Whether you’re starting 2021 with a Dryuary or toasting the New Year until the fetid smell of 2020 has worn off, January’s become a time to get thoughtful about alcohol — what we love, what we hate and what role it plays in our newly pandemic-stricken social lives. It’s also the month when, in 1919, Arkansas ratified the Eighteenth Amendment, establishing prohibition in the state and ushering in a formalized relationship between booze and government. So, in January 2021, the Arkansas Times raises a glass to all things boozy with a series we’re calling Drink/Drank/Drunk: our city’s great cocktails and mocktails, the history of temperance in the state, brews to try before you die, a boozy playlist and more.
My name is Colin, and I’m an alcoholic — a grateful, sober, recovering alcoholic.
People who are not alcoholic (“nonalcoholics”) often struggle to understand the concept of powerlessness over alcohol. If alcohol is so destructive and miserable to an alcoholic, then why don’t you just stop drinking? Because we can’t — not without help.
Recovery from addiction and alcoholism is replete with paradox. We gain power over our disease through our admission that we are powerless over our disease. We seek progress, but not perfection. We scrutinize our past, but we don’t regret it. We are all, or nothing. Once a cucumber turns into a pickle, it can’t be a cucumber again.
Alcoholics and nonalcoholics have all now made it to 2021 — we are in the time of New Year’s resolutions and “Dryuary.” I don’t understand Dryuary any more than nonalcoholics understand alcoholic powerlessness. But it might surprise you to learn that alcoholics in recovery are generally not prohibitionists. If you can safely drink and enjoy alcohol, good for you. But recovering alcoholics have learned of the necessity to live sober in a booze-centric society. We can freely go anywhere in sobriety — including parties, bars, anywhere in the world — as long as we have a legitimate reason for being there.
It might also surprise you to learn that many recovering alcoholics view the challenges and consequences of 2020-21 and the pandemic as both a curse and a blessing.
Recovering alcoholics have been unwittingly preparing for the challenges of a pandemic — or if you prefer, the apocalypse — for as long as we’ve been sober. We already knew that isolation is dangerous, and we were already actively working to combat isolation in our lives. We already knew that resentment is our sworn enemy, and we work hard to temper our expectations of others because expectations are premeditated resentments. We already knew that helping others is the single greatest thing we can do for our fellows, and for ourselves. We already knew about mental health problems, which are often correlated with alcoholism and are now correlated with the pandemic. We already knew that the social stigmas associated with mental health and substance abuse disorders are baseless. Stress, depression, panic, selfishness, restlessness, irritability and discontentment have been part of our vocabulary for as long as we’ve been sober — but so have hope, inspiration, generosity, forgiveness, redemption, freedom and joy.
To those of us in recovery, the challenges of the pandemic are not new, or unique, or insurmountable. If you can find gratitude despite losing everything, just from the opportunity to be sober for a day, then you can find gratitude under most any circumstances.
To be sure, the dramatic increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic is alarming. But it also presents opportunity. The most hopeless and miserable stage of alcoholism is when we have lost control of alcohol, yet we continue drinking because we’ve also lost the power of choice, and we remain just functional enough (or sick enough) to keep plodding through the misery — one level above that elusive bottom sufficient to recover. I’ve been there, and it is awful. For alcoholics who are trapped in this living hell today, the additional difficulties of the pandemic may nudge them just enough to generate the desperation and willingness that are necessary to seek and achieve sobriety.
A lot of cucumbers are turning into pickles these days. But a lot of pickles are getting sober. I’ve heard multiple newcomers in recent months give thanks to the pandemic/2020 for bringing them to their knees and into recovery.
I’m not saying it’s easy to get sober when you can’t meet face-to-face with your sponsor but you can have booze delivered to your door. It’s never easy. But the challenge of pursuing sobriety at this moment in time has inspired many of us to develop new tools that we can use to survive today and beyond.
For example, there is no perfect substitute for in-person recovery meetings, but while many nonalcoholics are complaining about “Zoom fatigue,” Zoom is saving lives in the recovery community. We sign on with gusto to see our friends and share our experience, strength and hope. We keep our cameras on. We already know how to refrain from cross-talk in a meeting, and we’ve mastered the mute button. We are enthusiastic with the reaction buttons and creative with our backgrounds. We laugh together and cry together and stay sober together, just as before. Many of us have explored meetings all across the country and the world thanks to this technology, making new friends like never before.
To the nonalcoholic cucumbers — good luck with Dryuary. I’ll never understand your strange relationship with alcohol, but I love you just the same.
To those who discover that you are a pickle during these strangest of times — you have a fatal disease, but do not despair. You are not terminally unique, though it feels that way. You are not alone, though you may be isolated. You may feel hopeless, but there is hope. Professional help is more widely available, and more helpful, than ever. There is no shame in seeking treatment or counseling. But many of us only need the help and understanding of fellow alcoholics. We have a remarkable and even miraculous ability to help each other. And a fellowship of joyful pickles stands ready to help you trudge the road of happy destiny.