Mental health advocate Eric Dorsa
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Recovery

Staying Sober During a Pandemic

By Eric Dorsa

My sobriety is by far the most important part of my life today. I personally believe that everything in my life is built on the foundation that sobriety has laid. I say this because substance use took everything from me. Six years ago, I was living a very different life; one where drugs and alcohol were making all my decisions and consuming my mind, body and spirit. Everything in my life was centered around being able to escape and numb through substances. My substance use was fueled by shame.

We live in a very different world at the moment, a world much different than six years ago when I made the decision to get sober from all substances. We are in a reality of isolation and loss because of the Covid-19 pandemic where many of the resources and tools that helped me get and stay sober have adapted and evolved.

Like the world, I have had to adapt and evolve in order to keep moving forward in my recovery. My sobriety felt fragile and overwhelming and was full of emotions – which are even more acute and present because of the pandemic. I can’t use my tools in the same way as before. I can’t just get on the train and go to my 12-step meeting when I am in a vulnerable state; I’ve had to find a whole new way to navigate sobriety and my recovery in this digital age of COVID-19.

Here are some ways my lived experiences have helped me during my recovery journey:

Get connected and stay connected. 

If you have made the decision to look at substance use and the impact it is having in your life and relationships, then you have already made a brave and valuable step. As my first sponsor in 12-step recovery used to tell me, “I stay sick; we recover.” One tool that I needed and continually need is connection to other persons that are also facing the same questions and journey as myself.

My addiction was about isolation and shame. My recovery is about connection, empathy and compassion for myself. Today I have the option to attend 12-step meetings from all over the world virtually through zoom and other platforms. No, it is not the same as an in-person meeting; however, it is far better than the isolation of my addiction and the pandemic. There is safety and security. I find knowing that I am part of a group and that I don’t have to navigate this new landscape alone.

Play the tape all the way through.

In my early sobriety, I was riddled with complex emotions that I was not allowing myself to feel. It was tempting and far too easy to return to the comfort of numbness that my addiction once offered. It was helpful to learn that it was a part of the process of getting healthy and taking care of my mental health. You can learn more about this in last month’s Say It Brave Masterclass.

I was told to play the tape all the way through to the end when I was met with a craving. What would giving into the craving actually look like in my life? What is the next right thing for me to do that is for my recovery and mental health? Trust me when I tell you that the cravings lessen and so does the shame. I no longer wanted to be in my addiction, and reaching out for help in those moments by attending a meeting or calling a peer was lifesaving.

This too shall pass.

This phrase has a double meaning for me today. In early recovery, it was helpful in reminding me that whatever difficulty I was facing was going to pass. I was not going to feel this uncomfortable forever. Uncomfortable was a sign that I was doing something different and that different was good. My thinking was distorted by drugs and alcohol. It was very black and white with thoughts full of “always” and “never.”

Recovery was about being able to understand and validate the, “Yes, I feel this way in the moment and these feelings will come and go.” This is another reason staying connected to a group is so important. I needed their experiences. This saying also helps me to navigate this new world of isolation and grief. I know one day my recovery and support systems will return to a more familiar structure. I will be sober and present for when that day comes. I never thought I would miss the smell of cheap coffee and stale church basements. Life is funny like that.

Keep it simple.

My first sponsor would tell me everything needs to change in its own time. I was been living in a reality where drugs and alcohol were my center. She would tell me if I just keep it simple and put my recovery first by going to support meetings, staying connected to peers, and doing my best to rest and take care of myself, everything else will begin to fall into place. She was right.

I had to keep my world very simple in the beginning. When the pandemic hit, I found myself returning to a simple structure. This helped me stay out of fear of the unknown and trust that I was doing enough to take care of myself. Progress, not perfection. I had no idea what life in the pandemic was going to look like. I did know that my recovery was my biggest asset and that staying connected to my meetings and my support system was the first step.

Resources and communities that can help you stay connected during this time:

  1. The Sober School 
  2. Alcoholics Anonymous 
  3. Sober Black Girls Club 
  4. The Luckiest Club 
mental health
substance use disorder
Written by

Eric Dorsa

Eric Dorsa is an LGBTQ advocate, actor, comedian, and drag queen currently living in Chicago, Illinois. As an advocate for the LGBTQ community, Eric travels around the country sharing their experiences of Eating Disorder Recovery, coming out as a gay person, and their recovery from substance abuse with college campuses and patients in treatment. Eric has been featured on Texas Public Radio “Worth Repeating”, Mental Note Podcast “Drag Queen Wisdom”, Huffington Post Queer Voices, and has given an award winning 2014 TEDx Talk entitled “ How Dressing in Drag Made Me Uncover My Authentic Self.” Eric is also a member of Eating Recovery Center's Recovery Ambassador Council. They hope that sharing their story will inspire others to know that they are not alone, to seek connection and treatment, and that full recovery is possible.