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Getting comfortable in my sobriety

Getting comfortable in my sobriety

For several days now, I’ve had random chats about being gay and sober; both in person and online.  I didn’t start any of the chats, they just sort of happened by “coincidence”, so I’m going to take this repeating theme and run with it as my article for the weekend to post.  Looking thru my archives, my own sobriety isn’t something I’ve written thousands of words on and it’s been brought to my attention that while I do a great job of being out there publicly as a gay man with sobriety, my online presence is a little thin.  That said, here we go…

(Before we get too deep into this, you’ll hear me talk a lot about Alcoholics Anonymous and twelve steps in this piece.  I’m not writing this to say “the only way to go is AA” or any of that nonsense – quite the opposite.  The last 23 years of my life are grounded in AA, so that’s my point of reference that I write from.  While you read, do so with an open mind..)

Part of my usual morning routine after I work out is to grab my coffee, plop down in front of the computer and peruse my favourite sites, one of which is Twitter.  I saw this tweet roll through my timeline:

NewImageI don’t know Jack, and I really don’t remember why I was following him to begin with.  No doubt it was because I enjoyed his contributions to my timeline.  He seems to be a smart guy, and apparently he’s sober and in recovery.

My response tweet, to his point, was that if someone were using and needed recovery that waiting until the holidays get going full swing is going to make it tough to find somewhere if you need inpatient assistance.  Sure, the words come out great now but in my response tweet I really didn’t express myself correctly.  To Jack’s point, not everybody does need inpatient recovery but I’m one of the ones that did.  If you want a lesson in frustration, try and find a bed in detox on December 26th when you have no insurance.  That would be my experience; my sobriety date is 12/26 and 23 years ago the only bed I could find was in a skid row mission, whose medical services were manned by a volunteer staff of one doctor, two nurses and two social workers all of whom kept the place going out of the goodness of their hears.  The other inpatient services at the time were full to the brim with patients who’d gotten the call to clean up and deal with their problems before I had.  Due to my using, inpatient was the only way to go; I was drinking daily and ingesting whatever drugs I could get my hands on.  Simply stopping without medical supervision would have left me dealing with full on DT’s, and that’s just far too dangerous a way to go.  Thanks to a series of really fun hallucinations while I detoxed, I was straight-jacketed for my own safety as well as for those around me.  There simply was on way I could have done this on my own and physically survived it.

Does everybody need inpatient service?  Hell, no and from my perspective as a person who’s not a doctor there’s no way for me to answer who does and who doesn’t but I will share this:  I’ve met and tried to help many men and women the world over in different meetings and conferences who’ll approach me after I’ve given a talk.  They’ll share with me that they’re struggling to get clean and wonder if they shouldn’t “go somewhere” to get on the right path.  Here’s how I sort out my answers:

  • If someone tells me that they want help getting in somewhere, that’s enough for me.  I’ll flip thru my phone book, find a contact and get them a meeting with a professional who can see them and make the determination if they need inpatient services or if another path might be the best option.
  • I do not make the choice for them, period.

There you go, all sorted.  I know a legion of people who’ve gotten clean and sober without having to go my straight-jacketed, heavily medicated route who lead wonderfully productive and sober lives today.  That’s their path to recovery and if they are sober and happy, then that’s the road they should be on.  My own sober highway had a few potholes I had to hit

After my last drunk, I found myself deposited in the world of Alcoholic’s Anonymous.  While I was in the mission, various and sundry members of AA would come to talk to me and the other 28 guys I was inside with.  “Life gets better”, “This is the first day of the rest of your life”, “One day at a time”, they’d all say and I wanted to kill every single one of them.  They were way too chipper, cheerful, spouting off about God this and Higher Power that.  I was convinced that I was abducted by some cult and before too long they’d have me cleaned up and going door to door wanting to know if you’d accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  Mind you, there wasn’t a single person I met those first few days who’d actually said any of these things – this is simply what I heard.

Adding to my somewhat demented interpretation of how I perceived this new world of AA was the fact that I was a bit of an anomaly that those around me weren’t sure how to deal with.  At 24 years old, I was the youngest person who’d ever graced the doors of the mission that needed to get sober.  In addition that I was gay and back in the late 80’s there really weren’t that many resources out there to deal with the unique set of issues that LGBT people can face when they want to get clean.  There certainly are plenty of resources out there now, as well as specific treatment directions for healthcare providers as well as other professionals in the field. Back then – not so much, especially when you’re flat broke and have no medical insurance.  Being in a decidedly straight environment, there was no way I could talk about my being in gay porn or turning tricks to support my habits or my partner in an open group setting without facing a bit of backlash from the others.  Those bits of my life I kept to myself and only brought them out in 1:1 settings with the social worker or those I trusted.  Everything else I might have shared with others was pasteurized just enough to keep them from knowing I was gay.  My general MO was to fly under everybody’s radar, do whatever I needed to do, and above all else shut up and learn something.  I hadn’t a clue how to live sober and there were a bunch of resources there for the taking.  The only thing I was convinced of was that I didn’t want to drink or use again because if I did I was certain I would wind up dead.

Back in the real world, I went to my first AA meeting on January 1st and once again I found myself in a social setting where I was the odd man out.  The person in this particular meeting who had the least amount of sobriety time was an old duffer named Louie who had 31 years.  He was the secretary of the meeting and after looking past my odd series of facial injuries and listening to my story he’d determined that I was indeed a drunk and gave me his blessing.  None of this was required, mind you.  That’s just how Louie rolled.  This was a solid meeting with alot of old timers who really didn’t have a clue how to approach a 20-something year old kid who was beat to hell and back – but wanted to stop drinking.  Being introduced to others at the meeting by Louie was something akin to receiving a blessing from the Pope, so any other apprehension the others might have had about me simply vanished.  To this day when I go back to Cleveland some of the old timers still around refer to me as “the kid”.

For the next year and change, my life revolved around work, AA meetings, and hanging out with AA people.  It was a big change to the life I had led prior to getting sober, largely because I spent so much of my life getting drunk/stoned, or working up to the next high, or coming down from the last one.  I had no clue how TO live sober, and all of the people I knew up until that point were still going to the bars.  I won’t call them friends because as soon as I announced that I was in recovery that was the last I’d seen of them.  The calls became more infrequent, eventually stopping, and we just ended up going our separate ways entirely.  It was time to find people to meet and become friends with in sobriety who’d like me for me, not because I was so much fun when I was high, or because I was a guaranteed lay after a bit of tequila.  Eventually, I did come to find out that there were LGBT-specific AA meetings in town, but in all honesty I didn’t attend them much at that time because they were sparsely populated, not well structured, and the few meetings I did have access to at that time seemed to be more about picking each other up and far less about recovery.

I’l spare you the day to day details of how life improved but rest assured it did.  It’s taken a lot of time for me to get to the point where I could say that, and it’s taken a lot of effort.  I can say in all honesty that I’ve had a few temptations to go back to drinking in the early days but I never did give in to them.  On that I’ve been quite lucky; I got sober the first time and it took.  As to the rest of the guys I got sober with back at that skid row mission?  They’re dead, all of them.  The last one died two years ago, and none of them died sober.

Is life some rosy, wonderful existence filled with lollipops and unicorns?  No, sometimes my life really sucks.  I have good days, great days, and shitty days just like everybody else on the planet but the big difference now is that I don’t need to use drugs and alcohol to get through the shitty days.  The really shitty days included being in NYC during 9/11, the death of a spouse, a stroke at the age of 37, and putting the end to a relationship that I thought would really stand the test of time because he was a liar and a practicing addict who had no desire to maintain his sobriety.  AA is still a very big part of my life, though I don’t have a need to hit meetings daily like I did in the early days.  I usually hit two a week, and then as I get asked to speak at them my meeting presence generally increases until I just naturally fall off the speaker’s circuit again.

It’s weird to me that people in my meetings now refer to me as an old-timer because of the length of my sobriety.  New people approach me as though I’m some sort of all-knowing oracle and though it’s tempting to spout off about some of the things I see them doing in terms of maintaining their own recovery I generally keep my opinions to myself unless I’m asked.  Here’s some of the greatest hits I get on a regular basis: (in order of frequency)

  1. I’ll lose all my friends when I get sober because I can’t go to the bar anymore. Nobody said you can’t EVER go back to the bars, just have a good reason for being there.  To this day, on rare occasions I will still go because I like to dance, and showing up during the holidays is an appropriate way to socialize with friends, even though they sometimes will treat me as if I’m made of eggshells.  I just don’t stay forever, I drink club soda, and when the sights and smells get too much I get the hell out of there.
  2. I don’t know how to live my life sober. That’s what the meetings are for; to change your perceptions of life and over time you do learn
  3. Do I have to go to meetings forever? Nope, nobody said you have to go to them at all.  AA is not the only game in town and if you find a way to live sober that works for you, congratulations.  Being at the meetings is a choice you can alter at any time.
  4. I can’t imagine getting 23 years of sobriety together. Me either; I just work on staying sober today and the time mounted up all by itself.
  5. I can’t imagine not drinking or drugging for the rest of my life. You don’t have to.  Just don’t use today.
  6. I hate my sponsor. He/She is a dick, how about you be my sponsor?  My personal favourite, because everyone I’ve ever sponsored in the program says the same thing about me; Jesus is he a dick, but he knows how to stay sober.  A sponsor is not about being a friend, it’s about putting your trust in someone who got sobriety time and you want to learn from them how to do it for yourself.  I’m not worried if I hurt a person’s feelings when I sponsor them.  If you want what I have, you’ll do what I did.  Should that pose a problem, I’m sure there’s plenty of other people who you can ask to sponsor you.  You don’t have to like your sponsor, and if you think they’re an asshole then that tells me they’re doing something right.

I’ve never been anonymous in my sobriety, and there are some people out there who want nothing to do with me because of my life in AA, and that’s cool.  I’m taking all these random conversations around being gay and in recovery as a sign I need to start talking about it more online.  Not to worry, though: I have no intentions of turning my site into an AA satellite office or online meeting.  From now until the end of the year though, the holidays are usually a very self-introspective time for me and my life being sober tends to weigh heavily on my mind.  If you get something out of these pieces, then wonderful.  If you don’t, then perhaps you’re not the person I was supposed to be writing it for.


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  1. Yeah.  Right now #OccupyDC is looking into what options are available for homeless addicts who need medically supervised detox.  It’s proving a challenge.

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    • I wouldn’t wish trying to find a detox bed during the holidays on anyone. If I didn’t have an “in” when I needed mine, I’d have never gotten it.

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