Addiction in the Time of COVID-19

As I sit in my living room alone, while my partner is downstairs on a Zoom call, while the dog is asleep in the other room, while I am away from the office, and away from my parishioners, memories of my youth are dancing in my head. Memories of isolation and memories of my early drinking.

As, we enter into the 5th or 6th week (who even knows anymore) of COVID-19 social distancing, and enter into multiple weeks of shelter in place, my heart is reaching out into the abyss that is isolation. My heart and prayers are going out to the young Micah’s of the world, who are locked away in their homes, feeling lost, depressed, anxious, and feeling an empty void they long to fill.

That is how my drinking took off. In high school, especially in my junior and senior years, I began drinking by myself pretty regularly. I would sneak down into the basement and steal a few beers from the storage place (saved for events and functions). Then I would drink them as fast as I could in order to try to get a buzz as quickly as possible. Knowing that I needed to maintain that buzz, I’d sneak down to the liquor cabinet pour a small glass of whatever I could find. I’d repeat this process, trying to maintain this buzz, this warm feeling, until I’d finally black out or stumble up the stairs and fall asleep.

I didn’t know that I had a problem at this point. In fact, I thought what I was doing was socially acceptable. Of course, I knew that it was illegal and was underage drinking. But, having drinks in the evening is seen as a social norm and is respected. I was just partaking in the ritual that countless novels, movies, shows, mentors, and friends had explained to me over the years.

What I did know, is that when I drank, for a moment, the emptiness inside me didn’t feel as painful. For a moment, my depression was lifted, and I felt like I could laugh at dumb TV shows. For a moment, I didn’t feel like my anger at not knowing who I was or where I was going with my life needed to be suppressed. I could unleash the ugly parts of me that were constantly haunting me during the day and I could suppress the pain that literally caused my stomach to ache.

Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays… you could find me alone in my room with sneaked bottles of whatever, all around me, losing myself in isolation, trying to forget the pain that I was experiencing.

Why bring this up?

Because sitting at home in isolation today, I know that I could fall into the temptation of substance bliss all over again. And unfortunately, if I can feel that temptation, I know that there are hundreds (probably thousands) of people that are experiencing that temptation too. And I know that there are hundreds (probably thousands) of young people that may be learning the power of alcohol or other substances during this time of isolation. Getting lost in whatever brief euphoria they can manufacture in attempts to numb the pain and release anger and frustration.

I am writing this because our self-care is critical now more than ever. Our systems of supports are not guaranteed. Our outlets for energy and communication are not as stable. Liquor stores are essential. But in crises, our systems of support (i.e. 12-step groups, churches, treatment facilities) are not operating in the same ways to be found.

This is a dangerous time. And I am terrified for the lives that may be eternally changed by the isolation and loneliness that could fuel a relapse or a new addiction.

Now is the time to share openly and vulnerably about what you’re feeling. When we feel isolated, we may feel like we are unable to share what’s really going on with us. But to hold in our fears, anxieties, our grief, pain, depression, could be death dealing in so many other ways.

That was true for me in so many ways in high school and college. I would suppress my feelings. I would hold in the pain and only find release in substances in isolation. And that lifestyle nearly took my life, twice.

So, if you are in recovery or you want to begin a journey of recovery, please know that even though we may be isolated in our homes and residences, you are not alone. There are ways that we can still be connected, and your recovery is too valuable to lose at this moment. Reach out if you are feeling lost. Reach out if you are losing control. Reach out if you need help. We are still here for you and we will find ways to make recovery possible for you during this time.

And even if you don’t struggle with substance abuse or don’t think you know anyone who does, remember that no one is immune to the emotional toll of isolation and loss of normalcy. Talk about how you’re feeling with someone you trust and examine whatever coping mechanisms you’re using, even if they aren’t substances. These are unprecedented times, and we all have to take care of ourselves.

Parents, now is the time to have conversations about alcohol and substances. Having real conversations about the power in them. Tell the truth about the joy and the euphoric nature of them. But also, tell about their dangers and temptations. And, if you do not feel comfortable sharing that information, I am always available to help.  

My heart and prayers are with all who are in this place of isolation.

You are not alone. You are not alone. You are not alone.

Reach out if you need me.

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