It’s an odd time. We are each having our own version of a shared experience these days. I feel  united and separated all at once; we are alone together.

I used to wonder what people who didn’t drink did with all their time. Like, beside not drinking. I remember looking at the lit windows of our many Mormon neighbours, assuming they’d be doing wholesome things with their evenings. Did they just sit on the couch and watch tv with their hands folded in their laps? What was going on over there? What was it like to move through life without being attached to a stem glass?

Now I know. I have a teacup, a paintbrush, a pencil within reach and I don’t miss the wine.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

I spoke with someone the other day who is now in that place herself, trying to imagine life without wine.

“Really?” she asked. “Do you actually stop thinking about it at some point? Does it ever feel normal to not have it?”

Yes, it really does. I plop on the couch to watch Survivor and am delighted to have my SleepyTime Vanilla tea. On a hot afternoon, I love a glass of tonic water or an iced decaf with a bit of vanilla and sugar. Alcohol takes up zero brain space for me now.

It’s a good thing, because there’s a lot of space and time to fill.

I’ve felt my interests drift and shift over the past 60+ days of isolating at home. I went through a puzzle stage, a letter-writing stage, a baking stage, and added several shows to my completed binge list (Shameless, Sopranos, Tiger King, Orthodox, and most of Letterkenny). 

I painted so many bookmarks and tiny watercolours that I had to post them on Instagram for giveaways. (Follow my feed at @jeanmccarthy_writes if you’d like to jump in on my next round – I sent bookmarks and a personal note to anyone who wanted one until all of the items were spoken for. It’s a nice way to connect with people and say thanks for following along.)

My husband and I have also been having fun leaving surprises for our grandsons on their doorstep. You can see those on my Instagram feed as well – homemade custom Lego kits, a treasure hunt of painted rocks, and other fun ideas.

Doing little things for others really helps with the blues, as long as I don’t get into the codependency trap of over-doing for others > expecting accolades > feeling disappointed > building resentments. I learned about this from reading Codependent No More (Amazon affiliate link) and it was a real eye opener.

There’s one more thing I’ve done and it’s kind of a biggie.

I’ve been writing a new novel these last months and had hoped to have the first draft done by June. This is not happening, not at all. It was moving along pretty well over the winter but since the pandemic has unfolded, I’ve barely written a word. It’s meant to be a contemporary story about quitting drinking, but I can’t shake the feeling that the world exists differently now and I don’t know it well enough to write about it yet. 

Then something unexpected took shape. My novel included a character who writes poetry, so I’d created a few poems for the book. Once I started writing poems, they kept coming. I’ve pulled back from songwriting since I quit drinking and I didn’t think I missed it. But poetry seems to have reawakened the pleasure that exists in finding just the right words, in reducing an emotion or experience down to its essence.

I only needed two poems for the novel, but wrote more than fifty. I couldn’t stop. 

I laid them out across the floor and sorted them by theme, and realized that I’d written about the trajectory of losing myself and finding my way back, telling the story in bits and pieces. 

The Ember Ever There by Jean McCarthy

The result is a book that will be released in June, “The Ember Ever There: Poems on Change, Grief, Growth, Recovery, and Rediscovery.” As of today the ebook is available for preorder (Amazon affiliate link) and the print book will soon follow.

I’ve been telling people that I was trying to write a novel and accidentally wrote a poetry book. The release date is mid June, more info to follow. You can also learn more at

Stay well, everyone. I hope your recovery is serving you well through this difficult time and if not, please reach out. You don’t have to do this alone, even in isolation.