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What It’s Like to Be in Substance Abuse Recovery During a Crisis

Eight Row chef David Nichols shares thoughts about the importance of mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic

A dark, empty restaurant with a wooden table in the foreground
David Nichols discusses the difficulties of dealing with recovery, while also facing professional challenges during a pandemic.
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, our collective physical health has taken center stage — but we cannot forget the importance of mental health. For those of us who are in recovery or currently battling addiction, that focus becomes even more necessary in a crisis.

As both a restaurant owner and someone in recovery, lately, my entire life has been about adapting to rapid change. I can longer depend on many of the cornerstones of my recovery in the same way. Meetings with my therapist, for instance, as well as meetings of Ben’s Friends — the Seattle chapter of a national organization devoted to helping people in the restaurant industry with recovery — have both moved online to Zoom meetings.

The hustle of daily service at my Green Lake restaurant, Eight Row, was a dependable part of my routine. But I don’t have that anymore. We’re still open for to-go orders, but the energy is much different. Instead of a thrilling commotion, it’s more like a low hum. My fiancee and I sit in the restaurant, waiting for to-go orders to come in, listening to a chill playlist instead of the welcome chatter of a full dining room. There are things to do, but the excitement of the regular service is missing. It’s underwhelming and disheartening.

There is so much at stake, though: Losing staff members, not being able to pay the bills, not being able to reopen at all are real possibilities. As monotonous as these days have become, I’m trying to keep these things in mind to stay motivated.

But the challenges of feeling isolated are daunting, especially for addicts. The times when my drinking was at its worst, I wouldn’t go out to bars — it was me drinking alone in my apartment. The addict in me was at its best when alone, because no one was around to question it or offer some kind of distraction from it, and I could continue to drink uninhibited, slipping deeper into despair and self-loathing. I am so far from those desperately isolated times now, but the correlations between drinking and social distancing remain.

That’s why, as we cope with the coronavirus crisis, it has never been more important to keep in touch with people. We just have to get creative in the ways that we do so. Technology allows us to connect to people anywhere and everywhere, and if you’re struggling, there are people out there who can help. While the online experience for Ben’s Friends has certainly taken some getting used to, moving to Zoom has already produced something positive in terms of how people (like me) connect and receive help. Most Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step recovery meetings are also available online, while social media provides opportunities for people to connect even further.

“Taking it one day at a time” is a well-worn phrase for those in recovery, but it is as important for me now as it was when I started this journey. Getting sober included a complete collapse of routines and behaviors on which I’d come to depend: drinking, drugging, working hard and playing hard. I had to change the way I did everything then, just as I’m having to change now.

But experiencing the effects of COVID-19 as a business owner and a person in recovery is a lot like experiencing the first part of sobriety. I am able to use the tools I learned when I first started getting sober as I weather this storm. That includes accepting and adapting to life on its own terms, while cultivating the desire to help others and, in turn, help myself.

I have dreamed of owning a restaurant for a long time, and seven months ago, that dream became a reality. But it’s now in very real danger of disappearing, and that scares me. But failure is sometimes a part of the journey: I’ve had relapses before, and though difficult to navigate and humbling to salvage, life can and does persist in the face of failure.

For many of us — those who are in recovery, wrestling with mental health issues, and working in the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic — that same fear of failure prevails right now. It may feel like the world is crumbling beneath our feet. But imagine the ground underneath you is in fact crumbling: What would you do? Instinctively, of course, you’d reach your hands out and grab whatever you could. That’s what we have to be willing to do now — reach out, dig deep, find new safety nets, and create new ways of staying busy and being of service.

There are others who are going through exactly what I’m going through, and that very connection is what sustains me now. When we reach out, we not only gain something for ourselves, but we also give hope to those with whom we are connecting: I’m thinking of you; I care about you; I’m here for you.

This is a message not just for people in recovery, but everyone: We are each other’s best resources. Even if you don’t struggle with addiction or issues of mental health, you may know someone who does. Reach out to that person. Reach out to everyone.


Resources for those in recovery or dealing with substance abuse include Ben’s Friends (for those in the food and beverage industry) and Alcoholics Anonymous. If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.

Eight Row

7102 Woodlawn Avenue Northeast, , WA 98115 (206) 294-3178 Visit Website

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