My sober pandemic: Matt

lovely neat garden

"The main difference between this year and last year is I’ve weaned off anti-depressants successfully, after nearly five years."

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Today's pandemic recovery story comes from Matt (@emjaycee) who lives in Christchurch.

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Mrs D: How are you feeling about what's going on with Covid-19?

Matt: Well, last year it seemed the prospect of lockdown hung for some time before it happened. This time it was so quick. And rightly so. The difference is we know the drill this time. The kids have just adapted seamlessly this time around. They are actually thriving. It’s lovely seeing them start their school day every morning, log into their own school class meetups. But there are the usual feelings of not wanting it to be happening, and the agonising over the uncontrollable things. When I heard about the lockdown I was on a hospital gurney in Christchurch’s ED department, after suffering a still unexplained - but resolved for now - medical event. By the time I finally got home I was feeling physically wiped out. And then I wake up in the morning and we’re in lockdown. Such a bizarre day/transition. The first few days of lockdown were spent largely resting.

Mrs D: How have your emotions shifted and changed since the pandemic began?

Matt: The main difference between this year and last year is I’ve weaned off anti-depressants successfully, after nearly five years. And I’ve been ok. In lockdown, I’ve been largely pretty even, helped in large part by how amazing the girls have been. But at the back end of the first week my mood got pretty low. I think unplugging a bit from the media (which is good for information, but does tend to expose you to a deluge of fairly negative stuff) was the key to feeling a bit better. It’s been good just focussing on being in the present, with Ranui and the girls, and enjoying spending family time. I also really need my own time alone and that’s challenging in the bubble. But I’ve had a couple of runs and a bike ride where I’ve been able to get away.

Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?

Matt: I had my last alcoholic drink on June 17, 2016 - aged 39. So I ticked over the five year mark this year, which was a great feeling.

Mrs D: How is being sober helping you at this crazy time?

Matt: I consciously value my sobriety really highly. I don’t take it for granted. I know life is better sober, especially when life is throwing you challenges. So instead of thinking, ‘Man, I wish I could just have a drink and unwind,’ my thought process is more like: ‘I’m so lucky I’m not adding alcohol to the situation.’

Mrs D: Have you had any pangs to drink since the latest lockdown began (if in New Zealand)?

Matt: I only have the occasional pang about alcohol, and it never lasts long. Just fleeting thoughts. But I did have a bit of a wobble in June before I made five years. I went with Ranui to weekend in Queenstown with her colleagues, and decided I might drink again. But when I got there I ended up sitting next to the only other sober person there and talking to her got me back on track. I had thought I was capable of moderating again, not that I’d ever been all that good at moderating at any other time in my life. Who is? I’m really pleased I got through that.

Mrs D: Any particular self-care actions that are helping you get through?

Matt: Just all the usually good self care things; a little bit of exercise, bike rides with the kids, eating well, sleeping well, trying not to constantly check the news, playing music, trying not to worry too much about how long the lockdown will last and just going with the flow. I’m trying to keep it pretty simple.

Mrs D: What are you doing to fill in the days?

Matt: Routine is important. The day always starts with an espresso soy flat white. Nothing happens till I’ve fired up the coffee machine and had my coffee. I’m trying to do a job around the house each day. After lunch I take the girls out for a wee bike ride. I’m watching a bit of Netflix and playing guitar. We’ve been playing lots of cards. The days have been passing really quickly.

Mrs D: What would you say to people who are struggling with alcohol at the moment?

Matt: The main thing that has annoyed me this lockdown is seeing how the massive upsurge in alcohol sales has been in some quarters celebrated. There have been so many social media posts involving alcohol and a general consensus that it’s a key coping tool. It’s still regarded in NZ as a staple, alongside bread and milk. Media figures talking about 'Wine O’Clock' only serves to reinforce the unquestioning way we accept alcohol as a positive force in our lives. But us sober warriors know better. We understand how difficult it is for so many people. We are acutely aware of the harm it does throughout society. We are also unlikely to joke about how getting boozed by lunchtime will help us get through lockdown. Try to ignore the subtle and not so subtle messaging and even if it seems like you’re swimming against a strong current know that there are plenty of us here to support you. Remember why you wanted/want to give up and hold tightly to that thought/feeling. When I gave up and suffered cravings I thought of the way I felt when I was at my lowest point with alcohol. It reminds me of my ‘why’ and helps the craving pass. Because everything - good and bad - passes.

Mrs D: What's in this photo/video you've shared with us?

Matt: I’ve included a photo of the garden. I’m a very lazy gardener. I’ll let things go till I can’t stand to look out there. But yesterday I got out and trimmed the edges, mowed the lawns, and gave our wild native grasses a significant haircut. And it made me feel good, adding some order to my world, when everything seems a bit crazy and challenging at the moment.

Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to add?

Matt: Thanks Mrs D for putting the call out for sober stories. Doing this helps put the focus on helping others. And sharing what’s going on in your world - the challenges, and solutions - really helps lighten the load for others. And it feels good to. So thanks! Take care everyone. We’ll be able to get back to each other soon enough.

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6 Comments
  1. SugarBelly 4 weeks ago

    congrats on weaning off anti-depressants, what a great coup and what a surreal experience to go from the hospital to lockdown. Love your matter of fact way of looking at your life, without booze, your acceptance of the almost had a drink and back to where you are right now, enjoying your life. Thank you for sharing and best during the lockdown. Five years is incredible.

  2. Hellsbells 4 weeks ago

    Thanks – this is a lovely calm story- you ooze serenity if that’s the right word. Go well

  3. Prudence 4 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing your lockdown world with us Matt. Seems like you’re coping mighty fine. My love to all your girls, and let’s catch up soon xx

  4. morgan 4 weeks ago

    Sounding as if you have a great balance in your days, unlike some people 🙁 I have at least got the exercise bit tight, every day so far.
    Lovely to hear the girls have swung into learning online, no problem. No doubt having supportive parents helps a lot.
    Inspiring, as always, thanks for writing about your days.
    Right, off to the river in the rain.
    XXX

  5. Liberty 4 weeks ago

    Nice to hear about your days @emjaycee, always nice to hear from you. How great that coming off the antid’s has been ok.

  6. Kiwi 4 weeks ago

    Thanks for sharing with us. I try to get a small piece of helpful information out of every story I read. I thought the bit about facing a challenge and not adding alcohol to the situation was a very good point to remember..

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