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.]

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Short and Sweet

Another good thing I learned early in sobriety, when my house was a mess just like my life, was the following:

Sitting in an A.A. meeting, a newly sober person asked – quite seriously – how to clean his house.

A person with many years of sobriety suggested that when he went home, he pause just before entering, take two deep breaths, and then open the door. The suggestion continued that whatever his eyes lighted on first, he should clean. If it was a table piled with junk, clear it. If it was a sink of dishes, wash them. If it was a dirty floor, sweep it.

The idea was to concentrate on doing one thing at a time. I use this technique, too, and it works. I’m not capable of concentrating on cleaning my whole house, but I can clean one spot at a time.

One thing at a time.

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.

Thoughts in Hell

For years whenever I closed my eyes, I was submerged in a bog. A mirey glue held me under its surface. I couldn’t close my eyes to rest. I couldn’t close my eyes to nap. Going to bed at night was an exercise in strong denial. It makes me want to cry just remembering it now.

The bog was thick and deep. I could not feel anything solid underneath me, and I could not reach up to the surface. It was all encompassing, and I was suffocating in the black, slick waste.

I would pull myself one arm at a time upward trying to reach air. I would grab and pull and attempt to get myself out of the wretched mess, and eventually, my face would break the surface, and I could breathe. I was still trapped, but I was breathing. This imagery went on for years. My eyes would shut, and I would be trapped in sludge.

I think back on it now, and the emotions are strong. It makes me want to sob remembering the terror.

There came a day when more than my face broke through. Somehow, my hands broke the surface, and I attempted to grab something to pull myself free. To my horror, the bog was covered with razor sharp rocks. Points and edges of the rocks were honed to a fine edge. Grabbing hold would slice through skin and muscle on my hands and cut to the bone. My head was free, but I was still captive to this vicious muck.

I can’t remember when it happened, but I gathered the strength to lift my torso out of the mire. The rocks sliced through my hands, but I denied the pain and wrenched my body upward. I remember being exhilarated by the ability to twist from my waist up in the open air. My legs remained encased and unusable, but I felt exultant. I could move.

This exercise took years. For ages, I remained in the bog, and I saw it every single time I shut my eyes. Even to pray.

I don’t remember now which came first: the smoother surface or lifting my entire body above the razor-like rocks. Still, that day did come when I stood above the bog ready to move.

Was there celebrating? Was there exuberance? No, for I found myself at the bottom of a pit. The only way out was up a slope of razor-like rocks. Again, the pain. More pain. Fierce, blinding cutting pain. Searing behind my eyes.

For years, I languished sunken in a putrid mire. Now free of that black bog, I faced a mountainous climb up rocks meant to slice me to pieces. And I did begin to climb.

I don’t know how the healing began or even when, but the day came when I could close my eyes and not see myself in the bog or being sliced to pieces trying to escape. It was sometime after my fifth anniversary of sobriety. I spent a great deal of my life self-medicating with gin. The pain did not stop on my first day sober. It did not stop in the first year. It was sometime after five years of continuous sobriety.

It also came two or three years after my bipolar diagnosis, and the beginning of medication.

Today, I am relieved to report that I close my eyes, and I see nothing. Blessed nothing.