By Yvonne Vávra
“It may take a village to raise a kid, but it takes a winery to homeschool one.”
That’s just one of the hundreds of memes circling through social media during the height of the pandemic.
“It’s called quarantine coffee. It’s just like normal coffee but it has margarita in it and also no coffee.”
That’s another one. Conan O’Brien asked: “Can we all agree to temporarily raise the bar for what’s considered an alcoholic?“ And while many of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s quotes are just as appropriate in our time as they were during the Great Depression, the one he reportedly said on the end of prohibition certainly hit the sweet spot of 2020: “What America needs right now is a drink.”
Apparently. Sales of alcoholic beverages in the US skyrocketed since we were ordered to stay at home. Wine sales rose 66% over the previous year in the week ending March 21, the market research firm Nielsen reported. Beer sales were up 42%, and harder liquor like tequila or gin even jumped up 75%. Like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, booze was flying off the shelves, and understandably so: The pandemic had everyone on edge, feeling not only their own but also the collective anxiety, prompting many to turn to the bottle for a break: In a study from Alcohol.org, 38% of New Yorkers admitted they were day-drinking during working hours.
“The reason many are drinking more during the pandemic has largely to do with uncertainty,” says Beej Christie Karpen, a certified coach, mindfulness-based therapist, and long-time Upper West Sider. “Most of us don’t do well with uncertainty. It scares us, and the pandemic has really brought that to the forefront.”
Karpen had become curious about why people overdrink during her studies at NYU where she designed a mindful drinking program. Later she became a meditation instructor and eventually implemented her idea for mindful and self-compassionate drinking practices in free meetings for women as part of Moderation Management, a support network for people learning to reduce their drinking to healthier levels.
“When the pandemic hit, I moved our in-person meeting to Zoom, and all of a sudden we started getting people from all over the country,” says Karpen. As it seemed, a lot of women were taking stock of their alcohol consumption and had started worrying that they were drinking too much. “People were really addressing their drinking and taking the time to do some self-examination. So I started to also offer my Conscious Drinking Workshop on Zoom”.
Karpen follows the Harm Reduction approach that empowers the individual to set their own goals. “It’s not about encouraging people to stop drinking, but rather to figure out individually how much alcohol use feels ok to them. I’m offering tools that can help participants access their inner wisdom around drinking; a mindfulness approach that can help them reduce stress in all areas of their lives”.
But how do we even know if we may have been drinking a little too much to cope with the quarantine stress?
“I found that most people are not in denial, but have a sense that they may be drinking too much, because it doesn’t feel good. Maybe they are not waking up as clear-headed as they used to, or they don’t like the feeling of depending on something, and they’re having a hard time reining in the habits on their own.”
The workshops are all about bringing the unconscious to the conscious and becoming aware: of how much we are actually drinking, of what the craving feels like, what triggers the stress and the habit-loop, and what kind of reward we are truly after. Participants get to know the inner critic, the inner negotiator, and the inner rebel: How are these parts talking to us, what are their tactics? Are they bullies or are they nice? Trying to be our friends or shame us?
Karpen herself has experienced the pandemic in the Upper West Side as mindfully and curiously as her long-standing meditation practice has taught her. “I have a lot of disaster preparedness tools and know that life is always in flux,” she says. “The root cause of most suffering and stress is wanting things to be different than they are. But if you just accept what is happening and start to view it with a sense of curiosity, you might find that gentle curiosity is the antidote to stress!”
The next “Conscious Drinking 101: A Group Coaching Workshop for Women” starts Thursday, September 15th. You can learn more here. Beej also offers free meditation classes via Zoom on Tuesday Mornings. Click here for information.