Email therapy…?

A recent Email exchange (names and situations have been changed to maintain confidentiality):

Dear Greg,

 So, I feel pretty hopeless.  Another 90 days sober with the same hideous thoughts and feelings I’ve always had. Of course not too long ago I didn’t know that I couldn’t turn to drinking and drugging. Now I know I can’t do that because I become so destructive and all gets worse. When I’m sober I have my failure to contend with and regular debates about the point of all this.  I take the substances and the men off the table and I’m just left feeling isolated with no fucking idea where to find some peace and hope.  I get some from AA because it’s all I know, there are people there, and about 5 sporadically attending gay people. 

Any suggestions?  I read your blog in response to Milk which prompted this email to you. What could work for someone like me with my own homophobia, all the religion stuff in my head, having a major birthday this year, afraid that there is really no support network of people here and now outside of AA?  Maybe it’s not that black and white.  Perhaps there’s something in addition too what I’m doing now.  Something’s got to give though…,

Frustrated

 

Dear Frustrated,

 

Well, you’re maybe asking for a miracle here, but I’m happy to share some thoughts…
Sounds like you’re in a place where you feel you have given up control of your life to the idea that “They” or “It” won’t let you drink or use drugs or have gratuitous sex. That really leaves one in a hopeless place. It might be better to try and choose not to do those things that have proved harmful because you see the wisdom in that, rather than resentfully “have” to give them up. Sort of reminds me of a child whose parents won’t let them go to the dance…. :)
I say this with some experience. I’m not trying to be flip or glib, it’s just that until you really choose to live a life that works on understanding rather than resentment, you’ll continue to feel hopeless. And who wouldn’t? It’s hard to feel like you’re in jail, that you have no freedom, that you’re not trusted, or even trustworthy. I simply find it easier to look a bit more closely and find my own resentments- that’s what always gets in the way. And, generally, I find that it’s all about looking at myself with a whole lot of forgiveness. Really, that’s what internalized homophobia is all about- not believing your own experience in favor of society’s judgments. It’s a hard thing to come out of, but it’s even harder if you’re mean to yourself about it.
I believe we’re all doing the best that we can, and reminding myself of that has saved my sanity on more than one occasion. Reminding myself that “I did the best I could” or I’m doing my best from my own particular state of consciousness” helped move me beyond the homophobia ingrained into me by society and church and government into self acceptance…. And when you do something “stupid” or “childish” or whatever you might negatively label it- actively forgive yourself. Change is much more effective long-term when it’s accompanied by understanding and forgiveness rather than resentment and anger.
Also, remember: your body and brain are still recovering from the drugs- it can take a while to feel “normal” again. But again, through my own experience, it always gets better.
For most of us who’ve experienced addiction, recovery is mostly about the realization that using creates a false world- and therefore an unreal expectation of who I am. Reality is a bit more hardcore- especially for those of us who’ve spent most of our lives doing everything we can to avoid it. Go slow. There’s an old song that says “Take your time, do it right.” You might want to spend some time looking at your own impatience. The reality is, nothing ever goes as fast or as slow as we want it to. It goes the way it goes. I have little or no control over anything outside of myself. When I realized that, life immediately got better. My expectations changed, I became kinder to myself and others, and found purpose and love.
My advice? Get some help seeing yourself for who you really are- a capable human being worthy of love and respect. That can be therapy, AA, friendship, a hobby (or even a dog…). Sometimes when we’re in that hopeless place, we need the perspective of someone else, especially someone we trust, to help us get out of it.
I also believe in having a spiritual program -whatever that means to you- to find a way of connecting yourself to the rest of us. One of the fastest ways to do that is through service. If you’re useful to someone else, you’re less likely to think of “all this” as a terrible place, and your life as having little meaning or purpose.
One more thing may be to realize the falseness of your thoughts. The phrase “Is that true?” can help quiet your brain. Did you know most of what we think is either untrue or unprovable? Think about it. Most of our thinking is wrapped up in what could be or what should have been. It’s actually rarely focused on the moment. Once we get past some of that crap, we can focus on the truth, that is, Reality, or the Here and Now. All of the difficulty you spoke of can change through a simple, active shift in perspective. The shift is simple, the process of shifting may take some time to trust.
 You may also want to talk to your doctor about all of these frustrations and feelings. Medication (for a time) can often be the kind thing to do when you’re getting on your feet again. It can help clear away the distractions so that you can actually do the work. Again, that’s something to discuss with a medical professional.
I hope this helps some. Thanks for writing, and I’m happy to talk to you again.
Greg

Camping with the future

I just spent the weekend with 15 Gaybies.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s generally used for younger gays. In this case it applied to those from 16-22. And they were much more sophisticated and self-aware than I was at their age.

We had formal presentations about safe sex, HIV, relationships, spirituality, humor & health, and I presented on “Coming Out of Guilt and Shame”- and honestly, their shame (mostly) was dwarfed by my own adolescent case of it. We told our coming out stories, we made bracelets, we ate and laughed, watched movies and played “Apples to Apples”- Okay, I fell asleep on the couch- everyone else played… We had at least 7 take HIV tests, we stayed up late, ate too much candy, laughed a lot, cried some and, for the most part, became a community. A community relatively free from harassment and fear, from pain and secrecy. The acceptance was implicit, the care and concern overt.

Each of these campers came from somewhere in Montana, from a high school, college, or a home that didn’t (couldn’t) know them as well as the group assembled in that lodge did. That group made for immediate relaxing of defenses, moments of availability, and, as I witnessed, a few moments of pure joy at being understood and pure sorrow at leaving it all behind when it was over.

I said during our closing, “It is a privilege to share this time with you. Just remember you are not alone- you take us all with you as you leave and I take all of you with me as I go.” And it’s true. The privilege of watching these brave, young men tell their stories, explore new ideas, share their thoughts and opinions and try out social skills with each other in that safe space stays with me still. It’s a glimpse of the future, and if the experience of the past weekend is any indication, I think it’s going to be pretty amazing.

Cinderella I ain’t…

We were at the Black and White Ball last night in Missoula to benefit the Western Montana LGBT Community Center. It all started out fine. My clothes fit, I looked pretty good, Ken was handsome, a great circle of friends- dinner with people I love very much, and a ballroom full of people who supported me and my relationship as much as I supported theirs (or their desire to have some such). The atmosphere was nurturing, mostly. There were a few people obviously avoiding other people, but it wasn’t ugly or drama-filled or really at all awkward.

I was enjoying myself and my partner and my friends and the party immensely, and then something happened.

It crossed my mind later that the old cliche’ “there I was minding my own business, when suddenly…” seems to apply here. I really was. Minding my own business, I mean. I was talking to Hobie about something sort of innocuous but interesting, when Ken grabbed my hand and said to Hobie, “Could you excuse us for a minute?”

I was confused. Ken doesn’t really do that. Interrupt, I mean. And he hasn’t ever just grabbed me and pulled me aside for any reason that I can remember. I thought, “Oh shit, I’ve had a few drinks and maybe said something that I shouldn’t have and this is his way of telling me to keep my big mouth shut. That’s sweet- and a little embarrassing. I wonder what I said?” He was pulling me toward the front of the ballroom- toward the band, which was playing “A Rainy Night in Georgia” and the less crowded area of the dance floor. I figured I should ask him what was up. “Is there something wrong?” I said into his ear. He just grabbed my hand tighter and took me out onto the dance floor. “Nope,”he said. “I love this song and just wanted to dance with you.”

I was stunned.

Ken doesn’t dance. Or so he says. I’ve tried to get him to dance with me, but he’s always refused saying he feels he looks like a big, awkward bird and has no rhythm, is accident prone and etc. I always say it doesn’t matter, I don’t care what you look like or how you dance and still, he’s not been up for it.  And so, we haven’t danced.

I didn’t push it, because there are certain things I don’t like to do- long distance running for instance, that Ken enjoys. I figured if I let some of my things go I wouldn’t be pressured to go jogging or spend six hours in a shoe store. It’s that compromise place you reach when you love someone so much you realize that part of what you love is their difference- there’s no need to be exactly alike or enjoy the same things. Otherwise, why bother having a partner at all? I want someone who shows me the view from their life, through eyes and experiences not my own. And this he does. Sometimes with a grace that takes my breath away. Sometimes it’s more akin to blunt force trauma. Mostly it’s somewhere in between. But tonight-

He pulled me close and kissed me lightly and we gracefully moved to the music. In a room filled with people that didn’t see us as freaks or perverts or abominations of nature, we simply danced.  A very normal thing for people in love to do in a public place where there’s music….

It was wonderful. Stunning. Perhaps one of the best moments of my life. I felt safe and at ease and excited and, well, just right. I still do.

And as the music ended, and I felt all warm and happy, full of love and grateful for the surprise of this man, I found myself thinking, ever so briefly, “I’m going to return the favor someday.”

I don’t think it’ll be running, though.

Friday the 13th

I actually forgot that this was the sinister day until reminded by my friend Ryan’s horror-themed Facebook posts (Jason, hockey mask, etc). I wondered about the residual dread that still seems to dog our culture, either superstitiously, politically, economically, psychologically or spiritually.
Or maybe they are all the same….
Some behavioral psychologists have claimed that superstitions are simply ways to avoid taking possible personal responsibility for bad outcomes.
Some religious historians have claimed that superstitions flourished in cultures that were punitive and within which, religious authorities held too much power over a large, fearful lower class (think the Middle Ages or the Salem Witch trials)
Whatever the case, it’s obviously linked to forces beyond the control of the ordinary human, usually ascribed to God or gods. These Deities can seem very capricious and even cruel in their messing about in human fortune- that is until science, reason or simple awareness provides a less Divine explanation….
Got me wondering, “What do I use to avoid taking responsibility for my own involvement in my life/relationships/country/world…?”

Auntie Donnie

My Aunt Donnie died on Sunday.

I have gone through a whole range of thoughts and emotions, which is why it’s taken me so long to be able to write about her and her affect on my life.

Aunt Donnie was the last remaining of my mother’s older sisters, and always, my favorite-even though I know you’re not supposed to have them. Why? Because she took an interest in me and my brother and sister. She talked to me like an adult. She bought me interesting books. She took me places I never would have gone without her. She and Uncle Bob took me (and later on, my brother and sister) to the metropolis of Seattle from rural Montana summer after summer. I got to know my cousins better. She got me a library card at the Shoreline library and encouraged me to use it- I used to take one of cousin’s old bikes to the library every day, loaded down, to and from, with books. She enrolled me in day camp at Hamlin Park. She and my Uncle Bob took me and my brother to Mariners games. She let me stay up late, reading, as long as I wanted when I was at their house. They took us to real Chinese food. We went to the Pacific Science Center and museums and fairs and interesting shops downtown. In short, she opened up the world to me in a way I never would have been able to do without her.

She was my Auntie Mame.

I always wondered why she was called “Donnie”. That was not a name I’d heard on a woman before. Once, I asked her. She said “Because the Irishmen in Dublin Gulch couldn’t pronounce Donna.”

It stuck.

Her courage, her tenacity, her stubbornness, her good heart- all that stuck, too.

It still sticks, despite her ill health in the last few years. Despite the fact that I haven’t seen her for awhile- my fault. It sticks because she was a force of nature in my life and the life of my Mom and Dad, my sister and brother.

She was and continues to be a force in my life. Her encouragement gave me experiences that shape me to this day, and I’m grateful for her presence in my life.

I’ll miss you, Auntie Donnie.