Reflections from an alcoholic during the COVID-19 crisis

The pandemic and social distancing measures it requires is challenging for everyone, but can be especially challenging for people in recovery and those who are battling substance addiction. This month we are featuring two columns that address these challenges and offer advice and resources. Below is a first-hand account, “Reflections from an alcoholic during the COVID-19 crisis.” For another article on how JFCS’ Jewish Community Addiction Services is adapting to these times, click here.

By Megan Wiese • JFCS Graphic Design and Digital Communications Associate

Like the coronavirus, addiction has no boundaries or prejudices when it comes to who it affects. For a long time, I did not believe I was an alcoholic – perhaps a heavy drinker, but not an alcoholic because I was a “normal” person – I wasn’t brown-bagging it below a bridge somewhere or being thrown nightly into the drunk tank by the cops. I had a home, a job, friends and family who loved me. They urged me to seek treatment to address my drinking problem, which I reluctantly agreed to.

After leaving treatment, I ventured off to start a new life in recovery. I quickly discovered that getting sober wasn’t so easy – simple, but not easy (as they say). I was dipping my toe into a 12-step program, but the other foot was standing on its own, determined to quit drinking on willpower alone. Over the course of a year, my former “normal” life turned not so normal. No matter how hard I tried, I could not stop drinking. I bounced around between five different sober houses, was arrested with a DUI, got fired from my job, gained over 30 pounds, spent nights sleeping in my car, racked up thousands in credit card debt, lost friendships, strained relationships with my family, sold whatever possessions I could just to buy a bottle, and ultimately lost the will to carry on.

Addiction is a disease of isolation. I was not out partying with my friends at clubs and bars having a great time – I was sneaking drinks in the basement of the sober house, or sitting in my car for hours at a time with a big gulp full of vodka, with nowhere to go and seemingly no one to talk to. I felt completely alone.

Community and fellowship with people who understood what I was going through turned out to be the antidote, in conjunction with a 12-step program of recovery. After searching the bottom of the bottle for years, I ultimately found what I was looking for in the basement of a church, sipping cheap coffee with the faint smell of cigarette smoke lingering by the windows, surrounded by an array of my fellows: Janie, who had 30+ years of sobriety; Elena, an actual nun; and Linda, who showed up with a black eye after a relapse were just a few. These were my people – I had found my tribe.

As Americans are being asked to self-isolate for long stretches of time due to the coronavirus pandemic, my foundation of recovery that is rooted in community has been pulled out from under me. I’m being asked to do the very thing that kept me drunk for so many years – isolate.

This is an especially challenging time for those seeking help for addictions. Many detoxes are closing their doors, inpatient facilities are limiting the number of intakes, access to medical help is limited, and those isolating with families are unable to hide their addictions as they have in the past. More and more people are reaching for a drink to help curb the anxiety and stress related to the state of the world. Society has normalized this – think of any TV show where the character returns home after a long, hard day and says, “Boy, do I need a drink.” While many parking lots sit deserted, liquor stores, considered an essential business, tend to be completely packed at any point during the day.

My program of recovery looks much different than it did a few months ago. Most 12-step meetings have been suspended, I cannot meet at a coffee shop with my sponsor or sponsees and read the Big Book, I cannot perform my service work of bringing meetings to detox, I cannot receive my sobriety medallion accompanied by hugs and high fives.

Luckily, I don’t have to leave my house to feel connected. Recovery is adapting to reality. Twelve-step meetings have moved online, I can meet with my sponsor or sponsees virtually through Facetime or Zoom, I can volunteer at a treatment center by hearing fifth steps virtually, I can listen to podcasts or watch online videos of speaker talks, I can connect on social media with others who are struggling. Though this certainly is no replacement for in-person fellowship, it helps.


JFCS also has programs to help – click here for information on how our Jewish Community Addiction Services is adapting to these times.

Addiction and Recovery

Today, I celebrate four years of continuous sobriety. I won’t be able to celebrate in person with my fellows, but I know I will feel the love through the warmth of my computer screen as I log into my 12-step meeting online. I used my latest hobbies – whittling and woodburning to create my own medallion. It’s not perfect, but neither is my recovery journey. I think there’s beauty in that.

I’m grateful to work at a place like JFCS, which is dedicated to offering support in times of need. Much like the recovery community adapting to changing times, JFCS is adapting to be able to serve everyone who turns to us for help. If you or someone you know needs help, Just Call JFCS. We are Here for All. Always.

Click here to read a Star Tribune article, “Twin Cities addiction experts fear rise in drug overdoses amid virus isolation”