The Longest Goodbye: Battling YOLO in the Face of COVID

By April 1, 2020 The Longest Goodbye

Day 90

From 31 March 2020                                                                                                         a five-minute read

Well, this a number I wasn’t sure that I would ever see – this is the longest I’ve gone alcohol-free in as long as I can remember. Last year, when I did my (almost) three-month trial run in preparation for my AF2020, I didn’t quite make it to Day 90.

My streak ended with a planned interruption to my sobriety, when I went on a much-anticipated overseas holiday to my spiritual homeland of Donegal. I was somewhere around the 80+ days mark when the trip was scheduled. I had a long-time friend in London who had just turned 40, and a wedding in Ireland. Both great causes for celebration (celebration = booze), in addition to the trip overseas itself – I was going alone, and to meet up with my parents. It was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ trips I had to grab with both hands.

And, as if weddings aren’t potentially difficult enough for the newly initiated into the alcohol-free lifestyle, I had Ireland and England to really crank things up a notch: two countries who have unashamedly made the pub as part of the cornerstones of their national cultural identities.

(Now, please don’t interpret the subtext of this to mean that the Brits and the Irish are all alcoholics. Remember, the term ‘pub’ is a shortened version of ‘public house’. A public house – like, someone is welcoming you into their home. They’re warm, cozy and inviting. They even have snugs! And for hundreds of years in agrarian societies, the pub(lic house) was where people gathered to socialise, as if by extension of their own living rooms. But I digress…)

Anyway, I knew that it would be too big of an ask of myself to go alcohol-free for this trip – remember, I was only sober-curious at this stage – and so I planned to fall off the wagon. Maybe roll of the wagon is a better analogy. Politely pull the ‘stop the wagon’ bell to signal the driver this is my stop. You get the idea.

When I arrived overseas, and was right back into the drinking swing of things (surprisingly easy, a bit like riding a bike), instead of feeling victorious and relieved, I actually felt a little bit guilty. Like I had somehow let myself down, even though I had given myself permission to fall – or roll – off the wagon. But I jumped off that goddamn wagon as if it was being driven by Ivan Milat, and was also simultaneously on fire. I was like ‘WHOOOOO! I’m on holidays! At a WEDDING! In IRELAND!!! Pints of Guinness! Whose round is it!?!’

I came to the realisation while on holiday that as much as I thought the preceding break would hit the reset button for me, and the Moderation Fairy would just come in and do her job and take over – and I would become that person I dreamt of, who could have two drinks and then put my palm over my half-full wine glass and say ‘Oh, no! I couldn’t possibly!’ – that didn’t happen either. Another sign – or more confirmation perhaps – that I needed to take a longer (if not permanent) break.

So this time, I have made it to 90 days. Because I had been SOOO close – so close – the last time, I have held this up to be a sort of Magic Number. Probably because I also think in AA you get a chip? (I’ll take an actual bag of chips though, to celebrate this one.)

Now, back to the (almost present) moment. About a week or so ago, Friday the 20th of March ended the Week That Was Three Months Long. I think everyone knows what I am talking about. It was the week when all the COVID-19 business was really gathering serious momentum. Italians were dying by the dozens. The Ruby Princess passengers had disembarked, taking their COVID germs along with them to every pocket of Australia and beyond.

Work had been a total shit-show for everyone I talked to, as everywhere ‘measures’ were being attempted to be put in place so that society could still run. (By ‘measures’ I mean lumping a bunch of hastily prepared emergency contingency plans onto the serfs at every given organisation that was still functioning, for them to implement ASAP, via technology platforms that were collapsing like a bad soufflé, and basically fire everyone else.) Good times, if being completely frazzled is your jam.

Everyone I talked to was, by Friday pm, on their last nerve. And I can’t even begin to imagine what people on the front lines were feeling – the healthcare workers, first responders, even grocers and other essential retail workers. The calm before the brewing storm. Probably like they wanted to have their last round of hugs with everyone they know, go to bed and wake up in 2021 to find a bag of 100 dollar bills under their pillows. Bless them.

The collective social anxiety was palpable. My frustration with the government’s ‘meh, she’ll be right’ approach was mounting. I was definitely starting to feel particularly anxious. No one likes that feeling. As much as I tried to tell myself it’s normal, it still doesn’t feel nice. It wasn’t crippling, but it was vague, and amorphous and uncomfortable and heavy. It was the feeling like you are being watched. And I knew immediately what would make it dissipate: WINE!

That night on my drive home from work, I had a serious battle in my head. Team YOLO vs AF Kelly. I’m not going to be overly dramatic and say that it was like that scene in Star Wars where Kylo Ren and Rey join forces to try and defeat Palpatine…okay, yes I am going to be that dramatic and say it was EXACTLY LIKE THAT.

But I had these two conflicting arguments in my head, the angel on one shoulder, devil on the other. Why, why, why am I bothering? Why am I bothering to put myself through this year of alcohol-free hell…oops, I mean, living? It’s just an experiment, right? I definitely don’t have a drinking problem. It wasn’t like I was putting vodka in my orange juice each morning.  Everywhere, it seemed, people were turning to alcohol to cope, as sales figures went through the roof in both the US and Australia. Alcohol was the new toilet paper! YOLO. Life is short. Buy the shoes, eat the cake, drink the wine. All that easy justification.

Okay, sometimes I overindulged, but doesn’t everyone? I don’t think I tick the boxes for alcoholism…but then, where is that line, really? And is it the same for everyone? There’s no answer. And there’s no one ‘right’ answer for everyone. It’s just a big grey continuum.

In the three months since I started this journey, that Friday was by far the toughest challenge I think I faced. Just a little old Friday at the end of stressful week. It caught me off guard. Oh, sure, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but still. I did SERIOUSLY consider stopping by the bottle shop for a little bottle of red to wrap myself in. But somehow, I didn’t.

When I got home, I checked my Booze-free app, which I hadn’t done in a while. I was at 80 days. That magic 90 was so close. I guess that was enough to give me pause, and some renewed motivation. It was the Jerry Seinfeld joke-writing method of Don’t Break the Chain.  I didn’t want to have to reset the counter back to zero. I also checked in with the beautiful people on my online support group, Untoxicated, who always offer encouragement, advice and the occasional funny memes.

The moment, the feeling, the craving, the even anxiety passed. Eventually. Maybe it was a cascade – consciously or not – of all those thoughts and factors that made me want to stop. Maybe that’s where the magic comes in. Maybe that’s what people in AA talk about when they talk about their Higher Power. Whatever it was, I’m thankful that it worked.

The YOLO battle has reared its ugly head repeatedly since, especially on days when the combination of work issues, self-iso, lack of camaraderie and the “joys” of homeschooling combine. But we are in a good place. There will be so much that will be learned from all these forced social experiments that have resulted from COVID and so many positives to ultimately take away. And for the moment, while there may be YOLO, there is definitely a lot less FOMO.