Addiction in isolation: The challenges of finding sobriety in the COVID-19 era

Andy Downing
Ludovic Nicolaidis, aka LethalFX

In the weeks before Gov. Mike DeWine issued his “stay at home” order, Ludovic Nicolaidis, otherwise known as beatboxer LethalFX, attended his first group meetings in an effort to kick his decade-long addictions to cocaine and alcohol.

“I did a show on February 28, and I remember telling myself that I wasn’t going to drink because I wanted to be coherent [onstage],” Nicolaidis, 32, said recently by phone. (The musician also sent two emails of accumulated thoughts, explaining, “I’ve never been great talking about my problems.”) “But after the performance I started drinking. And then I went to an afterparty where I got kind of shitty with some of my friends, and I ended up driving home blackout drunk. The next day I woke up and I was just embarrassed. I started crying and called my dad, who’s been sober for 30 years, and I told him, ‘Dad, I’m starting to realize this has become a real problem.’

“For a long time, I thought it was a social thing and that everybody was in the same party that I was. I didn’t realize it was a loop I was stuck in.”

After talking with his father (both of Nicolaidis’ parents have a history with addiction, and his mom continues to drift in and out of rehab), the musician attended his first group meetings. He said he found it easier to discuss his issues in these face-to-face interactions, which were abruptly taken away amid coronavirus-driven shutdowns, adding an unexpected layer of complexity to an already challenging journey.

“I liked going to the meetings. The meetings felt great, comfortable. I probably attended four before the lockdown went into place,” said Ludovic, who, prior to early March, consumed as much as a pint of bourbon a day, in addition to a cocaine habit. “I know there are Zoom meetings and things, but being in the room and being able to share with like-minded folks is helpful. … The meetings felt like they gave me more of a purpose.”

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Adding to the strain, Nicolaidis wasn’t working in the early weeks of the shutdown, which meant he’d often spend his days alone at home, sitting with an anxiety that he had masked for years with drugs and alcohol. The conditions made it easier for the musician to bargain with himself, at times, and absent responsibilities the days and nights could blur. “I didn’t care what time I fell asleep, or when I woke up,” he said. “And that’s how it’s easier for people to hit rock bottom, because the less you have to lose the less you have to worry about.”

In the past, Nicolaidis would have used this downtime to create. In addition to recording and performing as LethalFX, the musician was part of now-defunct Squirple (he blames his drinking for its demise). But adapting to sobriety amid “stay at home” orders, he often found this inspiration waning. 

“I did a couple of livestreams, but other than that I wasn’t very motivated to make music,” Nicolaidis said. “It would have been the ideal time to do it, but I didn’t feel creative. Most of the time I just sat there with the blinds closed, even on a good day.”

Absent the usual addiction resources, Nicolaidis has relied on friends to help him through these trying early days, particularly Douglas Cuckler, aka Wonder Doug, who haspreviously discussed his own path to sobriety. Nicolaidis said the shutdown did offer one silver lining, though: with bars and venues closed, the temptation to drink was reduced, removing the social crutch that could disguise his addictions.

The pause also allowed time for self-reflection, giving Nicolaidis a needed chance to “slow down and realize, ‘Whoa, I can’t keep living like this or I won’t be living much longer,’” as he wrote in a June follow-up email. “As much as I didn’t know it, I needed this time to focus on myself and my art and where I want to be.”

In more recent weeks, Nicolaidis has returned to his job, which added some needed structure to his days. He’s also started to again feel that familiar creative urge, launching the LoJack Experience with singer/songwriter Jack McCarthy, in addition to creating new solo tracks, the most recent of which takes its inspiration from his early steps into sobriety. 

“The first [group] meeting I attended, I heard someone say, ‘When one door closes, another door opens,’” said Nicolaidis, who just kind of nodded along in the moment, having heard the expression countless times. “But then they followed up with, ‘But it damn sure is hell in the hallway.’”

Nicolaidis’ most recent single, “Hell in the Hallway,” takes its title from the moment. He plans to release the song in early August, the first in a series of tracks that take a far more personal approach than anything he’s done in the past.

“Honestly, there’s just a lot of stuff in my head and I want to get it out,” he said. “I know I’m not the only person going through this, even right here in this city. And maybe some of them haven’t realized it’s a problem yet, or don’t want to admit it, which is where I’ve been the last 10 years or so myself. … It feels nice to talk about it and be open, because then more people can reach out and share their stories, and maybe that gets more people to think about living.”

If you're currently struggling with addiction you can contact your local Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board to receive information about treatment options.