Not drinking this year? You’re not alone

Jessica Hoppe
·5 min read
Not Drinking
Not Drinking

Jessica Hoppe is In The Know’s culture contributor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter for more.

I’ve started getting manicures again. I know it’s a frivolous expense, a needless risk during a pandemic, but I want it — something about a glossy red gel is keeping me sane. The salon located just walking distance from my apartment follows protocol rigorously. I sign in, they take my temperature, everyone wears masks and there is plexiglass between me and the technician, but we still make small talk. I still smile so brightly my cheeks ache, but I’m hoping if she sees the crinkle of my eyes, she’ll know how much I appreciate this. 

As I melt into the leather arm chair, wrists limp in the hands of a stranger, inhaling the comfort of acetone fumes, I realize why I’m here.

The day I became obsessed with getting a manicure after nearly a year of overall aesthetic neglect, New York City had erupted into celebration. After months of quarantine, divisive politics and collective uprising, election results were announced and everyone poured into the streets to “blow off steam,” which essentially meant drinking heavily, publicly. 

Now four years sober, I’ve learned to understand my triggers, pause and redirect my instinct to follow neuro pathways I’ve carved through repetition to self soothe pain, anxiety or stress with something that will instantly feel good but will ultimately hurt me, something that almost killed me: drugs and alcohol.

Still, the pop of a champagne cork has not lost its Pavlovian effect — I hear it, I want it. Holding a flute by its stem feels natural and, as the whole world seems to imbibe without risking a near death experience, I feel isolated. But, the truth is, I’m wrong. I’m not alone. 

Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 81,000 deaths by drug overdose from June 2019 through May 2020, the highest ever recorded in a 12-month period. The spike in data at the beginning of 2020 (over 10 percent) indicates the pandemic has accelerated the number of fatalities as a result of substance use disorder.

“The disruption to daily life due to the COVID-19 pandemic has hit those with substance use disorder hard,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield, M.D. “As we continue the fight to end this pandemic, it’s important to not lose sight of different groups being affected in other ways. We need to take care of people suffering from unintended consequences.”

As many of us gather in small groups — let’s be real, we know we’re going to try to gather safely — pandemic panic is poised to collide with seasonal stress. Most find the holidays to be a triggering time and often use mood and mind altering substances to soothe the discomfort of family drama, loneliness or a lack of funds.

@standup

“When you don’t drink, people always need to know why…” : Jim Gaffigan #foryou #fyp

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♬ original sound – Stand-Up

This trick has long been removed from my repertoire, and yet, I struggle to be transparent about how that loss makes me feel with those who are not sober. I worry that I will ruin the party, be asked invasive questions (“You don’t drink? Why?”), patronized or, worse, pitied. So, I gathered some tips from Tempest, a digital recovery program, that I’ve been using over the past year that will help get us through to 2021.

Scrolling through the post titled cravings (below), it’s as if Holly Whitaker, the founder of Tempest, had read my mind, because the first damn tip is “talk about how you feel.” Find a trusted confidante, friend and or therapist to share your experience, trace your steps and discover the root cause of your craving.

It might sound ridiculous but, when feeling triggered, one of your best lines of defense is breathing. According to Whitaker, you’ll want to take 10 deep breaths. “Sit in an easy pose (legs folded in front of you),” she explained. “Breathe in through your nose for a count of five, eyes closed and rolled up to your third eye point if possible. Breathe out the mouth, exhaling to a count of five. For extra release, stick your tongue out as you exhale and make a ‘HAAAAAAA’ sound, blowing out the air, the heat and the stress.”

If the party is slanting towards tipsy, and you begin to feel left out, don’t abstain from indulging. Drink something special that’s non-alcoholic. I usually go for a hot chocolate or a crisp Coca-Cola. Coquito sans rum is just as delicious. Tempest also recommends soothing tea. “I carry Kava Stress Relief tea with me wherever I go,” Whitaker said. “You can also try chamomile, holy basil or any herbal tea. A lot of times just the simple act of drinking something that we count as healing or nourishing is enough to pull us back to ourselves.⁠”

Finally, keep your eyes on the prize. “Remember why you’re trying to quit drinking in the first place,” Tempest suggests. “Get a piece of paper and make a list of past consequences of your drinking. Then make a second list of all of the benefits of living alcohol-free.”

For more tips and to learn how to build a sobriety toolbox visit Tempest.

If you enjoyed this article, read Jessica Hoppe’s other writing for In The Know here.

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