Ten days ago, when restaurants and bars in Denver were ordered to close seating areas, but allowed to stay open for delivery and carryout only, I said to my wife, “They’ll never close liquor stores. They’ll have riots on their hands.” I thought about the double whammy liquor store owners would face. Not only would they have weeks of lost revenue, but they’d have thousands of dollars in glass repair expenses after nightly break-ins. We talked about the idea with pathetic chuckles, but there was nothing funny about it. I believed every word of our discussion.
Two days ago, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock ordered all liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries closed as part of the city’s “stay home” restrictions. Lines immediately wrapped around the block outside liquor stores and pot shops as consumers panic-bought as much as they could fit in their vehicles. When asked for a comment regarding liquor store closings, Mayor Hancock told reporters, “As much as I might think it’s essential for me, it’s not essential for everyone.” In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and as he tried to enact measures to keep people home and stop the spread, and while he was making decisions that would crush our local economy and bankrupt small business owners, he made a joke about his own alcohol dependence? Isn’t that what calling alcohol, “essential for me,” means?
The order was reversed within hours as the mayor realized his decision was causing people to jam into liquor stores ahead of the designated closing time with complete disregard for social distancing. His order to close liquor stores actually accelerated the spread of the virus because people crowded together to get their booze.
The fear of sobriety is far greater than the fear of a deadly, unknown virus without a cure.
I read every news story I could find on the debacle. Every article was the same. They all pointed to the long lines and risk of exposure as the reason the decision was reversed, but I could find no commentary whatsoever on the patheticness of the situation. It is pathetic that no one in the mayor’s office anticipated the very obvious reaction the order would create. It is even more pathetic that no one reporting the story had the courage to make even a hint of social commentary on how sad it is to see our society so dependent on addictive poisons. This was a one-day news story in Denver, forgotten as easily as it was reported. No deep thought. No wake-up call. Just an anomaly that filled 45 second in a producer’s rundown on the ten o-clock news.
I’m over three years sober, and I still feel regret everyday about the pain my drinking caused for me and my family. I scream from the highest rooftops and to anyone who will listen that alcohol is a poison in any quantity, and even moderate drinkers are doing untold damage to their brains, bodies and relationships. I talk incessantly about the more than 15 million alcoholics in America, and the three million annual alcohol related deaths worldwide. I am as anti-alcohol as a person can get. I do not believe, “To each his own,” nor, “Everything in moderation.” I believe alcohol is a scourge on society, and honesty and education is the only remedy.
But I believe the mayor made the right decision in reversing course and allowing liquor stores and pot shops to remain open, and not only for the reasons I discussed with my wife ten days ago. I believe leaving the liquor stores open is a matter of life and death.
In a discussion in our private, online forum for our SHOUT Sobriety program, one of the participants, a good friend of mine, told me about some of the things his wife is hearing from her friends in her group for codependents. As the isolation measures continue in an attempt to flatten the curve, alcoholics are drinking more and becoming more abusive to their loved ones. I believe it. As unemployment reportedly nears 30%, and uncertainty grows on so many fronts, drinkers only know one way to manage that stress. They drink.
And as scary and tragic as is the idea of abusive drinkers drinking more (and it is mega-scary and sad), do you know what is even scarier? Alcoholics losing their jobs and facing the unknown without access to their self-medication will get people killed – no exaggeration. If you want to see violence, take away an alcoholic’s income and his alcohol at the same time.
Let’s not forget that at a certain level of physical dependence, a level achievable not just by gutter drunks, but by high-functioning alcoholics as well, quitting cold-turkey leads to seizures and even death. Closing liquor stores, thus preventing people from ingesting poison, could kill alcoholics and the ones who dare get into their paths. Is there anything more pathetic than that?
Numbers don’t seem to matter. Fifteen million alcoholics is more people than suffer from cancer in this country. Three million alcohol-related deaths is a massive amount of avoidable, self-inflicted mortality.
Pictures won’t matter either. The one I used at the top of this post is one of hundreds available online of the lines outside liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries on one particular day in one medium-large sized town in America. This picture is one federal government order away from being repeated across the country with the commentary on our more deadly epidemic remaining silent despite what the pictures tell us.
As a nation, as a world, we are ignoring the epidemic hiding in plain sight. It is evident in our statistics. It is evident in our societal reactions to uncertainty. It lives in the words of the mayor of Denver who was trying to make a joke. Is he truly dependent on alcohol, or was he making fun of alcoholic dependency? Those are the only two options when the quote is, “As much as I might think it’s essential for me, it’s not essential for everyone.” Which is it, Mayor Hancock?
Either way, there is absolutely nothing funny about it. It is not funny three million times. It is not funny 15 million times. It is not funny standing in a blocks-long line on a Monday afternoon in Denver.
I’m going to keep shouting. I’m not going to let this incident die an unanalyzed death like every news outlet in Denver. I’m going to keep beating the drum and pointing out the tragedy for anyone who will look and listen. If you want to help me, I’m grateful. Share this post, sign-up for my email list, subscribe to my Untoxicated Podcast or make a financial donation to our nonprofit called Stigma. I’ll never stop, and God knows I can use all the help I can get.
But the thing that’s most important for you isn’t about spreading the word, at least not at first. What’s most important for you is to let the numbers and the pictures and the pathetic story sink into your life. Let it make an impact on you.
When you hear the idea of liquor stores closing because of the pandemic, does it send a chill of panic through you? When you consider that more people are afflicted with alcoholism than cancer, does it strike even a little bit of a sad chord? When you hear my mayor make jokes about his alcohol dependence, have you joked about your drinking, too?
I’m not just here to beat the drum and scream from the rooftops, I’m here for you. Our SHOUT Sobriety program for people early in the process of recovery offers real connection to real people, and all the tools I used to find my permanent sobriety. If you are ready, we are ready for you. SHOUT Sobriety is a donation-based program, and we ask all participants for a $25 per month recurring donation to support the mission to destroy the stigma associated with alcoholism. If you can’t ignore the pictures, if the statistics make an impact or if you don’t think dependence is funny any more, we are here for you.