The world has never faced anything like the global coronavirus pandemic. The mysterious flu-like illness, which appeared in China at the end of 2019, had put half the world’s population in lockdown at the end of March 2020. For nearly four billion people, being confined to the living room trying to understand that the social contact it could be worth a death sentence it became the new go out. Predictably, many have sought solace in the mobile bar, blurring the harsh reality of 2020 with beer.
While the retail trade hit the lowest figures since being recorded, alcohol sales have skyrocketed. In the United States, sales of spirits have seen the biggest surge. Compared to the same nine-week period in 2019, sales of gin increased by 42.5 percent. In the UK, supermarkets reported a one-third growth in alcohol sales. It was easy to believe that the world was overcoming the trauma of the pandemic with the help of alcohol. But for those who don’t drink, the lockdown in the midst of a global health crisis posed a further problem.
© Photography Techa Tungateja
One thing I learned early on when I decided to quit drinking is that there is no correct way to be sober. Some choose to go to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings, others go to detoxify in specialized centers, still others are obsessively dedicated tophysical exercise. Everyone does what works for him. But an important thing that almost all of us have in common, whatever path we have decided to follow, is finding ways to fill the time we gain when we no longer drink. Those activities, whether it’s a meeting or a class at the gym, can be lifesaving anchors for us. And when the lockdown came, many of them were stolen from us overnight.
In London, the call center service of Alcoholics Anonymous – which received up to 2,500 calls a week – was suspended and the 900 face-to-face meetings that should have been held every week in the capital alone have closed their doors. Understanding however that for some people who participated in the program these meetings were a matter of life or death, AA immediately switched to digital, adapting much faster than many companies to move meetings from the physical spaces of homes and churches to the virtual spaces of Zoom and Skype. One advantage was that more people could attend online meetings, up to 40 attendees from every area of the country for a single session. But not all members of the sober community go to meetings.
Socializing filled a large part of my life before sobriety. I worked in the entertainment industry, which involved high levels of socialization. Meetings were held with a drink, contracts were stipulated in the dark privées of exclusive clubs, and being “outside” was much more normal for me than being inside. At the time of the holidays, I have no recollection of spending two days in a row at home. Never. And my sober life was no less active.
At the beginning of my path towards sobriety, I went for a coffee with a friend, DJ Fat Tony, a person who has become a great example of alcohol rehabilitation, and I asked him what the hell was I supposed to do with all the time I had suddenly had since I left the party life. Twenty-four hours suddenly seemed a very, very long time. He told me to consider all those new hours a blessing, a time to use for living – and that was exactly what I had done. Every day I grabbed a pen and wrote down everything I wanted to do, from trying a new coffee on the way to work to signing up for a bizarre new class at the gym. That technique of filling in all the time I had by running around doing things worked, for me. Losing that escape route was tough.
Alone in a crowd
In the time when the only way to socialize was through a screen, this meant always watch people drinking. For non-drinkers, the cocktail parties on Zoom and the Quarantini at lunchtime often seemed like something we couldn’t be a part of, which the sense of isolation increased that the pandemic gave us.
I tried to do some of the things I did outside inside, with little success. After days of searching, I managed to get hold of a couple of kettlebell it’s a Exercise bikesbut working out at home wasn’t the same as going to the gym. I found that I hate cooking. I ordered a CBD oil vaporizer on Amazon one day when I was particularly down in the dumps, but sitting alone in the living room smoking a battery felt as embarrassing as I feared it would be.
© Photography Justin Paget
The last few months have been a flurry of emotions. There were days when I felt satisfied and blessed not to have to deal with the biggest crisis of my life trapped in the house with a hangover. Others where that lucidity highlighted the fact that there was no longer a place to hide. You could no longer switch your brain off after a couple of glasses of wine, the flow of bad news was incessant and you had nothing to cushion the blow. Knowing that others had it, whether it was healthy or not, made me feel somewhat envious. But the biggest emotion I had to struggle with was there constant feeling of being left out; it was tough, much tougher than sobriety ever was before Covid-19. Now that the lockdown has loosened and the world slowly starts again, that feeling doesn’t go away. The drinks on Zoom have become drinks in the park. And the new speeches are “Which bars have reopened?”. All things I don’t feel part of.
Coronavirus has prompted many people to ask themselves important questions about their relationship with alcohol. While some wonder if they haven’t drunk too much in recent months, South Africa has banned alcohol sales to prevent hospitals from being flooded with alcohol-related shelters. During the lockdown I made the record of 600 days without alcohol and I can say with absolute certainty that it was the hardest time on my path to sobriety. That feeling of not being invited to the party triggered problems that took me a long time to resolve. But now that it’s getting back to some sort of normalcy, I am thankful that I do not have to face the global pandemic with a hangover.