Healing the Wound

When I remember my drinking days, the pain is what comes up first. There was tremendous pain. It was pervasive. It seeped into every corner of my being, and it oozed out of me in all my relationships. I was capable of happiness, but it was always fleeting. It was never enduring.

I drank for one simple reason: it gave me relief from the pain. What I did not understand was that the relief was fleeting. The drinking did not do anything to help heal the pain. The wound remained. The drinking was a kind of Band Aid on my wound.

It’s no secret that my wound was my warped perceptions of what it meant to be gay. The ideas inculcated in me about homosexuality were not compatible with living a happy life. I grew up convinced that god hated gay people, and that gays were beyond god’s grace. I also had good reason to fear ostracism from my family if they knew I was gay. Finally, society allowed violence against gay people. Some portions of society even condoned it preaching that gays were beneath contempt and unworthy of safety and fulfilling lives.

I became an alcoholic, because I got relief from my pain when I drank. The pain was so great that I needed a lot of alcohol to relieve it, and I needed it daily.

The day came, however, when the pain became more than the alcohol could cover. That day I faced the fact that alcohol no longer worked. That day I also discovered that quitting drinking was not a simple matter. I am grateful that I found AA. With the help of the 12 Steps and with the love from a sponsor and other members of the program, I found a way to live without alcohol.

Sadly, the pain was still there. The wound went untreated. I lost the Band Aid that alcohol provided. My next course of action was to find a way to heal the real wound. I am grateful that I found therapy as a young adult. I continued it through the years, and it proved invaluable for healing my wound.

Meditation also helped me slowly change my perceptions of what being gay meant. I learned I am not an abomination. I learned god loves me. Most importantly, I learned to love myself.

Gradually, I healed.

And I discovered that when my wound healed, drinking became unnecessary. It’s not even the slightest issue. I go to gay bars these days and feel nothing. I have no compulsion to drink alcohol.

AA gave me the tools to stay away from alcohol, but the AA I was exposed to did not direct me to the tools I needed to heal the wound that caused me to drink. The AA that I was part of treated the drinking as if it was the wound. It taught me that not drinking was enough.

But it wasn’t enough. I needed to heal the wound. I had to find the ways to heal outside the rooms of AA.

I doubt I’m alone. I am confident when I say that alcoholics drink because it provides relief from a pain-causing wound. We need to stop drinking because it is a destructive way of treating the wound. It does not heal. It masks only.

We are doing a disservice by telling people that the pain will stop when the drinking stops. This wasn’t the case for me, and I know many people who agree. We need to do our part to help individuals stop drinking, but we also need to actively direct them to the places where they can heal their wounds.

After 18 years of sobriety, I’ve seen countless people return to drinking after a period of sobriety, and I am convinced it’s because they could not find a way to heal their wound. They return to using the only Band Aid they knew that gave them any amount of relief.

It’s not enough to stop drinking if we ignore the reason the drinking started. The drinking is only a Band Aid. It is not the wound.

Again, we need to actively help individuals find a way to heal their wounds.

[I have been thinking about this for a long time. I’m reluctant to share it, but I have experienced my words reaching others who feel the same but are unable to speak for various reasons, so I’ll share.]

Eighteen

This morning, I was leaning into the refrigerator to get the milk, and I was startled by a realization. Today is my eighteenth anniversary of getting sober.

Eighteen years is a long time. A lot of the memories are simply words now. The emotions attached to the words have faded. I remember searching for release from my demons. I thought liquor was the release. It wasn’t. It made matters worse. Sobriety and the steps and friends and therapy and medication for my mental illness and meditation gave me release.

Release certainly didn’t come in an instant. It took time. I slogged through years of depression trying one medication after another. None helped. When I was five years sober, I had a realization that I was attached to my suffering. I was able to slowly let go of my need to be sick.

It’s not an easy feat, but I’m not sick any more. I like being whole. I honestly love myself now, which is something I couldn’t imagine. I think I began to be completely comfortable with myself somewhere around thirteen or fourteen years of sobriety. I found unconditional love two years ago. It’s quite strong.

I don’t want to change anything about my past. I’m quite happy with my life now, and I have hopes that it will even get better. There’s still a few things I want to do.

My Bipolar and My Alcoholism

I have bipolar disorder with psychotic tendencies, and I also happen to be an alcoholic with twelve years of recovery. Which came first, the disease or the drinking? I’ll never know. I certainly started drinking many years before my diagnosis, and the doctors all say that I probably started drinking as a way of medicating the growing disease. The alternative flits around in the back of my mind: my drinking caused my disease. Perhaps that’s just another of my many forms of self-loathing showing itself.

I drank for many reasons, but one in particular can’t be ignored. Drinking numbed me. For short periods, it blocked from my mind the hatred I had for my homosexuality, the guilt I felt for my sham of a marriage, the shame I harbored for my shell of a life, the anger that seethed within me for my weaknesses, etc. After many years of recovery, I can say that I choose to believe the doctors. I drank also for the comfort it gave me in dealing with the mental illness that lay just below the surface of my mind. It smoothed the highs and the lows into a seamless, numb existence.

It didn’t work, however. I crashed as all of us do. The alcohol stopped working, and then the mental illness had nowhere to hide. I had a psychotic break that led to my diagnosis. I found help for my alcoholism in the rooms of A.A., and I found help for my mental illness through family, doctors, nurses, caseworkers, therapists, and friends. The treatments for both conditions have been quite different. On the one hand, A.A. provided me with the twelve steps that I had to rigorously apply to myself to learn to live daily without drinking. On the other hand, my bipolar disorder has been treated largely with medication.

There are similarities in the treatments. That’s in the way I have to take responsibility for my own actions and well-being. I am responsible for working the steps of A.A. to remain sober. I have to be honest with myself, my sponsor, and other members of the program in much the same way I have to be honest with my doctor, my caseworker, and my therapist. Both recoveries have a spiritual element for me personally. I meditate. I sit quietly for periods and let myself just breathe. I expect nothing from these sessions other than an awareness of where I am and what I’m trying to accomplish.

My bipolar disorder and my alcoholism are intertwined. I don’t understand it, nor do I worry about it. For today, I’m simply relieved that both are being treated.

Agoraphobia

A simple definition of agoraphobia is “a pathological fear of being in public places, often resulting in the sufferer becoming housebound.”

Yesterday was supposed to be a happy day of sorts for me. Instead, it was what I would describe as one long panic attack. I had to take my full daily prescribed dose of my anti-anxiety medication to make it through. Yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of my sobriety. Instead of feeling happy, joyous, and free, I experienced an elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, and thoughts of impending doom. The panic-attack-like symptoms lasted nearly all day.

I was extremely uncomfortable at the noon meeting I went to and had to sit on my hands to keep from standing and rushing out of the room. I was again uncomfortable during the evening meeting and could not keep my feet still. In both meetings, I had a hard time concentrating.

I have for many years had an unreasonable fear of parking lots. I hate them. I overcome this by having certain rows I go down at certain places, and I never vary. If I can’t park in my regular row, I don’t shop that day.

I have quit my volunteer position at the library’s learning center. I have quit another club I was a member of.

On a continuing note, I can’t watch TV. I simply can’t sit still for it, and I get feelings of high anxiety trying to watch it. I can’t even watch videos on the internet. They make me antsy in the extreme.

I don’t feel like I’m winning against my brain today. I feel broken.

Radical alterations to my world

I have a question in mind: What events in my life have radically altered me? A few come to mind very quickly, and then a few more get added, followed by more. So let’s just list them. They are not in any particular order of importance. They simply came to me this way.

Getting sober: really, without that, I have nothing. I was a daily drunk by the time I was twenty years old. My doctors have all said I was probably just self-medicating. Whatever the reason, as I thought it took the misery away, alcohol filled me with despair beyond description. Only in sobriety did I learn that it caused the misery.

Coming out of the closet: any GLBT person will tell you this changes everything. It freed me. And in the end, it led to my divorce. It gave me power, and it filled me with pain. Any GLBT person will also tell you that coming out is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. I took me five or six years to get comfortable with being gay, and another five years to become really happy about it.

The birth of my children: what parent isn’t radically altered by a birth? While there have been fits along the way, my children are central to the joy I have in my life today.

Being an exchange student: I spent my junior year of college abroad, and I have never looked at the world in the same way since. I see the diversity and truly love it. It wasn’t until I was submerged in a foreign land that I really understood what it meant to be from my home country.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder: a year and half after I got sober, I had a breakdown. It was painful and baffling. I at once knew that something was wrong, but couldn’t for the life of me bring myself to believe that it had something to do with my brain. I was furious with God and could not pray. Over the past years, much of what I had has been stripped away from me because of the disease. I hate mental illness. I hate what it does to people. I hate what it does to caregivers and loved ones. I hate how poorly it is understood by society. I hate it. At the same time, I have people in my life who truly care about me and whom I love. I have access to case workers, therapists, doctors, and medications that work. I am very lucky to be living with this disease in the present and not the past.

There are a few things that I think qualify as radically altering my world.

A bumper sticker

I can remember seeing “Easy Does It” on bumper stickers and thinking that it was cool. If I were to put I sticker on my car, I thought, it would be that. The problem was I could never find one.

Fast forward to the year 1999, and I discovered A.A. I also found out where to get that particular bumper sticker. “Easy does it” is one of the most important clichés heard at A.A. meetings and in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. It still means a lot to me.

In early sobriety, it meant that when I was worked up over something, I needed to stop and breathe and relax. When my brain was spinning out of control, I needed to stop and pray for relief. When I was overly worried about some problem, I needed to stop and think about how much I could really control and what was simply out of my hands. Then I needed to let go of that latter part.

With ten years of sobriety under my belt, “Easy does it” still resonates but at a deeper level. I need to not put myself into situations where I am likely to become worked up. I need to stay out of the way of hurt and fear.

How do I accomplish that? The most important way is by having the right attitude. I give thanks for my very life in all its imperfections every day. I give thanks for the good things and the bad.

I also keep an open mind to the experiences that life throws at me. I try not to judge situations too quickly. I have learned to let things develop on their own time and not push to much to get things to turn out the way that I want them. By keeping an open mind, I learn a lot from the good things and from the difficulties.

“Easy does it” is short enough for a bumper sticker and long enough to cause me to stop and think…and relax.

Burning

I vividly remember the dream. I walked slowly into a forest at night. Dark shadows filled every nook and cranny. No moonlight pierced the canopy of trees.

Trees stood around me. They were old and lonesome, and they beckoned to me to approach. When I did, I realized that each tree was open, baring it’s interior for me to spy.

I approached one to pry into its secret life inside only to discover that it glowed with a raging fire. Smokeless. Hidden. Its soft life was being consumed by a fire burning from the inside out.

The next tree held the same secret fire eating away its life. The fire glowed, and bits of ash formed and fell, and the shell of life thinned.

And the next tree revealed the same.

And the next.

Until I was left looking at my own hands that glowed with the same internal fire. My skin blackened and turned to ash and flaked away. My flesh being consumed from the inside by a mad fire daring to escape.