This is a new series of 'Sober Lockdown Stories' featuring people with any length of sobriety sharing how they're keeping themselves well during the global pandemic crisis.
Today's sober hero is Matt who lives in Christchurch near the Port Hills.
Mrs D: How are you feeling about what's going on with this Covid-19 virus?
Matt: I’m taking the Corona virus crisis we’re living through in my stride generally. But there have been periods of feeling very anxious and worried about the future. I worry about others, people I don’t know, and about my nearest and dearest.
Mrs D: How have your emotions shifted and changed since the crisis began?
Matt: In the days leading into the Lockdown, when we had time to prepare, there was some adrenaline at play helping sort out stuff such as groceries and thinking ahead to how we were all going to cope. I was pretty focussed and pragmatic about it. The night before Lockdown I had a deep sense of unease and anxiety about the unknown mainly. And the reality of our lives changing. Would we be able to cope? Would my mental health hold?
Mrs D: How long have you been sober for?
Matt: I had my last alcoholic drink - half a glass of pretty average supermarket Pinot Noir - on 17 June 2016. I was 39. So coming up 4 years. It seems like a lifetime ago. So much has happened and so much has changed for me since then - mostly for the better.
Mrs D: How is being sober helping you at this crazy time?
Matt: I’m really grateful I carry such resolved sobriety into this lockdown. I never take for granted how lucky I am to have kicked alcohol out of my life, to no longer have the depressant of alcohol to heap onto the stresses of life. I was grateful to navigate depression sober. And I’m grateful to be sober now too! Being able to feel things fully is so important when you’re under pressure. It also helps to be present when my kids and wife need all of me.
Mrs D: Have you had any pangs to drink since the lockdown began?
Matt: I don’t really feel any gravitation towards drinking these days. In my drinking days it was my go to tool for dealing with pressure, stress, and uncomfortable emotions. And it worked in the short term till it didn’t. Now I have so many more tools jammed into my wellbeing tool box - eat well, sleep, exercise, connect with others, write, veg out, DIY. Alcohol is the last thing I think about grabbing for. Though I did watch my wife drink a pinot and a thought flickered into my head that I wished I too could have a wine with dinner. Occasionally I get this fleeting thoughts that are quickly replaced with a more active internal voice that says; "But you don’t drink now. Don’t be so foolish!" Alcohol is simply off the table now for me, and has been for some time.
Mrs D: Any particular self-care actions that are helping you in these gritty times?
Matt: I think the main change to my life is instead of simply being around with my two daughters (I’m a stay-at-home-dad) I’m doing more things with them, playing with them and just spending quality time. They’ve both soaked up the extra attention and are loving it. I’ve also connected with an older neighbour across the road who is by herself - messaging her and dropping cups of espresso to her back doorstep. Thinking of others, and how you can be there for them in this time, is a powerful self help tool also. I’ve been conscious to keep the exercise going so have done online yoga, circuit classes on Facebook, a 10km at home run challenge organised by my running group, and getting out with the kids for local bike rides. Another thing that has really helped me is to turn my phone off and unplug from technology for a good chunk of each day. It’s difficult but it’s becoming a habit. It’s difficult to disconnect from something that provides connection at a time when we can’t physically hang out with our friends and extended whānau but it helps in terms of clearing time to truly connect with people in our bubbles or to just take some rest from it. The only times I’ve felt my anxiety return is after I’ve caught up with the news and I’ve thought about how desperate the situation is in other parts of the world. Worrying about the future and how we will all be affected by this also feeds the negative, worst-case-scenario thinking. Will life ever get back to normal? It’s important to be informed but it’s also important to strike a balance. I’ve also been reading again which is great. I’ve got a good stack of books to get through, and plenty of time for once to do it!
Mrs D: What are you doing to fill in the days?
Matt: My day starts with a beautiful coffee. Firing up my coffee machine is my happy time. Then I make breakfast for the girls and hang out with my wife before she disappears into the study for a day of work. Then I’ve been building LEGO with the girls as part of a 30 day lockdown LEGO challenge they found online. It’s a different creation each day. Then it’s time to get outside and get some exercise - a bike ride around the area with the girls, or I’ll do something at home. We hang out as a family for lunch. The early afternoon has been mainly spent taking a beating at one board game or another from one or other girl. Then I like to read and maybe have a afternoon nap. The girls have been doing baking some days. A bit of connecting to the outside world on my phone - a video call with family/friends or some Facebooking or Instagramming - before I get dinner organised. Then we’ve been filling in gratitude journals about our day. We’ve tried to keep bedtimes pretty regular but have let the girls watch a bit of telly before reading to our youngest and then giving them both cuddles. Life has become much simpler, and a new routine has slowly bedded itself in. It’s funny how we like to cling to routines one way or another. I imagine what it might have been like for my grandmother who was about 13 during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918. What did she experience? I’m really glad we have the ability to connect through technology that wasn’t available back then.
Mrs D: What would you say to people who are struggling with alcohol while they're in lockdown?
Matt: I would say take an opportunity to have a break from it. It is very scary and confronting, but life can be easier and better without it. You can’t gain any true perspective on how alcohol is affecting your life, or what things might be like without a real break from it. Connect with others on Loving Sober and grab all the support you can to get you through the early difficult days. It gets easier. One day you alcohol will hold no power over your life and you will be so grateful.
Mrs D: What's in this photo you've shared with us?
Matt: This is me losing Battleships to Miss 6.
Mrs D: Anything else you'd like to add?
Matt: Kia kaha! Kia maia! Kia manawanui! Be strong! Be brave! Be steadfast!