Reconnection

Last week I had the opportunity to see two friends from college – one I haven’t seen since I became sober and one I hadn’t seen since I joined my recovery program. One of the first comments they both made to me was how good I looked (they meant in a happiness day, not in an attractiveness way).

These were the first two people I have seen from my past (the period before my drinking spiraled) since getting sober and I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I would connect with them the same way or if the parts of us that got along were still there. I didn’t need to worry, it was like no time had passed.

The qualities about me that had led to our friendships developing over the years remained, which was something I had been concerned that was just a result of my drinking. Over the past 18 months, finding myself is something I have been struggling with. I have been afraid that all the things that make me who I am were a result of my alcoholism. However, I’ve started to see this is not true, the things that make me great are still there- they were just masked by the alcoholism.

I also had the opportunity to make amends to one of my friends this weekend. For those of you who are not familiar, an amends is owning the harm you have caused in the past and working to repair any damage you have done. This was an incredibly healing experience for me and I think it will make my friends stronger.

Introversion vs Isolation

Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time alone and I’m not sure if it fits under the label of isolation or introversion.

Anyone who knew me in my prior life would have claimed I was extroverted. I spent as much time as possible with others and was not a stranger to anyone. For a period of time, I believed that as well. What I didn’t realize that the extroversion was a combination of my drinking and my inability to spend time alone with my thoughts.

Since I’ve stopped drinking, I have found I need more time to recharge alone and have become comfortable being alone and with my thoughts. While I wouldn’t consider myself a full introvert, I’ve discovered that I have introverted side that needs to be nurtured along with my extroverted side. For me, it’s about maintaining a good balance of being social and spending time alone. 

However I also pull away from the world when I am dealing with things. I don’t like to ask for help or even interact with anyone. I have a friend who calls it going dark. As an alcoholic, getting in this place is extremely dangerous for me – my thinking doesn’t always provide me with the best solutions. I need to reach out to my network and make sure that I have perspective on what is going on in my life and how to proceed.

Introversion and isolation share a fine line in my life. While it is important for me to recharge, I need to make sure that I am not using alone time as an excuse to isolate. Long-term isolation only has one outcome for me – drinking. That will undo all of the progress I’ve made in the past 18 months and I am not willing to let that occur.

Compassion, Shame, and Vulnerability

Recently I’ve focused on deepening my connection with the Divine and my spirituality. This started after seeing Marianne Williamson during a Democratic Party debate discussing her views on how we needed to return to a place of love and compassion to combat the hate that has risen in our world. I connected with her remarks in way I had not connected with someone on that stage before (note: this is not an endorsement or comment on her political policies and standing). It lead me to want to be a beacon of love in this world – and to get there I needed to connect with my Higher Power and the world around me.

My practice has become a sacred part of my morning. After I wake up and have my coffee, shower, etc. I sit comfortably and light a candle and ask my Higher Power to join me in the practice. I then pray – asking for guidance to do God’s will, openness to possibilities, the ability to let go of things, and whatever else comes to me/I feel called to work on. Then I take time to either sit in the moment or do a guided meditation to round out the practice, thanking my Higher Power for being with me.

Over the course of this practice, I’ve had some revelations about myself and my journey towards serenity:

  • Compassion & Empathy
    • Somewhere in the past 28 years, I lost my ability to be compassionate and empathize with others. I was able to fake it when I needed to and for my own purposes of manipulation, but I shut out the ability to truly connect with others in pain and understand that people are often doing the best they can.
  • Shame
    • I used to tell people that I didn’t experience shame – I would say I own everything I do. Not only was that a lie, it also showed my lack of understanding of shame. There are a lot of situations in my life where I have internalized what has been said to me, what has happened to me, or what I’ve done. I’ve bottled these things up for so long and buried them so deep that I didn’t realize I was holding onto them.
  • Vulnerability
    • For as long as I can remember – I’ve felt that letting people in or asking for help showed weakness. I felt that I should be able to handle everything on my own. And when I couldn’t, it wasn’t okay to let others see that. These thoughts ended up causing a lot of pain for me, some that I have only just seen.

These things are just what has come up in the short time during the practice and are what I’m asking my Higher Power to help me understand. I’ve also decided to start working with a behavioral health professional on some of these areas – the second time that I’ve admitted I need help beyond myself.

I have also started to dive into the literature on these topics in a desire to learn how to integrate practices into my life to cultivate compassion and vulnerability. As I continue to strive for serenity, I look forward to continuing to connect with the Divine and hopefully live a more spiritually connected, compassionate, and vulnerable life.

Sober Vacation

This weekend I took my first sober vacation. I have been on trips in sobriety, but they have always had a specific purpose – a sports tournament, visiting family, etc. This was the first time I went somewhere with the sole purpose of relaxation and on concrete plans (aside from walking on the beach). Not only was this my first vacation in sobriety, it was my first real vacation in several years and I was looking forward to it.

What I did not expect was the danger of large blocks of unplanned time in a place that wasn’t home. This was great at first – I didn’t have to worry about getting anything done or being on time for anything. It was a freedom I hadn’t experienced in a long time. However, but the end of the first day, the glamour of this began to wear off. I began to get unsettled and jittery about being so far away from home and my support network. What would I do if something happened and I wanted a drink? Where would I go?

I have a tendency to catastrophize things and assume the worst will happen, and this trip was no different. I expected to have issues, and I did (part of me thinks I manifested the feelings, but that’s a topic for another day). The second night of vacation, my friends (who are not in recovery) and I went to a bar where there was live music. We were fortunate enough to grab a table before it got crowded to enjoy the music. About 30 minutes into our time there, I looked around and noticed how everyone was drinking and having a good time. Immediately, I got resentful and felt like I stood out for not having a drink. The thought crossed my mind that having one drink wouldn’t be too bad and I had to remind myself that I am different from most of the people in that bar – I wouldn’t be able to have just one drink and I would end up ruining the progress I made on myself and recovery over the past 18 months.

Thankfully, my recovery program had a significant presence where I was and I was able to go to meetings and share what was going on in my life. The community was supportive and it helped me level set and get in a good headspace for the last leg of the trip.

As an alcoholic, it is important for me to always make sure my recovery and sobriety are at the center of my life. I’ve learned that temptation doesn’t come only in a party scene, but also during times of relaxation. I need to have a plan for reaching out to my support network and getting out if needed no matter where I am. Staying sober, just for today needs to be the primary focus.

Dulling into Simplicity

My life used to be filled with something every moment I was awake – I would got to work, have a meeting, go to some kind of sports related activity or out with friends. Even when I first got sober, I still kept a full schedule of activities and events. Comparatively, today my life is pretty basic – I go to work, maybe to a meeting, and then home to watch tv until it’s time for bed. I still occasionally have a sports related event or hang out with friends, but it occurs maybe once a week, not everyday like I was used to.

Lately the way I spend my time now has been weighing on me and I feel my life has become dull compared to watch it used to be. I find myself glamorizing and romanticizing being constantly busy, forgetting that I was stressed out and tired constantly. As I spend some time thinking about what it was really like, I realize that I was so busy because I couldn’t stand being alone without anything to distract me from my thoughts and feelings. I didn’t want to deal with the things in my life (sober or not).

Putting that into perspective has helped me realize that my life isn’t dull today, it’s simple. I’m not used to simple – my nature it to complicate things as much as possible (especially my life). I’m starting to wrestle with the idea that a simple life isn’t bad and it doesn’t mean it’s empty. But it also doesn’t mean it’s full. 

I needed my life to be simple for a bit while I figured out who I was as a sober individual who wasn’t heavily invested and involved in any organization. I’ve started that journey and think I’m in a place now where I can start to add things back into my life, such as my consulting business, and causes that I’m passionate about. I’m striving for a balance – a simple, but full life.

Creating Space

This weekend I attended the Stonewall Sports National Tournament. I want to preface this post by stating I had a wonderful time and was captain of an amazing team.

Friday, there was a summit that was heavily focused on diversity and inclusion and the keynote speaker was someone who is sober and shared their story of recovery. They ended their talk with challenging us to create spaces where sober individuals can feel include. This stuck with we through the weekend and has been something I have actively struggled with the league in Charlotte.

Aside from the games, every event was heavily centered around alcohol – an opening party sponsored by Corona, daily happy hours, and dinners at breweries. I noticed there really wasn’t any activity to socialize or build community that seemed to be designed with sober players in mind. I attended a lot of these events and found myself standing around with a club soda feeling bored after an hour or so. I am fortunate to be able to be in situations like that and not struggle with the obsessions of drinking, but what about players who don’t? Or those who want to play sports but don’t feel welcome at events like this? One of my pieces of feedback is going to be to create this space – maybe a social hour at a coffee shop or café, rather than just happy hours at bars.

As I realized there wasn’t a sober LGBTQ+ space (that isn’t tied to a specific recovery program) at the tournament, I also remembered that we don’t have that in Charlotte either. Stonewall Sports has been my source of community since shortly after I moved to Charlotte – it is how I met most of my friends and became a part of my identity. Since I’ve stopped drinking, this has shifted. I realized that while sports is a central part of Stonewall Sports, but the community building aspect is heavily centered around alcohol which is not what I was looking for anymore. I was looking for this league to create a space where I could be sober and social, without the focus being on alcohol. Some strides have been made – there has been a shift from bars to restaurants for after game activities, but the main activity typically involves drinking.

I have been waiting on someone else to create this space, but it has not occurred to me prior to this weekend that I can create these spaces myself. I am starting a book club, where I can spend time and get to know people in a place that is safe & inclusive for both sober people and people who drink. It has a lot of interested so far and I am interested in seeing how it goes.

Finding My Higher Power

I grew up in the church and was raised Catholic.  For as long as I can remember, I have believed in God.   When I was young, it was the. God.  I was told to believe in —- the one of the Catholic Church.I embraced this belief for most fo my childhood, throughout high school and into college. I didn’t question much and blindly followed.

As I began to grow into myself and realized who I was, I started to question the idea of God. I never stopped believing in a power greater than myself, but I could not believe that that power would be angry and punishing. I felt that I couldn’t be apart of something that was exclusionary, so I stopped going to church for a few years.

Even though I stopped going to church, I still considered myself a believer in something, but at this point I sure what. Around this time, my drinking began to escalate. I was searching for something I didn’t understand and sought answers in the drink. This continued for several years until a friend of mine from high school (one of the few I still remain in contact with) invited me to Watershed.

The first thing I noticed about this church was that they made a statement about being welcoming of everyone and this was affirmed by my friend (she let me know their were LGBTQ+ members in leadership positions, which is something you don’t find often). After the first time, I went sporadically over the next few years as I finished graduate school and spiraled deeper into my addiction. The first time I attended after finishing school, I felt something different. For the first time in a long time, I felt a slight connection to a higher power and felt like I belonged.  I dove head first into the church and began to re-ignite my relationship with my Higher Power.

I truly believe this relationship is what lead my to stop drinking and kept me stopped prior to joining my program. When I joined my recovery program, one of the main principles involved believing in a Higher Power of my understanding. My journey in leaving the Catholic Church and becoming involved in my current church home made this an easy task for me.

As I continue to grow in my recovery and become more spiritually fit, my concept of a Higher Power continues to evolve. I call Them God, but They are not the exclusionary, fear based God I grew up with. While my understanding of Them is heavily influenced Judaeo-Christian traditions, I’m not sure if it is the same as my peers – and that’s okay. My understanding of God is one of love, compassion, forgiveness and mercy and inspires me to live my life by those principles.

First Things First

Lately I’ve been in a bad head space and felt disconnected spiritually. While this might not be concern for alarm for most people, for a recovering alcoholic this is usually a red flag that they aren’t working their recovery program in the best way.

As I reflected upon this feeling, I began to realize that I wasn’t working my program the best way I could and I wasn’t putting my sobriety first. For me, my sobriety has to come above all other things in my life. If I’m not sober, I will end up losing everything I’ve come to love and be grateful for.

During this process, I had to look at my life and answer the question – what am I putting on the same level or above my sobriety and recovery? I realized that I was putting most things on the same level- work, extra curricular activities, volunteering, etc. This forced me to make some hard decisions – could I do all these things and still keep my sobriety first? After praying and connecting with my Higher Power, I realized I could not. I would have to pull back in some way right now.

As I made this tough decision, I realized that something had changed with me. In the past, I would have been worried about not pleasing everyone and telling people no. This time, it wasn’t the case – I’ve made those tough decisions and spoke with those who need to know. And I’ve done it without immense feelings of guilt, which leads me to believe I’ve made the right decision and will be able to keep my sobriety & recovery the most important things in my life.

Accepting the Things I Cannot Change

As long I can remember, I have felt the need to be in control of things. I wanted to make all the decisions and be in charge. I attributed this desire to a natural leadership ability – I felt I was born to be a leader and run things.

During high school and college I became involved in many organizations and assumed leadership roles. I thought I was leading, but looking back I was controlling, often ignoring others and shutting down when things didn’t go my way.

As I started to drink, I began to try to control all aspects of my life – how I presented myself to the world, what I did, what I said. I figured if I could do that, everything would be okay. Initially, this started as a way to conceal my sexuality, but it soon began to be a way to conceal how much I drank how out of control my life was becoming.

One of the things I needed to do in early recovery was to learn to give up control and turn my will and life over to a Higher Power. I thought that is would be an easy task, as I’ve had a higher power for most of my life. However, it was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my life and find myself continually needing to do this.

Every morning when I wake up, I do two things – say the serenity prayer, and turn my will over to my Higher Power. When I am able to do that and not control the outcome of things, everything turns out okay. But as soon as I start to try to control the outcome of things, they end up going south. I’m slowly learning that I am not the one in control and becoming okay with that. I can only control my actions and let everything else fall into place.

Finding Me in Sobriety

Recently, the opportunity has presented itself to me to reconnect with some of the friends I lost touch with as I started my journey into sobriety, which started me thinking about how I have changed over the past year and how my relationships changed.

Prior to starting recovery, I hung out pretty consistently with a group of fantastic guys and we hung out pretty much every weekend – going to breweries, movies, grabbing dinner. We were all very close. After I stopped drinking we initially kept hanging out, but once I started my program of recovery I pulled back on hanging out and eventually stopped getting invited to things. At first I was upset, but then I realized I was the one who changed the game, the one who pulled away. They were also dealing with the change and my pulling away, and honestly I would have done the same thing if I was in their shoes. This is just one example of how my relationships have been impacted by my sobriety.

Through my first year of sobriety, I have had to learn who I was, what my hobbies were, and how to connect with people. I’ve heard that alcoholics stop aging socially when the begin drinking. If that is the case, my social age is 18. I’m learning who I am as an adult and what I enjoy doing. Almost everything I did before involved drinking and I am having to learn to separate if I enjoyed the actual activity or just the drinking. It’s been a slow process.

As I begin to figure out who I am, I am going to have to learn how to re-connect with people form my past and that may not always be the best or easiest thing.