I call it the pit. It is the depth of alcoholic despair where I would go as I sobered-up after drinking too much. It was an ensnaring web of depression and anxiety that left me debilitated – unwilling and unable to function. I’ll never forget that feeling. The memory both haunts me, and lifts me up solidifying my permanent sobriety.
Alcoholism isn’t about excesses, financial problems or legal issues. Alcoholism is about pain.
Alcoholism is a disease. It is a mental-health crisis as both our subconscious mind and our neurotransmitter function are hijacked by the liquid poison. It isn’t about willpower or moderation. We alcoholics can heal, but we require – we deserve – treatment and understanding.
It is almost universally agreed within the recovery community that sobriety isn’t enough. The opposite of addiction isn’t abstinence. The opposite of addiction is connection. Finding a network of people who have experienced the pit of alcoholic despair is as fundamental to recovery as choosing not to drink alcohol. Connection is the oxygen that rewires our brains and keeps us hopeful in the face of long odds and catastrophic memories. Connection moves us forward.
Here in Denver, it was announced last week that our public school district will return to full in-person learning in the fall (with an online alternative for families who choose to stay home). The announcement has met with swift and harsh criticism. How will we keep the kids safe and healthy? What about the teachers and support staff? Is there really anyone, anywhere, CDC or otherwise, who considers putting over a thousand people together in the same building safe right now?
These are valid, scary, serious questions. I have those same questions, too. But I support the decision to return to in-person learning, because our public schools represent so much more than traditional education. Many students receive mental health services, physical health treatment and two meals per day in our public schools. These are the very most essential of services, and I fear the damage we’ll do if we don’t return our kiddos to the support they need to thrive.
Connection. It is not just a fundamental aspect of recovery from alcoholism. It is a fundamental requirement for healthy growth and development. Kids need connection. Adults need connection. This is neither political, nor in dispute. We humans thrive on connection. I’m so glad to see us giving our mental health the priority it deserves when weighing alternatives and making these most crucial of decisions. COVID-19 kills in many ways. The virus itself is the most obvious threat, but we cannot survive without money to buy essentials, and deteriorating mental health is deadly as well.
One recent study estimates that over 150k Americans could die from the mental health crisis caused by the pandemic. Well Being Trust and the Robert Graham Center call them “Deaths of Despair,” and they result from alcohol and drug misuse or suicide. I have no idea how accurate this projection is. I’ve watched the projections of the deaths directly attributed to the virus swing wildly as we learn and advance. No one knows for sure what the extremely tragic end result will be. One thing is crystal clear, however. The virus itself is only one of the threats. The devastated economy and the isolation are serious killers, too. They just might do more damage than the virus, and they need to be taken most seriously.
Last weekend, I played soccer with my kids and a couple of other families from the neighborhood. We didn’t wear masks (I haven’t figured out how to do that when exercising), but we did keep our distance during water breaks. I know both of these families well, and I know they take the virus seriously and are being as safe as possible. It was a risk, interacting with other humans in this way. But I felt so incredibly good when we were done – we all did. It is a risk I think we were justified in taking. Good friends need connection to stay healthy. I have no regrets about our time on the pitch together.
I’m ready to reconnect live and in person. I most sincerely want to know what you think. I’m planning to host an in-person sober evolution mocktail party in July here in Denver. We will require masks, and we will be on the rooftop deck of a local art gallery. We will keep it within the maximum number set by the city of Denver, and there will be lots of space for us to spread out. I don’t think anyone objectively thinks 25k unmasked people, shoulder to shoulder, screaming in an indoor arena is a good idea. But what do you think of my idea?
We’ll sell tickets to cover the gallery rental, pay for food and beverages, and as a fundraiser for our nonprofit, Stigma. Probably $25. I don’t envision a formal presentation or question and answer session. Just connection. Delicious zero-proof beverages and a chance to meet and talk to others evolving into sobriety.
Would you attend? If you live in or around Denver, will you attend? Does this feel like a safe space to you? Is the connection worth the risk to you? How important is your mental health, and how at risk do you feel in isolation?
I really want to know. Won’t you please share your opinion in the comments? If you would prefer that your opinion remain private, please send me a message at matt@SoberAndUnashamed.com. Seriously. You. I want to hear from you.
Doesn’t this feel like a test? Not my question to you specifically, but living life in 2020 overall. We have serious decisions to make with massive consequences, and we have no history on which to base our choices.
Here’s one thing I know for sure. My fear of lost connection, of deteriorating mental health, that fear grows everyday. I have a healthy respect for the virus, but my family is not in a high-risk demographic, so I want to be part of getting us reconnected. The survival of so many depends on it.
If you’d like to connect with my friends and me on our path to sober evolution, please check out SHOUT Sobriety. Drinking won’t solve your current set of problems, no matter what they are. Let’s get healthy together.
If you believe in our mission to crush the stigma of alcoholism, and you want to be part of this sober evolution, please consider making a financial contribution to our fully-tax-deductible nonprofit, Stigma. Please donate now!