On a recent episode of “Mom,” Rosie O’Donnell plays a character who is sober. She says, “I drank because I was gay and then when I was out, I just drank.” Although I’m unsure how much my drinking habits really changed when I came out of the closet, I do know that how I identify has been a challenge for me for quite sometime. I didn’t come out until I was a sophomore in college, surrounded by likeminded people I could fully engage with parts of myself I didn’t know existed. I felt a certain freedom in leaving who I was in New York City, what I had called home for 19 years, and embracing my new sexuality. That sounds like I made a choice, and part of me feels like, for me, nature really won out. But that’s besides the point: part of college is drinking and part of drinking is supposedly accessing parts of yourself you’re not inclined to otherwise. Or so they say. I drank because I wasn’t into men, despite signing up on Tinder and swiping right on loads of them. I even went so far as to talk to one of them, sexting him while I watched TV because that’s how disconnected I was to intimacy: I thought I could just act my way through it. I’ve written countless times about my first date with a girl and how magical it was. We made out on a street corner after we’d imbibed at a college bar near my house. My first kiss is still something I cherish, and think I always will. But, I did drink that night and all the nights afterward. I wasn’t comfortable with who I was, and I can say for sure that drinking made it easier. I had an easier time making plans to meet a chick at a bar, drinking a few— scratch that— six to ten ciders and then head home for a makeout session. One night, though, it went too far. I don’t remember much of getting home, but I do remember vomiting all over myself, my favorite shirt, and my favorite sweater. I (apparently) showered and inserted an extra tampon on top of the one I forgot to take out. I slept naked next to a girl I barely knew, and am still uncertain if anything sexual happened. My stomach curdles just writing this. I was and am proud to be gay, but I think I fought my true self for so long and a few drinks helped me disconnect. I didn’t feel awkward expressing my true feelings or badly if they weren’t reciprocated the same way. Conversation seemed more accessible and I lived less inside my own head. I fought the urge to drink an entire cider the minute it was put in my hand. The familiar taste, coupled with the way I knew it would make me feel, made my night.
One of the first times I spoke at an A.A. meeting, I spoke about being gay and my coming out process. I told a room full of drunks that I drank because I was gay… not because I, too, was a drunk (or close enough at the time). I failed to mention all the other times that I drank or that after my first N.Y.C. Pride Parade (a rite of passage, if there is one for LGTBQ people), I showed up tipsy to another 12-Step Meeting. A lot of my firsts are tainted with a backwash of cider and the beginnings of a hangover.
Drinking was my comfort for many years, until it wasn’t. And though I never felt like I drank a lot, I do feel and know after writing this and things like it, that the times I did drink I got myself into precarious situations (if not dangerous ones) and caused myself both internal and external pain. It’s embarrssing to recollect showing up to work with a hangover and unable to stop shaking for the eight hours of my shift. Or drinking to mask how I truly felt about a girl, simply because I wanted somebody, anybody, there. I’m angry that what I was told was a rite of passage— drinking throughout college and drinking a lot— was normal. We need to change how we define “normal,” especially when it comes to young adults and alcohol. I’m sad that I treated my body like an infunite thing, carelessly allowing shot after shot to pass through my lips. But, I’m also aware that for me, I might be escaping on the brink of a collision. By bringing my bottom up to me, I may be just in time to save my life.
With all the recent news of suicides, I’ve been playing my cards closer to my chest. Yesterday, I took the day off from writing because I was really depressed. I wanted to kick back with a cool beverage and get lost, but I didn’t, because I now owe myself sobriety and I owe myself continuing to create and establish this community.
I read an incredible essay by Glennon Doyle written after Robin Williams died. Unfortunately, it was all too appropriate for last week. In it she writes:
“We don’t know who lives or dies from this disease. We don’t know. We can’t know. This monster is relentless and arbitrary and ever-present and so even in the best of times, when we’re on top of the world and laughing and dancing and flying – we laugh and sing and dance with the realization that we are doing these things with a ticking time bomb lodged permanently inside of us. Tick, tick, tick.”
It’s harsh but it’s true and there’s nothing harsher than the truth sometimes. I urge you to reach out if you need help, but I also know from my own experience when you’re in it sometimes there’s no trapdoor. We’ve got to wait it out. I’m here to tell you, I’ll wait with you. I’m here to tell you there’s a light at the end of that dark dark tunnel even if you’re incredibly convinced otherwise. I’ve been there too.
This essay set out to be about my experience with being gay, hiding my sexuality (unknowingly for so long), and drinking to ease everything. I think we write what we know, but also what we need to know. I need you to know that I’m okay and I need you to know that no matter how horrible it is for you, you’re okay too. I’m now proudly out, very happy with my sexuality, and couldn’t imagine my life otherwise, but I still use things to cover up my truths, and I’m a master at lying to myself when it comes to my feelings. I know it’s progress not perfection and I also know that there’s no rush as long as I keep staying right here.