If you've seen the endless news reports and social media posts about alcohol, you'd be forgiven for thinking all New Zealanders are drinking away their days in lockdown. But you'd be wrong. Despite appearances, every corner of our country is not awash with liquor. The truth is that there are many thousands of us Kiwis who didn't frantically stockpile beer, wine and spirits as we went into lockdown. We're our nation's sober cohort and alcohol simply isn't part of our pandemic plan.
That doesn't mean we're all blissfully floating around polishing our teetotalling halos. Far from it. We're just as anxious, teary, messy, fearful, and grief-stricken as everyone else. We're just dealing with things in a different way. Here's the bit where I'm supposed to tell you how I'm coping by practising mindfulness, doing yoga, eating sauerkraut, filling gratitude jars and singing kumbaya while sending positive vibes out to all of humanity. If only it were that simple.
I totally get the instinct to want to drink. It's a natural human reaction to want to eliminate sadness, fear and grief (and goodness knows I spent over 20 years boozing daily trying to do just that), but the truth I now realise is that alcohol doesn't do the job. It just stuffs uncomfortable emotions down temporarily until they bounce back with a nasty side order of increased angst, illness, exhaustion and guilt. It's like putting a band aid on an open fracture. It works briefly, but ultimately makes things worse.
I've been sober for eight and a half years, so I've got some decent self-care strategies to call upon when the going gets tough. They're helping me deal with this extreme situation somewhat, but in truth my tears are still quick to come, I still have anxiety nestled into my chest and my brain is working overtime to try and grasp what's actually happening. But strangely enough, I'm OK with all of that. That's the biggest lesson I've learned from living sober - I've learned how to accept and sit with my feelings.
Feeling my raw emotions entirely helps me process things. Letting my tears flow when they want to and breathing deeply into my fear and anxiety stops the feelings from overwhelming me. I'm fully grounding myself in my experiences, I've got clarity on how I'm feeling. Over time, this makes things easier to deal with and adds to a deeper feeling of calm and understanding. And all of this puts me in a better place to support the people around me. It's a win for everyone.
If you have been trying ease up on the booze through this heightened and uncertain time, I promise you the benefits will be great. You'll be caring for your body and mind in a nourishing and nurturing way. You'll be freeing up headspace that will allow you to tap into your deepest resources. You'll be gifting your loved ones a family member who is connected, grounded and present. What's not to love about any of that?
Having said that, if you're struggling to stop or cut down right now, don't beat yourself up. It's hard enough to change your drinking habits at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a global crisis. Just try as much as you can to not always automatically reach for a drink to ease your troubled mind. And even if you aren't a part of New Zealand's sober cohort, consider these tips from those of us who are.
Think kindly towards your thoughts and feelings and accept that they are normal human reactions to a most unsettling time.
Trust that there are deep resources inside of you that will get you through this. Notice how your feelings ebb and flow over the course of the day.
And most of all, connect, connect, connect with your loved ones. Because connection is what will get us through this, not anything you can buy in a bottle. Trust me on that.
Lotta Dann runs Living Sober, funded by the NZ Drug Foundation and the Health Promotion Agency. Her new book 'The Wine O'Clock Myth: The truth you need to know about women and alcohol' will be published by Allen & Unwin in June.