Sober Parenting During the Pandemic

Photo credit: Mhrezaa via Unsplash

I got sober in 2009. At the time, my now-oldest son was two years old. After I dedicated myself to putting my recovery first, I accomplished quite a bit. I went back to school. I got married. I got a dream job, was let go of that dream job, started a business, added another kid to the family (10 years after the first one!), and on and on. 

I also experienced hardship and heartache. My grandfather—the man who raised me—passed away right before the birth of my youngest son. My husband was laid off right after we bought a house. I went through postpartum depression and anxiety after the birth of my youngest son. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder not long after that. The overt racism and killing of young Black people splayed all over the news, and social media took its toll on my multi-race family. 

Life—the good, the difficult, the hard, the beautiful, the devastating—all continued on as I remained sober. I moved through the ebbs and flows and relied on my recovery tools to see me through. 

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To be honest, life began for me when my recovery started. Previous to 2009, I felt like life was happening to me, and I didn’t know how to stop it. But once I decided to quit drinking and live in a new, healthier way, I found that I gained agency over my circumstances. And even when things happened outside of my control, I had tools, friends, a recovery community, and guidance to see me through. 

That is, until March 2020, when my city—and subsequently the rest of the world—shuttered to a halt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I, like many others, thought we might be on lockdown for a month or so, then return to normal. As the situation progressed through, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the pandemic’s end date was nowhere in sight. 

Many of my recovery tools seemed to disappear in those first few months. My program was mostly in-person, and there were no talks of switching to online options at that time. I was in the process of finding a new therapist, a process that ultimately came to a halt since everything closed down. I couldn’t meet friends out for tea or a bookshop date since no one really understood the virus at the time, and we were all fearful of getting together. 

The recovery tools that I did have access to—my mindfulness practice, reading, and many self-care practices—also came to a halt, but for another reason: I am a mother. 

I found myself homeschooling a teenager and fully responsible for a preschooler whose school was shut down, all while trying to manage my own business and my recovery. 

In the wake of a global catastrophe where I was trying to raise my children, navigate the ever-changing situation, and manage my business, it seemed as though my recovery had moved to the back of the list of priorities. Beforehand, it had always been first, and I kept it first because I knew—and know to this day—that the beauty that exists in my life does so because I am sober and am fully present to experience it.

I kept seeing scary statistics about parents and women: over 140,000 women leaving the workforce in December of 2020 to tend to their caretaking duties, among other reasons. More and more women and mothers specifically, drinking as a coping mechanism to deal with the pandemic. It was clear to me that parents, especially those who were mostly responsible for the caretaking of their children, were at a breaking point. 

I failed to see the unique situation of being a sober parent navigating the pandemic in the news, and I felt wildly alone. 

Here I was, this parent experiencing all of these things that so many others were experiencing during the pandemic, and I had the added responsibility of maintaining my recovery, something I believe to be an active, daily practice. Only I had no way of doing so and no immediate example of how to put sobriety first amid a long-term, high-stress situation. I felt wildly alone and quickly realized that my tools might not work. My tools were made to withstand hardship and happiness, trial and triumph, but these were tools and tricks passed down to me by others who had used them and succeeded. Not a single one of us had developed tools to withstand such a level of ongoing stress. 

Sober parenting had encroached into new territory, and it’s territory that other sober parents and I are still navigating together. 

Parenting during the pandemic has been the single most trying experience I have had when it comes to maintaining my recovery. Though I don’t and haven’t thought about drinking or using, recovery is more about holistic wellness to me. I’ve found that maintaining my physical and mental well-being has been nearly impossible at various points along the pandemic journey. Both are tied directly to my ongoing recovery and, thus, my sobriety. 

I have also learned really valuable lessons in sober parenting, though. First and foremost, I still do not need to drink to cope even amid the global crisis. I’ve spent countless hours crying, bingeing Netflix, scrolling IG, screaming into my pillow, staying up way too late just to get some alone time, scheduling online recovery meetings and virtual tea dates with friends, sending my kids out into the backyard to play alone, and setting fierce boundaries around my personal space and time, but I have not needed to drink. 

I don’t find any solace in that fact because things are still hard as I continue to pivot and transition as the pandemic morphs and changes, but I know that one day, I will look back on this time and be grateful that I got through it sober. 

In the meantime, life looks very different than it once did. Being a sober parent meant that I had to find a way to put my recovery first, which looked like using lunch breaks for online recovery meetings and chats with other folks in recovery. It also meant finding safe ways to meet up with other moms in recovery to vent it all out. Over time, I realized that staying up super late and bingeing Netflix, while useful in the moment, wasn’t a long-term solution for my well-being, especially if I wanted to be a present and active parent. So I put my phone away at a set time like I did pre-pandemic, and I go to bed early so that I can get up early and have some time to center myself, and then I start my day with my kids (both of whom are back in school in person). 

It also meant that I had to learn and truly embody that it is okay not to be okay. Parenting in this pandemic without the veil of alcohol means that I have been perpetually uncomfortable at every turn and have learned that I control absolutely nothing. That whole “go with the flow” adage, which I’ve always hated and found trite, resonates a little more in this new normal. 

* * *

I don’t know what this next pandemic season will bring, but I hope to hear more stories about how sober parents are getting through. I do know that I can continue to show up for my kids sober. I might be a harried, anxious mess on some days, but still sober nonetheless.

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