In one week, my entire world has changed. I went from moving freely around in the world to being largely self-quarantined in the hopes of not catching or spreading Covid-19. And, of course, I’m not the only one. My city, New York City, is in near lockdown. Schools are closed, as are most movie theaters, restaurants, stores, and gyms.
I’m not complaining. I’m happy to be social distancing. I want to stop the spread. I’ve seen the pictures of Italy and I know we’re just a few days from that terrifying reality. But there’s one problem with all of this. I am a recovering alcoholic. I’ve been sober since I was 19. I even wrote a novel about it. And while I’ve been sober since November 2 1997 — 22 years — I stay sober largely by going to meetings. So how am I and everyone else in AA (about 2.1 million members) going to stay sober in a world without AA meetings?
I tried to go to physical meetings for as long as I could. I went to my usual church basement meeting until the middle of last week when I realized it was just a bad idea. Every cough made me nervous. Every throat clearing made me anxious. I started to feel extremely uncomfortable. I knew that AA meetings weren’t supposed to make you more stressed. Also, I was worried about the older people in the meetings; they could catch Covid-19. What if I was a carrier and didn’t even know it.
Then places started closing, first the churches and then the schools. Then the governor and the mayor started putting restrictions on large gatherings. That’s when I realized I was better off staying at home. I tried going to a small meeting at my sponsor’s house but I worried about her husband, who is in his 80s. I went to a small meeting in the park but it was freezing and also the park was weirdly crowded. I worried about keeping six feet apart. I heard someone cough.
But I needed meetings, I was very stressed. Even though I haven’t had a drink in 22 years, it didn’t mean I didn’t still want a drink. I’m an alcoholic, I still feel like drinking sometimes. And if a pandemic doesn’t make you feel like drinking, nothing will. I still want to turn off my head and check out. Yes, I had stayed sober through 9/11, but this was different. This was slow and scary and kept going; it didn’t end with one horrific event and then the city gradually rediscovering itself.
Covid-19 was completely different; for the first time I couldn’t find toilet paper. Store were closed, grocery shelves were empty, the world felt really scary and different. I had seen the numbers and I knew that hundreds or thousands could die. I was afraid. I had read everything about Covid-19, I knew that we were heading into a public health nightmare.