Heaviness

My heart is heavy. I had two real traumas in January. The first was when my dad called to disown me. The second came much later in the month, and it had to do with my job.

The agency where I work is being reorganized. As part of that reorganization, my job is being reclassified, and the little office I run is being made part of a new office. The result is that my salary is being slashed by a lot. The reorganization takes place July 1. At that time, the new office will come into effect. It will have a new office manager, and I will be eligible to apply for it, but there is no way to know in advance if I will be successful.

I spent much of last week reeling with this news. There were days my anxiety was so high I had to take sick leave at work. The slash to my income is too high for me to manage. If my application for the new management position is unsuccessful, I will have to take a roommate to afford my rent. I have analyzed my budget, and I can’t make ends meet by simply cutting expenses.

I have done several things to prepare. I have immediately slashed spending. I still have a number of months to go at my current salary. I will save every stray penny that I can.

I just feel very heavy.

Through it all, I realize that I’m quite strong. I have weathered two real traumas, but I’m still standing. I haven’t isolated. I’ve been out on two dates. One man came to my house, and I made him a cup of very good coffee. I met another man for coffee. I was able to tell both about my troubles and demonstrate that I’m resilient.

I’ve been seeing my therapist weekly.

I’ve been sleeping a lot, which can be a sign of depression, but sleep is one of my recovery tools, so I take this as a good sign. I say “a lot,” but it really just is a healthy amount. It’s not too much.

I’m taking all my medications as prescribed, and I have made an extra appointment with my psychiatrist to tell him what’s going on. He needs to know about these things to help me monitor myself for signs of debilitating relapse into depression or hypomania.

I’m meditating as much as I can. I’ve started walking down to the cathedral during work breaks and getting some even breathing in that time.

My diet is unchanged. I eat healthy food. I don’t drink soda. The only thing that is close to junk food I’m eating these days is trail mix, which is mostly nuts and raisins with a few M&Ms.

I’m going to AA meetings when I can. That’s about two or three times each week. It’s good to be around other people working on improving themselves.

One thing I’m not doing is exercising. I’m just not doing it, and I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

Despite two real traumas, I’m going to be OK. Right now, I’m allowing myself to feel heavy. This is grief.

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.

Coming Out

I’m gay. That’s not a surprise to regular readers. I came out many years ago.

My story is complicated as most coming out stories are. I grew up in a rabidly fundamentalist household and learned at a young age attending church that God loves everyone except gays. There was no hope of salvation for LGBT people. None.

In fear, I married a woman and fathered children. The fear and dysfunction led me to become an active alcoholic. Finally, I was unable to drink enough to relieve the fear and dysfunction. After some events in late 1998, I told my wife I thought I might be gay.

That started my coming out process. It is indeed a process, and it continues for the rest of our lives. I don’t think most straight people realize that each time a gay person enters a new situation, they have to judge the safety of the people and area and decide whether to be out.

After 21 years out of the closet, I can state with confidence that out is much better than in the closet. I am free. I am authentic. I am me. What’s more, I have wonderful relationships with all my children and also with their mother. I have good friends gay and straight. I live completely out now, and it’s so energizing.

Now, I’m just looking for a man to share my life with… I’m taking applications.

Nineteen Years

Today, I celebrate nineteen years of sobriety. A friend reminded me that’s a long time. At first I thought about the fact that it’s only a string of single days all put together, but you know what? It is indeed a long time, and it’s a big deal.

It’s easy to live through the single successive days and lose sight of the larger picture. In that string of single days, I’ve built up a lot of really good stuff. A lot has happened that was truly good. There was some bad, too. I remember the bad, but today, I feel the good more.

The best is that I healed. I drank because I was broken. Sobriety helped me know how important it was to reach out and get the help I needed to heal. I did that, and it worked. Read some of the past posts on this blog to understand how I’ve used therapy, medication, meditation, exercise, and sleep in my recovery from mental illness and substance abuse.

And today I celebrate nineteen years! Hooray!

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.

Self-love

I have spent five decades of life denying my needs. I was raised to believe it was selfish to take care of me. As an active alcoholic, I practiced a great deal of self-hatred. Being gay in the family and society and time I was taught me self-loathing. I had little chance to learn to love me.

I have often heard it said that we each have to take care of us. In early sobriety, I was told this was not true for me. I was told I had spent many years drinking in a selfish way. Loving and appreciating my strengths was denied me. It now appears to me this was another Puritanical way to get me to practice more self-hate.

Today, I embrace the idea that I must love me first. I have to open my eyes and recognize my beauty and be happy about it. Anything less than loving me first is a disservice to me and my family and friends.

A long friendship of mine ended recently. Learning to love me first played a role in my realization that this relationship was unhealthy for me. It was a relationship born between two people who were unequal. One was the superior and the other the inferior. Over the years, we made changes to try to equalize us, but I was never able to release my inferiority. The fault of that lay strictly with me.

As I have grown over the last several years beginning to love me, I grew uncomfortable in my inferior role. Recently, I witnessed myself being abused by passive-aggressive behavior and manipulation. For the first time ever, I spoke up and stated firmly that I recognized this abuse and that I rejected it. My friend was misusing me.

I reject abuse. I am worthy of respect. I am lovable.

Those simple words have been foreign to me my whole life. I was acculturated early in life to believe I was vile and subhuman, because I was gay. I turned for solace to alcohol and became its slave. After the psychiatrist told me I had bipolar disorder, I felt the natural shame that accompanies a diagnosis with mental illness.

I lived my whole life hating me.

As I sit writing these words, I turn away from self-hate. I embrace self-love. I give me permission to love me first. My hope is by loving me I will be able to love others more freely and completely.

It has been a week since the end of my long friendship that was based in an old way of self-hate. In this time, I have spent hours ruminating over my part of our relationship and its end. I can say I feel free now. I walk taller. I am lighter.

It’s funny. With my new decision to try life loving me first, I find I look at others differently. I care more. I wish to cause less pain. I want to give love.