Museum of America in the Pandemic Year, 2020

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Apr 29: A “GOP Coronavirus memo, written by the strat com company, O’Dell & Associates, goes public, instructing the GOP on how they can blame the pandemic on China and the Democrats. Federal trials find that an antiviral drug from Giliad Sciences called Remdesivir can speed recovery from COVID-19. Bloomberg reports that the Trump Administration is working on a program called “Operation Warp Speed.” to speed up the development of a vaccine. *

From the Cutting Room Floor...

I woke up this morning thinking about Dr. Breen’s suicide, and how everyone is struggling to keep their head straight. Four people I know, myself included, could probably benefit from a prescription for Zoloft. I am aware that I am drinking more than usual to medicate myself through the days. It is both dismaying and comforting to read in the news that I’m not alone, and that alcohol consumption has tripled in the last two months.

As one scholar puts it, drinking in moments of crisis is a “manifestation of emotional distress.”[1] At the same time, it seems to do something devilish to anxiety levels the next day. As I set down to nurse my coffee and my mild headache, I see an email from an old friend in my inbox. Evidently, he has picked now to join AA and get sober. I am proud of him.



[1] Ali Haggett, “Gender, Stress, and Alcohol Abuse in Post-War Britain,” in Stress in Post-War Britain, 1945–85, ed. Mark Jackson, Wellcome Trust–Funded Monographs and Book Chapters (New York (NY): Routledge, 2015),

Contributors' Voices

You asked me yesterday what it has been like to get sober during a pandemic. In early March, on my 46th birthday, I polished off a bottle of Jameson and a bottle of Jägermeister in four hours.

When I woke up the next morning, I was levelled by this overwhelming depression and anxiety. For the first time, I had real thoughts of suicide. I hated myself and all that I had become, all that I had lost. I realized that I was standing on the edge of a knife, facing a life or death choice, maybe the last choice I had to make.

Why did it happen this time, and not when my wife left me for my drinking, or when I got the DUI? I think it was because I realized at that moment that my life had become completely unmanageable. Later, when I joined the program, what really hit a chord with me wasn’t so much that I was powerless against alcohol. No, the thought that got me, that made me want to get help, was that my life had become…no let me be honest… that my life had been unmanageable for my entire adult existence. I hadn’t assumed adult responsibilities. I had coasted through everything for the last 33 years, since I was 16 years-old, and probably earlier than that. I had a safety net with my parents and friends, and every single time I fucked up, I was bailed out. I appreciated it at the time, but it didn’t teach me to be a responsible adult.

What I have learned since then is that AA is really a course on how to live a manageable life and how to go to bed at night with a sense of integrity that comes from being honest and humble. It forces you to see the narcissism, egoism, controlling, and obsessive tendencies in yourself and recognize how alcohol makes those traits worse. Drinking made my ego huge. Drinking made me always right, even if I was full of shit.

Deciding to get sober during a pandemic was a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it made the drinking way worse. Before the virus, I drank at the bar, which meant that I was in a controlled environment that was limited by my budget (although sometimes I would run up a tab spending money that I didn’t have). When the virus hit, the bars all closed, which meant that I was buying liquor by the bottle and drinking it at home. I drank three times as much in those two weeks. It seems like everyone started drinking more heavily after the shutdown. We were all trying to numb the shock of it.

The virus also made getting help harder. After my birthday, when I decided that I had to do something, I took a couple of days to go through withdrawals. Then a friend sent me all the information that I needed about AA meetings on Zoom. At this point, all the meetings in person were shut down, so Zoom was the only option. That Saturday, I got on the computer and tried one Zoom meeting. It was absolutely ridiculous. There I am, staring at a screen with thirty-five other people and I’m trying to have that first, really hard conversation. I knew instantly that if I was going to succeed at this, it wasn’t going to be on the internet. I told a friend in the program that I was not going to be able to do AA if it was online. She pulled me aside and handed me a sheet of paper, “We are going to be at this location tomorrow at 8:30 in the morning. Just show up.” When I got there, there were nine other people there, and I knew six of them.

I have gone every day since. It is against the law to meet in person, but I wouldn’t be alive without it. We meet in the park every morning. Twice the cops have approached us. The first cop said that his father was in AA and the second had a brother in the program. They reminded us to keep our masks on and maintain social distance, and then they walked away. All I know now is that there are three things I need to do every day: don’t have a drink, go to a meeting, and talk to my sponsor. I am willing to risk this virus and the police to make those things happen.

On the positive side of the pandemic, once I got sober, the bars were closed. That trigger was just not there. On the first day, I got rid of all the alcohol in my house. So, with no alcohol at home and no bars, it meant that if I wanted to drink, I was going to have to leave my house and go to a liquor store to buy it. That delay gives you chance to reflect on what you’re doing and hopefully to make a better choice.

I have only really wanted a drink a couple of times since then. The first time was when my aunt died of COVID. The second time was when an old friend overdosed on heroine. He and I had ended our friendship on a bad note. I have a lot of regret that I never had a chance to bury the hatchet with him before he passed away. Drinking somehow goes hand in hand with dying, and it was tempting to have one at his funeral. But I realized that if I had a drink, I would have a bottle, and then the botte would have me, and the next thing you know I would be back where I was. That first drink really has to terrify you.


Yours, S

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NewsChannel 5. Alcohol Sales Spike during COVID-19 Pandemic, but It’s Not Just for Drinking, 2020.
Eater. How the Pandemic Transformed Drinking Culture, 2020.
News 8 WROC. Alcohol Sales Are up amid Pandemic, 2020.

*If the pdf thumbnails are not appearing, please reload the page.

Associated Press. “U.S. Online Alcohol Sales Jump 243% during Coronavirus Pandemic.” MarketWatch, April 2, 2020.
Hauck, Grace, Karl Gelles, Veronica Bravo, and Mitchell Thorson. “Three Months in: A Timeline of How COVID-19 Has Unfolded in the US,” April 29, 2020.
Jacobs, Jennifer, and Lydia Mulvany. “Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open in Move Unions Slam.” Bloomberg.Com, April 29, 2020.
Johnson, Chris, and Flavia M. Bedran. “Protein Processors Scramble To Adjust To Disruption From Pandemic.” S&P Global Ratings, April 29, 2020.
Lapin, Tamar. “Three New York Children with Coronavirus Have Rare Inflammatory Syndrome.” New York Post (blog), April 29, 2020.
Leonard, Wendy, and Amy Donaldson. “Wearing a Mask Is Becoming a Political Issue — Here’s Why.” Deseret News, April 29, 2020.
Macaulay, Thomas. “AI Model Predicts the Coronavirus Pandemic Will End in December.” Neural, April 29, 2020.
McGlone, Peggy. “Smithsonian Cuts Top Executives’ Pay in Move to Avoid Furloughs.” Washington Post, April 29, 2020.
Nixey, Catherine. “Death of the Office.” 1843, April 29, 2020.
Popova, Anton Zverev, Olga. “Coronavirus Lockdown Drives Jump in Vodka and Whisky Sales in Russia.” Reuters, April 9, 2020.
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* Timeline summaries at the top of the page come from a variety of sources:, including The American Journal of Managed Care COVID-19 Timeline (, the Just Security Group at the NYU School of Law (, the “10 Things,” daily entries from The Week (, as well as a variety of newspapers and television programs.