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.]

Gratitude

One constant in my recovery has been gratitude. These days, I give thanks as I lie in bed at night for anything that I’m grateful for. In years past, this process was often very deliberate and structured. I made time to write out a gratitude list.

Writing was often important, because I needed the discipline of sitting and concentrating on why I was grateful. Early on, I had to be very concrete. I often listed body parts that worked well as reasons to be grateful: legs, hands, a strong heart, etc. It was so easy to spend time ruminating on what was wrong in my life. I needed these times to remember there was good, too.

Gradually, I could take my mind off what seems so elementary like health and find gratitude in what was around me. I was able to stop looking within and able to look outward and see the joy in life at large.

It really is a miracle just to be alive.

If you’re new to the idea of gratitude, it might be a good idea to start with very simple things. If you’re healthy, you may begin with the different areas of your health that are going well. If you work or volunteer, that might be a good place to start, too. Look around you. Can you be grateful for a place to live? Is today’s weather good?

Look at your relationships. Are some of them going very well? Remember to be grateful for those people close to you.

Do you have activities that bring a smile to your face? Think about those kinds of things. Put them on a gratitude list.

Being grateful has one goal: allowing us to realize the good we have in our lives.

Today, I’m most grateful that I get to be me.

Being Selfish

One of the oddest things about life is that when we are very small, we have to be taught to share. It is stressed over and over again that we have to share with our playmates. We aren’t allowed to hoard all the toys or take all the food from the lunch counter.

Many of us spend a great many adult years unlearning this lesson. We have to learn a healthy way of being selfish.

I have spoken to many people in various forms of distress. One of my favorite suggestions is to do one nice thing for ourselves every day. These can be very simple. We can give ourselves a full minute of deep breathing. Taking a walk in the sunshine is another good way to be nice to ourselves. If it’s what we want, we could indulge in our favorite food. We get to decide how to be nice to ourselves.

Many of us are taught to always place others before ourselves. This is appropriate in many situations, but it’s not healthy at all times. There are many times we have to place our own needs above our neighbor’s.

It is popular to say that we have to love ourselves before we can love others. I used to disagree with that. I thought I needed to deny myself my own love. I thought I could love others while ignoring my own needs. I now see that I cannot give what I do not have.

Ultimately, doing one nice thing for ourselves each day is meant to lead us to loving ourselves continuously.

When I come from a place of self-love, I can reach out with more love than I ever imagined. I am capable of more compassion than I knew previously. Empathy is more genuine.

It’s possible that being selfish may be the best way to help each other.

New Frontiers

A few days ago, I thought I’d finished with all the transforming I needed in one lifetime. I was done. I was going to live with the imperfections, and I was going to be happy.

That lasted until I got too tired of the discomfort. Pain actually.

This morning in meditation, I opened my belly, and I began to pull out something that hurt. It turned out to be attached to a chain that would not let go of its anchor, so I dove down to find out how deep it went.

It was deep. Very deep.

I got right down to where a little, snarling childlike version of myself was protecting the end of the chain. I thanked the snarling child for doing his job. He protected me for many years by getting me the things that I wanted. I then explained to him that his work was done. I soothed him. He was quite surprised, but he settled down and released the end of the chain.

I picked up the chain, I took the boy’s hand, and we went up to the surface. I gave him to an angel, and I was released from the pain.

It left a void, and I invited light to fill it.

What I have just described is a kind of guided visualization. I use it a great deal, and I get very good benefits from it. I’m able to help myself with very simple techniques. It’s really startling how much pain I’ve been able to release using guided visualization. I recommend meditation to anyone who thinks they can’t help themselves. I’ve been meditating for many years, decades actually. It works, and it does not have to be difficult.

I’m still going to revel in my humanity.

I Can Only Be Me

I’ve had a rough few weeks. I experienced hypo-mania, which I haven’t had for quite a number of years. It was very uncomfortable. I’ve been recuperating. I’ve meditated quite a bit, and it helps enormously. It really does bring me a lot of healing energy.

My psychiatrist said something that made me pause. He told me not to be a hero. I wanted to return to a full schedule of work, and he pointed out the importance of taking time to heal.

I’ve been talking to myself a lot about what I’m experiencing. It’s a way of integrating the situation and allowing it to be what it is and then healing it. I realized I have many very great expectations of myself.

I made a decision.

I allow myself to be flawed. I allow myself to be perfectly human.

I do not need to change any more or to somehow develop and reach toward perfection. I get to be me with all my un-whole-ness.

I am living my life, and I will not apologize for my glorious humanity.

I am not perfect, and I am perfectly happy with that.

How to Help Your Friend with Mental Illness

I am very grateful for my friends. I am very open about my mental illness. Being open works for me, but there are many people who choose to keep it quiet.

If you have a friend who confides their mental illness to you, I hope you will be grateful for the trust they place in you. There is a great deal of stigma against the mentally ill and mental illness in general. When we disclose to people, we are being brave.

If your friend discloses to you, ask them how they want you to help. Listen to their ideas. Most of the time, we only want someone to understand our situation and why we may appear a little “off” at times. We are each unique, and we will each want different things from our friends.

It is safe for me to say there is one thing we never want from our friends: medical advice, no matter how innocuous it may seem to you. We take our medical advice from our doctors, and it sometimes takes us many years to begin to trust them. I’m sure our friends don’t want to endanger that trust.

It’s possible that a person with mental illness but with little understanding of their illness may react inadvisedly to news from a friend that perhaps the only thing wrong is a vitamin deficiency. This person may leap at the thought they can be cured with simple supplements and cease taking their important medicines for their mental illness.

Stopping taking medicine can have disastrous effects when the symptoms of the illness return. The symptoms can be difficult to reverse, and they can sometimes lead to terrible consequences. They can even be fatal.

We need our friends. You are important to us. Vital, actually. We are often quite isolated. Listen to us when we talk. Tell us we are heard. Hug us. Let us know we are not alone.

That’s all we really need.