Liquor stores are staying open. You got invited to five virtual “quarantini” happy hours in your friends’ Zoom rooms this week. Social media makes it feel like absolutely everyone is boozing 24/7 and using it as the self-care they need to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Everywhere you turn, it seems like alcohol is the answer. It’s definitely trending.
Drinking to relax and unwind. To decompress. To mark the end of a long and stressful day. To quiet fear and anxiety. To ease worry and tension. I get it. This is such a scary time. We’ve never experienced anything like it in our lifetime. And, it is so hard to know what to do.
People have started day drinking for the first time in their lives. I saw on Facebook this week someone pouring vodka in her morning coffee to better tolerate homeschooling. Our favorite restaurants are offering half-price bottles of wine with their new curbside take out service. Hundreds of thousands of people have up-leveled their drinking game big time over the last few weeks.
We’re scared. We can’t see the future. We don’t know what to tell our kids. We’re starving for relief. And, we’re doing the best with the tools we have.
I absolutely get it. As I watch people care for themselves with alcohol, it takes me back. It wasn’t all that long ago I was drinking at least a bottle of wine every night. I would wake up at 3:33 every single morning and for the next hour I would try to piece together the night before. When I couldn’t remember all the details I would begin shaming myself, berating myself for being so stupid. Sometimes there would be tears. Other times I would be angry and disgusted. Ultimately, I started sneaking into the kitchen for another drink just to shut down my brain so I could fall back asleep and stop all the pain.
In the dark of those early mornings, I was honest with myself. It was the only time I was brave enough to admit I was no longer in control.
Before I ultimately removed alcohol from my life five years ago and began sharing what I’ve learned, I had moved onto boxes of wine and, had this pandemic occurred back then, you can bet I would have been hoarding every box I could get my hands on. And, hanging on tight to the belief alcohol was giving me something I couldn’t possibly find anywhere else, that there was some benefit to drinking.
We’ve all heard it - drinking red wine every day is good for your health. But, when I did the research I was shocked. Not only is that untrue, but alcohol was declared a known carcinogen in 1988. And, of course, there’s my personal experience - drinking something that makes me feel bad just isn’t good for me.
There are a couple of other things I’ve learned about alcohol that are super relevant, especially right now.
Alcohol can weaken your immune system. Germs surround us, making our immune system our most important tool for fighting off disease. Our skin protects our bodies from infection and disease. If germs make it into the body, we have two systems that provide defense: the innate system (which fends off first-time germ exposure) and the adaptive system (which retains information about prior germ exposure and promptly defeats attackers). Alcohol suppresses both.
Our immune system uses cytokines, small proteins, to send out chemical messages about infection in a kind of early alert system. Alcohol disrupts the production of cytokines. When working correctly, cytokines alert our immune system to intruders, and our immune system responds with white blood cells that attack, surrounding and swallowing harmful bacteria. Alcohol impairs both functions, which leaves us more susceptible to pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other diseases.
From an early age, many of us learn to ease our anxiety with alcohol thinking it will relax us and clear our minds. In reality, that’s like pouring gasoline on a flame. Anxiety worsens with the use of alcohol. The ACT Technique I developed is a tool that helps people deal with anxious beliefs and thoughts to get to the root of where anxiety begins.
If you’re drinking right now to cope with all the uncertainty, please meet yourself with love and compassion. We are all struggling. Believing alcohol can give you power asks favors of alcohol it just can’t deliver. You do not have to drink if you don’t want to. And, you are not alone if you want to make that choice.
What can you do to take care of yourself during this increasingly challenging time? Pause. Give yourself a break. Ask yourself what you really need. Reach out. Connect. We need each other now more than ever.