have severely diminished responsibilities – my work has nearly dried up. I hate the Zoom meetings, which feel like impersonal shadow plays where I have to stare at my new fat face. All our other distractions that can’t be done from the couch have been cancelled. My normie friends are mixing up quarantinis before the 5 o’clock news starts. Most importantly, we are all being treated to a daily blast of death, inequity, and press conferences where a poorly tanned moron tells us to shoot up with bleach. It is so much. It is a daily mental weight that is difficult to bear even on the best days.
If you are saying to yourself, maybe I can’t hold out on this, maybe I am going to break, that is a sane response. It is, in some ways, a rational response. Time has paused, life has paused, why can’t sobriety pause too? The other day I found myself telling a friend that I won’t be jobless, locked down, without the beach (my favorite distraction), and sober. In full Scarlett O’Hara mode, I declared, “Sorry, but I won’t do it!” It felt good to say, the way forbidden things sometimes do. Total, unapologetic narcissism has its pleasures.
I could probably get away with it, too. I could probably go on a few-days bender and maybe my boyfriend would figure it out (he is sharp!), but no one else would. I could even keep my day count! Why not?!? This is the sort of self-dealing I’ve been doing. I am so good at it. I am the Clarence Darrow of fucking my own shit up.
But it is wrong. I know it’s wrong. If you are having similar thoughts, you probably know they are wrong too. Even now, with life halted and pain and injustice ascendant, there are reasons both practical and metaphysical that it is crucial for you and me to keep our sober time. Even if every word we ever heard at an AA meeting was false, even if the Big Book itself is a decades-long scam to sell us on religion.
Practically, you are going to regret it. You know you are! Sorry, but you do. You are going to be annoyed, at the very least, that you need to restart your day count, which yes, you eventually will be forced to do because you won’t be able to lie to your support network for that long. Whatever bender you have in mind is going to come to an end, in what will feel like the blink of an eye, and all you’ll have left is regret and likely, a terrible headache or worse. You also, of course, might take it too far and die.
If things get really bad, as they very well may, people are going to know what you did and that is going to suck for you. Your family and friends are already extremely stressed out right now (just like you!) – the last thing they need is to hear that you relapsed, in your tiny apartment in some faraway city, and no one can travel to you to make sure you get it together. Your mom is going to cry.
On that note, if you need hospital care because you overdose or can’t stop, great, you are taxing an already overtaxed healthcare system and exposing yourself to COVID19 at the same time. From a million different standpoints, any decision to relapse right now is selfish, even if it feels like the only person being punished is you.
Okay, who cares, right? I hear that. When I was first trying to get sober and in a relapse cycle, other people’s problems were some theoretical concern that was a not-close second to my immediate ego gratification. I did not give a shit, and honestly I didn’t care much if I died, either. What worked for me, though, was spite – not giving my enemies the pleasure of seeing me fall.
Spite could be helpful right now. Picture Donald Trump, in all his 300 pounds of dense mass, standing over you as you take that first drink. “I was always right,” he says without laughing, as he never laughs, “You’re weak. Libs like you, weak, lazy.” Do you want Donald Trump to think he’s better than you? How about the maskless crowds begging states to let them kill themselves, and each other? Should these yahoos and sociopaths be allowed to feel morally superior to you? Or picture a little closer to home. Do you want your douchebag ex to hear that you fucked up again? No you do not.
The time we’ve all spent cooped up indoors losing our gourds has been an achievement which can be measured in days and lives saved. We’ve been doing this for well over thirty days now. In New York and elsewhere, we’ve flattened the curve. Your sobriety is the same. It’s not some fungible commodity that can be lent out and borrowed back at will – it has a character in itself composed in part of a temporal element. Your sobriety after you relapse is not the same as your sobriety before. When you give it up, you give up effort, sacrifice, things you can never get back. That might not feel important now, but it will feel devastating later.
Look, I am not Mr. Lockdown. I eat loaves of bread as a snack. I stay up most nights until 5 AM and I sleep till 11. I bleached my hair. I play Nintendo Switch and try to get one or two productive hours into a day. My sheets smell like farts. All of this is fine! You do what it takes to make it to the next day. The people doing pilates every morning, learning a second language, making OnlyFans, whatever – they are fine, too. And it’s even fine to hate them!
“One day at a time” is a relentless cliché in sobriety circles. But right now, it feels appropriate, as all of the stupid sayings eventually do. The world is a miserable place, maybe always, definitely right now. Don’t add to the misery by giving in to the demons you fought so hard to keep at bay. Be strong, stay home, save lives, stay sober. Good luck.