Long Road to Recovery

I’ve had some bleak days, but I’ve also had periods of calm. If you wonder what has happened, see my last post.

I’ve been using my recovery tools.

I’ve been using the medication my doctor gave me to help with the situation, and I’m grateful to have it. It honestly helps a great deal.

I’ve been meditating. I had a very long one this morning.

I’ve been to therapy, and I have another appointment coming up next week. I’ve also been to some AA meetings. They’ve been helpful. Most importantly, I’ve got some good friends checking on my daily. I cannot adequately express how good that feels.

I have walked some. Not daily, but I have walked. Exercise is a good idea when I’m feeling low.

I’m eating good food. Yesterday, I actually cooked for myself, which is something I rarely do. That’s real self-care. I took the time to wash mushrooms and cook them and eat them over toast. I did it for myself.

I’m making sure I get good, restorative sleep.

Medication, meditation, therapy, exercise, diet, and sleep are the important tools I use to stay stable.

This morning, I’m battling negative self-talk. I know it’s lies, but it’s so loud. Pain in a situation like this comes and goes in waves, and today I’m in a wave. It will pass. Soon, I hope.

My Parents Disowned Me

When I was a teenager, my father threatened to kick me out of the house if I was gay. This trauma forced me deeper into the closet for many years and greatly affected my alcoholism when that happened.

When I got sober twenty years ago, I came out to my mother. She was not supportive. I always assumed she told my dad. In these past twenty years, I haven’t really done anything to hide my sexual orientation from my parents, but I live 5000 miles away from them. When I talked to them on the phone, I never talked about men in order to keep the peace. It never occurred to me that my dad didn’t know.

Yesterday morning, my phone rang. It was my dad. He quickly got to the point. He said he’d discovered that I am gay, and therefore, he and my mother never wanted to hear from me again.

During the call, my heart was pounding. I was shaking. I felt like I was being physically attacked.

I said nothing to try to change the outcome. My dad asked if he’d made himself clear. I simply said yes and hung up.

I spent the day in shock yesterday. I told my children, a sister, some close friends. I texted my therapist. He responded helpfully. I texted my psychiatrist to alert him, and he acknowledged the news.

Everyone was helpful except for one friend who wrongly thought it would be helpful for me to try to see it from my parents’ point of view. Everyone else was very supportive. My children have been a source of great love.

The next thing I knew I would need was to go to an AA meeting. I did that in the evening. It wasn’t a great meeting, but it helped me. I wrote an email to a good friend who has been sober a very long time. I spoke to him this morning. He is a gem. So kind. I had to cut that call short to get to another AA meeting, and this one was really good. I’m so glad I went. I met a man there I’ve met under other circumstances, and he and I are going to meet at the big LGBT meeting Monday night. I’m looking forward to it.

I am hurting. A lot.

My greatest fear is that this will trigger a mood episode. Specifically depression. I’ve been having depressed thoughts all day. I’m using the medication the doctor gave me as prescribed to try to prevent a depressive relapse.

I am using my recovery tools to stay stable. Only time will tell if this will work.

One thing is very clear. I feel like I’m officially gay now.

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.

Taking a Trip

I’m flying tomorrow, and I’m terrified. I saw my therapist today luckily, so we were able to talk it through. I was able to picture it one step at a time.

A friend will pick me up to take me to the airport. I’ll check in at the counter. I only have one carry-on bag since it’s a short stay. I’ll make my way through security.

Argh. Security. That raises fears in itself. I am only taking enough medication for the two days, and I’ve put them in one pill bottle. The little bottle is a mixture of medicine. If they open it, there will be some surprise, or maybe there won’t be any surprise. Perhaps, they’ve seen it all.

Perhaps, my fears of x-rays and beeping machines and being told to “stand over here, please” and hearing the question “Is this your bag?” are all nonsense. My magnificent magnifying mind fears being singled out, searched, and found wanting. I am simply afraid.

Interestingly, before my diagnosis, I flew a lot internationally. I had a high status on an airline’s frequent flier program, and I often sat in a class other than economy. I took everything in stride.

Then came 9/11 followed a year later by my breakdown and diagnosis. The world shattered, and my world shattered with it.

But I’ve done in this writing just what my therapist warned me against. I’ve lost my concentration on the next step. Breathe.

Ah, the next step, or as I hear often in the rooms of A.A., “the next right step.” So, I will make it through the security checks, I’m sure. My fears will prove unfounded, however real they feel now.

Next I’ll find a seat in the waiting area, board the plane, fly, arrive, go to my hotel, and find some dinner.

All will be well.

Life Changes

I recently celebrated a milestone and have had some time to think about my life before and after.

Before sobriety, diagnosis, and treatment:

• I dreamt of suicide and thought of it daily.

• I had self-loathing down to a tee. I’m gay, and I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household, which taught me deep hatred.

• My relationships were not longstanding. I had fiery, quick friendships that lasted as long as the interest was fresh whether it was physical or about some mutual subject.

• I quit two high-paying jobs that had real potential to take me to greater heights of accomplishment and high status.

• I used money foolishly to attract people.

• I abused alcohol passionately.

After sobriety, diagnosis, and treatment:

• I just celebrated 13 years of sobriety. I have learned in that time to find peace and serenity by living day-to-day and concentrating on the present.

• I live frugally on disability and am quite happy with it. The money I have is little, and I don’t begrudge my desires for small luxuries like ice cream or a new shirt off eBay.

• While I don’t presently work because of my disability, I serve on the board of directors of a small theater group and am intimately active in it. I act, direct, and manage productions. I am a stalwart member of the group.

• I have great relationships with my children from my marriage that I thought would make me straight. I even have a really good relationship with my ex-wife. I have true friends I can turn to in times of need.

• I no longer hate my homosexuality. I embrace it. I’m fabulous. I am a proud, out gay man, and I take part in activities that support equality in my community and my country.

• I don’t have suicidal ideation today. I was hospitalized for it recently, and that was during a mixed episode of severe mania. I went to the hospital voluntarily to stabilize my medications.

I am lucky. I have never doubted my mental illness. When I was diagnosed in 2001, it was something of a relief to me. I finally had a name for the pain that I was feeling, and I knew there was treatment for it. I began to take the medication right away and have never faltered.

I also believe wholeheartedly in talk therapy. I’ve been seeing the same therapist since 1997. She knows me inside and out and can quickly point out where I need work. She makes me do the work, too. She sugarcoats nothing.

My life continues to improve day by day. I’m happy to be here today, and regular readers of this blog know that’s another milestone.

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.