Thursday, March 6, 2008

Dealing With Our Emotions

Addicts and Alcoholics are notorious for not wanting to talk about what's bothering them. When they were using, they couldn't talk about their problems for fear someone would discover how severe their addiction was. They may have learned early in life that problems were not to be discussed openly. Opening up may lead to manipulation or rejection by others. Many have used chemicals to cope with the every day feelings.

Learning to talk about feelings is a critical part of recovery. To remain clean & sober, one must learn the skills to deal with feelings. Failure to deal with feelings leads right back to chemical use. When someone is troubled, they should seek out other people in recovery and share their feelings whether they be of shame. guilt, anger or fear. This takes the burden off your shoulders and generally leads to some worthwhile positive feedback. It may be necessary to discuss these feelings with many different people as to reduce the level of these emotions.

Sometimes it is necessary to make changes in your life. You need to learn how to identify the problems that need to be dealt with. For instance, anger and resentment plays a major role in addictive behavior. Anger is not the issue. Unresolved anger is the issue. When anger is left unresolved then resentment sets in. Resentment is the major cause of relapse. Resentment is the the opposite of forgiveness and it keeps you stuck at the point of pain. Resentment does not hurt anyone else but the person holding on to it. Blaming others enables you to hold onto resentment. It gives you the excuse to not change.

Anger begins when we believe we have been treated unfairly. Then, it is stuffed deep within and we tell ourselves we have dealt with the emotion. The problem is this anger that is stuffed deep inside the emotional backpack, we carry around with us just turns into depression. Eventually, the anger that has turned into resentment that has turned into depression needs to be relieved so it is done by using drugs and/or alcohol.

How many of us have allowed our problems/emotions take over in our minds? We allow them to roll over and over in our mind and as the thoughts keep rolling around the anger festers, resentment increases and depression overwhelms. Obsession takes over and comfort is required so pop a pill, take a drink, do whatever to avoid feeling rotten.

Then there is fear and worry. Fear is a normal emotion that if used properly moves us forward and creates joy. If left unchecked it can block a person in recovery. Most in recovery especially early recovery are afraid of living as a sober person.
Up to this point, an addictive person learned that the best way to be safe and free from fear was to try and control everything around them. For an addict/alcoholic lack of control does not feel safe.

Some in recovery will find it difficult to identify the fear and will turn it into anger. Some are so overwhelmed by fear they feel out of control and panic. Overconfidence and cockiness are dangerous in sobriety. These attitudes minimize the severity of the addiction or the amount of work required to remain clean. Being afraid of change is normal. Not accepting that fear can be uncomfortable keeps the person stuck. It paralyzes. Living life without hiding behind chemicals is scary. Having to give up relationships is scary. Learning basic coping skills is necessary.

Learn to express feelings and concerns.
Keep realistic expectations of the world and ourselves.
Be honest with ourselves and others.
Keep no secrets and tell no lies.
Talk to someone who will listen.
Talk. Talk. Talk. Ask for help.

Monday, March 3, 2008

When drinking is the easier, softer way . . .

It has probably never occurred to most of you, perhaps it has, but most people don't have any idea what it's like to grow up gay. Enduring the message that we are perverts, that we don't deserve to marry or serve our country, that God hates us, exacts a toll that few other oppressed groups understand. When the very people who could be showing us how to grow up and to love ourselves and how to love those around us are saddled with the same burden and hide, we hide, too. No other group can really do that. Black Americans can't pretend they're white. Women can't (usually) pretend they're men. The only other protected class that might compare would be religion, but that isn't something so central to a person's identity as to be thought of as immutable. People change religions all the time. I was born into an LDS family, for example. I wasn't born Mormon.

I was, I believe, born gay. My parents recognized it, or at least the possibility of it, by the time I could walk and talk. Like many parents and like our society as a whole, they did everything they could to redirect it, suppress it, retrain it, punish it, punish it and beat it out of me, as though it were a bad habit.

The National Institute of Health and Mental Health America report that:

  • Gay and lesbian teens deal with harassment, threats, and violence directed at them on a daily basis. They hear anti-gay slurs such as “homo”, “faggot” and “sissy” about 26 times a day or once every 14 minutes.[1]
  • Thirty-one percent of gay youth had been threatened or injured at school in the last year alone![2]
  • Gay and lesbian teens are at high risk because ‘their distress is a direct result of the hatred and prejudice that surround them,’ not because of their inherently gay or lesbian identity orientation.[3]
  • Gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.[4]
  • Gay teens in U.S. schools are often subjected to such intense bullying that they’re unable to receive an adequate education.[5] They’re often embarrassed or ashamed of being targeted and may not report the abuse.
  • GLBT students are more apt to skip school due to the fear, threats, and property vandalism directed at them.[6] One survey revealed that 22 percent of gay respondents had skipped school in the past month because they felt unsafe there.[7]
  • Twenty-eight percent of gay students will drop out of school. This is more than
    three times the national average for heterosexual students.[8]
  • GLBT youth feel they have nowhere to turn. According to several surveys, four out of five gay and lesbian students say they don’t know one supportive adult at school.[9]
It is not surprising then that, as US Department of Health and Human Services reports, gay and lesbian youth are up to 300% more likely to attempt or complete suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. [10]

"Perhaps there is an easier, softer way." For many of us, that way is escape through drugs and alcohol. Again, the NIH reports multiple studies that all suggest that gay men are 50 - 100% more likely to be alcoholics or problem drinkers than straight men and half as likely to have abstained from alcohol use entirely in the last 30 days. [11]

Just like all alcoholics, it was incredibly difficult for me to reach out for help. It was very, very difficult for me to come to Alcoholics Anonymous and look for the similarities and to 'be a part of' when every message I'd ever heard told me something different. I might have not had to travel as far down the scale as I did if our culture didn't impose the idea that I was different.

I'd like to ask every member of AA to carefully consider exactly what we mean when we say, "I am responsible whenever anyone, anywhere reaches out for help. . ." This is a "we" program and we need your help. Stand up against prejudice and stand up to protect our children. Stand up because we may not be able to on our own. If we make it into the doors of AA, remember how hard it was when you walked in. Remember that the very act of walking in may be the very best we can do to reach out for help. Ask yourself to what lengths you are willing to go to carry the message of hope to another sick and suffering alcoholic.

[1] Bart, M. Creating a safer school for gay students. Counseling Today, September 1998
[2] Chase, Anthony. "Violent Reaction; What do Teen Killers have in Common?" In These Times. 9 July 2001
[3] Norton, Terry L., and Jonathan W. Vare. "Understanding Gay and Lesbian Youth: Sticks, Stones, and Silence." 17 July 1998: 3
Lexis Nexis. 20 June 2002
[4] Report from the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide (Paul Gibson, US Department of Health and Human Services), 1989
[5] Chase, Anthony. "Violent Reaction; What do Teen Killers have in Common?" In TheseTimes. 9 July 2001: 3.
[6] Garofalo, R. Wolf, R.C., Kessel, S., Palfrey., J (1998) Pediatrics, 101 (5), 895-902
[7] Chase, Anthony. "Violent Reaction; What do Teen Killers have in Common?" In These Times. 9 July 2001
[8] Bart, M. Creating a safer school for gay students. Counseling Today, September 1998
[9] Sessions Stepp, Laura. "A Lesson in Cruelty: Anti-Gay Slurs Common at School; Some Say Insults Increase as Gays' Visibility Rises." The Washington Post 19 June 2001
[10] Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration, "Report of the Secretary's Task Force on Youth Suicide. Volume 1: Overview and Recommendations." January 1989
[11] National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institute of Health, "Sexual Orientation and Alcohol Use Disorders." March 2005