An alcoholic in a pandemic: How I fought the anxiety, the lack of routine – and stayed sober throughout

By | April 26, 2021

I’ll always be an alcoholic. The drinks cabinet in my Waterford home has earned my gaze more than it did prior to the unwelcome arrival of Covid-19. How could it not? And I will always know my triggers. Thankfully, vodka remains nothing more than a concept for me, as does the prospect of sipping a tangy limoncello on a lounger in Capri on a scorching day, loaded with the promise of the next sip.

y God do I still love the prospect of a drink; the softened edge a glass (or bottle) of whatever I’d fancy would provide me right now feels so right. So easy. So accessible. And there it is, in my line of vision. Like Excalibur, gleaming in a mudflat.

However, the taste of either or any alcoholic drink for that matter remains a purely visual as opposed to an active, damaging component in my life. The short-term fix just doesn’t cut it for me nowadays and I’m so grateful for developing that mindset. It’s why I’m still here.

Over the past 11 topsy-turvy months, I’ve come face to face with my addictive tendencies and I’ve found my own way of tempering the excesses that sent me into a bottle for far too long. Being at home pretty much all of the time, with no traditional work or social routine to rely upon, has made the pitfalls slightly more difficult to steer clear of for all of us.

Maintaining my sleeping pattern has been incredibly helpful. Sometimes I’m in bed very early; a litany of Zoom meetings on both the teaching and motivational speaking front takes it out of me more days than others. So being in bed between 9pm and 10pm isn’t unusual for me, nor are my 5am starts and coffee, which I’ve maintained.

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Some of the ‘old normal’ is doing the trick during this new normal and sustaining my circadian rhythms has proven a welcome and reliable ally. The accessibility of information, be it verified or balderdash, has never been easier but I’ve consciously taken the decision to steer clear of doomscrolling on my phone.

Enda O’Doherty

The worst-case scenario is there at our fingertips at every moment of the day, but why feed those negative tendencies? Why give into your worst instincts? Consider the alternative. Consider the control that you and you alone have over these choices. Choose prudently. Don’t give into fakery and half-empty glasses. Remember: this is all within your own control.

Eating sensibly is also a huge help so try and cut down on the empty calorie intake. Sure, enjoy your takeaway night — Friday or Saturday to maintain a clear line of demarcation in your week — but given that we’re all at home so much right now, we should all be cooking more. It can also be a fun activity with the family, well beyond baking banana bread, too! It really is this simple: if you eat rubbish, then you’ll feel rubbish. Eating is the most important element of any exercise regimen and it’s how we fuel our engine.

After all, you wouldn’t fire something indiscriminately into your car and keep your fingers crossed in the hope that the motor will keep running the next time you turn the key in the ignition. The significance of a good food routine cannot be underestimated, nor the intake of water — be it at breakfast, the mid-morning break, lunch and dinner. After all, our engine needs lubricating.

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From a social perspective, try to talk to two people — other than those you live with — every day. Maintaining relationships with relatives, friends and work colleagues matters now more than ever. We need to talk to people regularly, be it to laugh, to cry or to simply share an utterly inconsequential and silly thought.

While we remain restricted in our activities, we can still remain in the exercise zone. Be it walking, cycling or running, getting fit and staying fit remains a constant, pandemic or no pandemic. Just prior to the lockdown, I bought a spin bike and it’s proven a godsend. My wife Maeve and I have used it every day since and I work up quite the sweat during my 45-minute session, which concludes with the towel beneath me pooled in sweat.

Every day, I sit on the saddle in front of my television and click on an online video to distract me while I cycle, taking me along the Californian coastline. Exercise was my gateway ingredient to a better life beyond alcoholism and I’m so relieved I remain hooked to it.

After the schools closed last March, I wrote about how I was feeling, why I was feeling like this and what I needed to do to get back to where I’ve largely been throughout my sobriety. Anxiety, pressure and stress had initially thundered across my mindset like a rapidly advancing infantry.

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I’m Fine: Thoughts on Life, Addiction, Love and Health

I’m Fine: Thoughts on Life, Addiction, Love and Health

I’m Fine: Thoughts on Life, Addiction, Love and Health

These were facets of my being which I’d largely tempered for the previous 10 years. I never pretended those anxieties weren’t there; we all require a certain level of stress in order to functioning at home or in work at home. So I started re-writing the list I’d worked on during those first few months of getting sober and the more I wrote, the pressure levels began to diminish. The wave of terror began to abate and things grew calmer for me.

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And because I know how debilitating anxiety can be and because I spend every day of my life focused on not allowing my body to produce those debilitating chemicals because I simply don’t want to feel that way, that ‘fire’ was extinguished. It’s why I’ve managed to keep living, as opposed to merely existing, during the lockdown. There’s always a better way.

Enda O’Doherty was in conversation with Dermot Keyes. I’m Fine: Thoughts on Life, Addiction, Love and Health (published by Red Stripe Press and priced €18) is available at orpenpress.com/red-stripe-press/

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