I Gave Up Drinking During Quarantine—Here’s Why

Though I usually enjoy a nightly glass of wine (or two), I'm not drinking while sheltering in place—and I'm better off for it.

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Courtesy Kristin ZazulaDon’t get me wrong, I love my wine (malbec in winter and rosé in summer) and my cocktails (margaritas and Moscow mules are two of my regular go-to’s). I will usually have a drink three to five times a week with dinner. I enjoy the way alcohol makes my brain a little fuzzier, turns funny things funnier, and relaxes the hold that constant worries tend to have on my mind. Ina Garten with her giant martini glass is my new hero, and I also love all the day-drinking coronavirus memes. These all-too-relatable working from home cartoons might also make you think that cocktails at 5 o’clock (or earlier) sound like a good idea.

While I didn’t set out with the intention of not drinking for the now three-plus weeks my home state of Connecticut has been sheltering in place, as it turns out, it’s a happy accident.

How I got here

I started my third round of Whole30 (an elimination diet that includes, among other things, cutting out all booze) on March 9, a date I had selected weeks before the coronavirus pandemic halted life as we knew it in the United States. I do a Whole30 round once a year, as a way to reset bad eating habits. This time, I was focused on getting my healthy eating back on track after the holidays, a winter full of snowy-day glasses of red wine, my daughter’s deliciously chocolatey fifth-birthday cake, and a weekend in Vermont with my husband when many, many cocktails and glasses of wine were consumed.

While the COVID-19 panic was starting to build, at the time, the idea of our schools and offices shutting down completely seemed like a remote possibility. By Friday, March 13, my children’s school had closed for the upcoming week and my office announced that all employees must begin working remotely. (I’m an editor at RD.com.) All the while I was reading labels to make sure I wasn’t accidentally eating anything with sugar or other non-compliant Whole30 foods, passing on cheese or crackers as a snack and studiously avoiding alcohol. Even just a week into my 30 days, I was really liking the way I was feeling, and I knew a large part of that was because I wasn’t drinking alcohol.

Alcohol and me

Courtesy Anne L. FritzSee, I have a bit of a complicated relationship with alcohol. Ever since I started drinking as a teenager (buying booze with a fake ID or sneaking it out of a liquor cabinet that belonged to my parents or a friend’s parent), I’ve always had a hard time knowing when to say when. This has resulted in hangovers, with more pounding headaches than I can count, including as I got older calling in sick with what my friends and I would jokingly refer to as a “cocktail flu.”

While I have gotten better about knowing and acknowledging my limits since becoming a mom seven years ago, it’s still all too easy for one glass of wine to become two. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only time I ever have one glass of wine is when the bottle is low or empty. It’s a conscious effort not to let two glasses turn into three.

The benefits of not drinking during the quarantine

When I tell my close friends that I’m not drinking while we’re all stuck at home for weeks on end, they all express surprise. After all, for years, I was the one to call when you wanted a fun night out or even just a night in with a bottle of wine. But I’m not drinking right now—and I don’t plan to—even though my Whole30 round is officially over.

Here are some of the important reasons why:

  • I get along better with my husband when I’m sober. When I drink alcohol, I notice that often it loosens up my tongue. I can’t—or won’t—bite it when my husband does little things that annoy me, like chew too loudly or serve the salad in a square bowl instead of the round. Life is hard enough in quarantine when we’re together 24/7, and if I were to nitpick our quarantine life would be miserable.

  • I’m a better parent. As we’ve transitioned to “distance learning” for Leopold, who is in the first grade, and Nola, who is in Pre-K4, it has been a challenge, to say the least. Besides the fact that no one wants a hungover homeschool teacher, the unexpected disruption to their routine has been hard on both of them, particularly my five-year-old. Nola doesn’t fully understand what’s going on or how to express her feelings constructively (though I’m doing my best to help her). She has resorted to throwing near-daily tantrums for things as minor as not being able to squeeze the glue out of the bottle or when we tell her that her iPad time is up. Her tantrums are trying on my patience, and I actively have to work to hold in my anger and tears. If I were to factor in having a headache or being overly tired, I’m certain I would give in to those feelings and yell. Both my children deserve a mother who is fully present, and I can better give them that when alcohol is removed from the picture. After all, family time is one of the 12 wonderful things that will never be canceled.

sober quarantineCourtesy Anne L. Fritz

  • Not drinking helps me stick to a routine—including waking up at 6 a.m. most weekdays to exercise. My gym, Burn Boot Camp in Fairfield, Connecticut, has been live-streaming classes at 6:30 a.m. on Facebook. I feel better when I sweat, get my heart rate up, and boost my feel-good hormones. I also crave the sense of normalcy and community that exercising virtually with my regular instructors, and alongside my regular classmates, provides me. When we’re done, everyone shares a “sweaty selfie” in the comments. (Check out one of mine above.)

  • Lastly, I need to have the energy and awareness to be able to work. I’ve worked from home on and off for a decade, and I know that having a schedule is one of the golden rules of working from home. Even so, this time is different and harder than ever before, as I also have to factor in time to homeschool my kids and fend off their never-ending stream of requests and interruptions. I’m squeezing in work at all hours of the day whenever and however I can—including in the morning before exercising, in the early evening while my husband cooks dinner and the kids are watching their iPads, and after they go to bed. If I were drinking and my brain was fuzzy, none of that would be possible.

What I do instead of drinking

When I need to relax and unwind after having a particularly stressful day or getting yet another devastating coronavirus news alert beeped to my phone, I will take two Natural Vitality Natural Calm Capsules. It’s made with magnesium glycinate, which the brand claims offers “an overall sense of calm.” It’s not exactly the equivalent of a glass of wine, but it does help me to relax. It even makes me a little sleepy, and I like its lavender aftertaste. If I can’t fall asleep or stay asleep, I take melatonin, which always does the trick for me. These are more of the top sleep products on Amazon.

sober quarantineCourtesy Anne L. Fritz

I do dream of the day when I will drink again. I also fantasize about going to the store without Clorox wipes, taking a road trip to see my mom (that’s me and her above), and being able to hug all my friends again. When I do, I picture myself surrounded by friends on our deck on a warm summer evening, toasting with a glass of wine. Until then, that bottle is staying put in the fridge.

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Anne Fritz
Anne L. Fritz is senior digital editor at Reader's Digest where she writes and edits mainly travel and pet content, along with shopping guides. She has worked at Woman's Day, Life & Style, Seventeen, EverydayHealth.com, WhattoExpect.com and more. She earned a BA in Magazine Journalism from Syracuse University.