Strange times. Unprecedented.
‘Unprecedented,’ a word that has been used an unprecedented number of times recently in the news and in our conversations. It’s a time for new words to our vocabulary, or if not new, then words that were unusual in times B.C (by B.C I mean Before Covid). “Herd Immunity”, “Self-Isolation”, ‘Furlough”, “Pandemic” and of course “Coronavirus”. Pandemic is a word I hadn’t used since my time as a History student and was in relation to the likes of The Great Plague or The Spanish Flu. One thing I did learn as a historian was that pandemics have always been great agents of change.
Change it would seem is possible. Things we deemed essential to modern life and impossible to stop, have stopped. Planes are not flying, children are off school, shops are closed, pubs are closed – my own pub is closed. Everything I deemed as normal life has shifted enormously. Now, I’m a looooooong way off suggesting that this episode of history is a positive thing, but one thing I am open to is the possibility of permanent change. I’ve already learned that I am in no rush to get to back to the stressful demands of my B.C life. I’m worried of course, the same worries many of us have at the moment about my family, my livelihood, finances…but…alongside the uncertainty and the worry I’m embracing the fact that I, along with everyone else, can not control what it is going to happen.
The fight against Covid19 is not like war in the sense of Kitchener’s rousing ‘Your Country Needs You.’ All we are required to do is stay at home. I know that can be difficult but it is not like we are being ripped from our families and asked to live in trenches for four years. All we have to do is hunker down, settle, watch TV (not overdose on the news however), and keep in contact with our nearest and dearest, albeit on a screen. Yet I feel a huge pressure to do something life changing and constructive with this time, and I know that this is not just me, many of us seem to think this unforeseen break from work should be used to do something huge.
I’ve seen comments about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear (or it may have been Macbeth, or Othello, or Anthony and Cleopatra…I can’t remember), when isolating against plague. No pressure there then. But Shakespeare was holed up in his country retreat, no 24-hour rolling news, no daily Zoom meetings or WhatsApp family roll calls (I didn’t even know I had an aunt Mary until this). It was different, so back off with the self pressure. However, talking of literature, Marquez’s ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ keeps popping into my head, not for the content of the story so much as the title, as I want to launch my own ‘Love in the time of Coronavirus.’
I have made a decision to use this time not as an opportunity to create my Magnum Opus, but to reaffirm my own love story: with sobriety. As a serial relapsing alcoholic, albeit not had a drink for a few months now and who has had three times as many sober days than drinking for nearly a year, I have always given myself reasons to believe that giving up drinking ‘for life’ is too difficult: it’s not the right time, I work in the alcohol industry, I’m surrounded by booze all day, my friends don’t support my decision and I like my social life too much. Always a reason. Covid19 has suddenly and inadvertently meant that the distractions I perceived as detrimental to my long term recovery have disappeared.
So, it is time to create my own ‘Love in the time of Coronavirus’, I am making a commitment, like a marriage, to sobriety. You don’t enter into a marriage (I’m saying this purely speculatively by the way, being a spinster), thinking that ‘this won’t last.’ It takes commitment, it takes faith and you can’t go running for the wine aisle every time things get rocky. It’s a commitment for life, for better, for worse. I am embracing this time as my once lifetime opportunity to let my neurological pathways stand a chance at rewiring themselves and to concentrate fully and remind myself fully of all the reasons why I love the sober life, through thick and thin.
Pandemics: agents for great change. Unexpected time on our hands, the desire to do something life changing and constructive. If you really want to do your ‘Your Country Needs You’ bit, keep yourself as healthy as possible. It’s time to take responsibility for ourselves and for our health as best we can and if that includes giving up alcohol, embrace this opportunity for change, for as demonstrated, change can happen, no planes in the sky, no shops open, the unimaginable is possible. Being asked to stay at home, no distractions or usual opportunities/excuses to fall off the wagon. I am using this period as an opportunity to make a solid commitment to myself, and to the NHS, that I will do my best to keep myself healthy. The biggest threat to my health was always my drinking so that commitment is that I won’t drink.
We are in this pandemic together and together we shall overcome it. It reminds me of my years struggling with alcoholism. I learned that difficult dichotomy that it is very difficult to tackle it alone, yet only I can do it. Connecting with those going through the same process helps, so if you want to look back on The Great Plague of 2020 and ask yourself what you did, why not reach out, ask for help, say hi, and then you can say that you did your best to create or reaffirm your healthier, alcohol free life.