In very general terms, the queer community as a whole has a historically contentious relationship with God and religion.
Anti-LGBTQ sentiments run deep in a lot of organized religions that culminate in perceived immorality, persecution and, even legislation fueled by the anti-queer beliefs of religion continue to affect us all.
I’d say I’m about 80% atheist and 20% agnostic. I discovered that religion and God weren’t my cup of tea when I was in 6th grade. I grew up Catholic and attended CCD (a weekly class to learn about Catholicism) but, by the time I was 11 or 12 I knew it wasn’t something I was into. I just wasn’t interested, didn’t believe and, was more concerned with who I’d be sitting next to when we watched movies like The 10 Commandments than anything that was being said. Thankfully, I had parents who supported my decision and we became one of those Easter/Christmas church families you hear about.
As I got older and fully realized my queerness, I saw the way the LGBTQ+ community was being attacked by almost every religion I was familiar with and was more confident in my identity as an atheist. Why would I want to be part of something that had no interest in accepting who I was? We are literally just human beings who are living our lives.
I’m not saying that no one should believe in God. I think it’s pretty cool when people have faith. I know lots of queer and trans people who do. But, I also know lots who don’t.
One of the hardest things for me to come to terms with early in my sobriety was all of the higher power, religion and, spirituality references (did I mention that, unlike a lot of non-religious people, I don’t consider myself spiritual?) Talk of all of that stuff shuts me down and it’s hard for me to move past it to hear the overall message being presented. Time and time again I’ve had to fight the urge to dismiss what people are saying because of “the God thing.”
It took me over 3 months of sobriety before I was able to find a community I connected with and that was primarily due to the overwhelming connection of sobriety and “higher power.” Now, I’m not against people having a higher power or believing in God but, what I needed was an environment where that wasn’t a primary, secondary or even tertiary part of the conversation. I didn’t know where to start looking and I didn’t know if I’d ever find the kind of people and support I needed but, I did.
When I signed up for Hip Sobriety School I was looking for tools to help me feel less miserable in my sobriety but, what I found in addition to those tools were people who don’t care that I’m an atheist. This group of humans also helped to take down some of the walls I had about listening to/having conversations with people regarding spiritual/religious topics. These people – the core of my sober community – are accepting, loving, thoughtful and, non-judgmental. On top of all of that, never once was told that I needed to find a higher power in order to be happy in my sobriety. Which is true. I didn’t. I don’t. Here I am, 26 months in: happy, secure and, confident in my sobriety.
This is not to say that I don’t believe in things, because I do. I believe in people + connections + community + physical activity + nature + love + science + education (whether it’s formal or not) + laughter + passion. These are the things I used and continue to use to help support my sobriety and here’s how:
People + Connections + Community
The first thing I did when I decided I had had enough of alcohol was text two of my people to tell them, from thousands of miles away, while I was in Hawaii. Those two texts, one to Portland and one to Virginia, helped me make a commitment to this new and definitive decision to be sober. The added benefits of support and being truthful about myself created the base I needed to help keep me sober. Over the next few weeks and months, I would see that I had a great little group of people to help support me while I was going through this miserable, messy time (shout out to Haley + Christen + Misty + Amanda + Kelly + Katie!!)
I did Hip Sobriety School in spring 2016 which is where I ended up with a community of other people who really made the base of my sober family. The community of Hip Sobriety School was just the tip of the iceberg. Once I began making connections there, I was able to find a much larger and wider online community that I was able to tap into. Being able to see and share with others who understand and are going through a lot of the same things I was going through was a game changer for me. I began sharing my story on social media, too. I could see that visibility was the way for people to see that we CAN make changes.
What this looks like for me now is trying to build and foster community for queer and trans people. The overlapping Venn diagram segment of the LGBTQ+ community and the recovery community is significant. I’m interested in creating a space for people to share their stories of recovery and for other people to read those stories. Seeing someone like you being successfully or even attempting recovery can be the spark you need to know that you can also do this recovery thing. I’m also interested in making sure people can see that being sober or in recovery can be fun and exciting and you can still be freaky or dirty or funny. Your queer card won’t be revoked if you no longer drink or do drugs.
Physical Activity + Nature
It’s no secret that walking is one of the biggest items in my toolbox for when I feel cravings or anxiety or depression but, walking isn’t the only thing I use to help support my sobriety.
I mean, I guess hiking is really just walking in nature but, it’s also something that has helped me re-center myself more times than I can count. Even before I quit drinking, getting out into the forest was the best way for me to calm down when my anxiety was high. There’s something about the air and the quiet and the dirt and the green. It just gets me. If we can add a tent and some camping to that well – SWOON CITY! (Swoon…. wilderness?? I mean, I don’t camp in a city.)
If I don’t have the time or the weather is too bad for a walk or a hike, I dance. Listen, I’m not a particularly good dancer and I don’t really go out to clubs BUT I dance the shit outta my kitchen and living room! It looks very similar to how I did it as a kid. If I’m listening to something the slightest bit classical, I pretend I can do ballet. I’ve been known to rock an interpretive dance to a particularly emotional song. A good song on a commercial or a T.V. program? I’ll get up and dance to it! I shake my booty. I flail my arms. I jump up and down. I leap. I make shadows on my walls. I just go with it and it brings me complete and absolute joy.
Oh! And if you’re walking or hiking outside, try to do it without earbuds in. I find that fully immersing myself in my surroundings gives my brain time to work through shit and a podcast or music is a huge distraction.
Whatever you do, just find something that gets your energy out and makes your heart happy.
Learning how to love myself by taking care of myself and not listening to/encouraging that super critical, negative voice in my head was one of the first things that helped me feel more comfortable in my sobriety.
It may sound silly but, actually speaking to myself out loud in a kind, loving manner got me through many freak outs. I clearly remember walking through downtown Portland with the regular loop going through my head “of course she’s not texting you back, why would she!? You’re so annoying, why would she want to be your friend!?!?” and on and on and on. This time, though, I caught this loop and I started speaking to myself like I would speak to a best friend or a child who I love “You are an amazing friend, sweetie. Your friends love you and they care about you. You are funny + caring + loyal + thoughtful. Everyone you know has their own life and can’t always reply to you right away. You are loved. You are smart. You are valuable.” and on and on and on. Saying these things over and over have really helped cement these things in me and now, my loop is an automatic loop of confidence and love instead of negativity. Well, mostly. We all have insecurities, eh?
Also – love for other people. ALL OTHER PEOPLE.
Listen, there are plenty of people out there that I don’t like (I’m not going to name any names.) But, I love everyone. I truly believe that all people deserve empathy + love.
Being a part of many different circles has taught me that no matter what someone looks like, what their circumstances are, their education level, their job, their housing situation or, any number of other things that can be perceived as signs of success or failure, you can never really know what a person is going through at any given moment. Treating people with empathy and love can not only create connections but, it can also let the person you’re interacting with know that you see them as a human and are not overlooking their existence.
And don’t most people just want to be seen and feel loved?
Science + Education
These two things might not be what immediately comes to mind when you think about sobriety and recovery but, learning the hows and the whys of how alcohol (or other substance or behavior) affects your mental and physical health is a great way to put some extra oomph behind your reasons for recovery.
Additionally, once I wasn’t drinking anymore and had begun to stabilize my moods, I realized that there were so many things I’d like to do and were interested in that I never really had the motivation to learn about while I was drinking. Or, if I did, I would either lose interest quickly or not retain the information. I have been absorbing information about all sorts of things lately at a rate that rivals my high school years.
Things I’ve learned about and discovered interest in since getting sober include: how to get adequate nutrition in order to support my physical and emotional health, white supremacy and how its ingrained in every aspect of our country, intersectionality, meditation, photography, writing, connecting with people and, a basic interest in listening to the experiences of people who are different from me.
Reading about other people’s experience with recovery, learning how to take better care of yourself, asking questions, taking up that hobby you’ve always been meaning to start, learning that you have an interest in something that you never even considered before, these are all ways to help create a more well-rounded and complete version of yourself.
You deserve to be the most whole version of yourself that you can be. One of the best ways to do that is to take the chance to learn about all of the things you’ve always been too afraid to learn.
It’s hard to be miserable when you’re laughing. I mean, it’s possible but, it’s more difficult.
I went months where I could only watch, and re-watch, Parks and Recreation, The Office and, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I needed to laugh and I couldn’t handle even watching T.V. that was serious.
If I’m struggling, I reach out to my funniest friends. They can always give me a boost in the form of memes, sarcasm, silliness or, just plain random ridiculousness.
There is something to be said about smiling and laughing, even if it’s not genuine. I find that a fake smile can slowly make way for a real smile. A fake chuckle can really open the floodgates for a real, belly laugh to come out. It is super tempting to wallow in sadness and, I’m not saying we shouldn’t FEEL our sadness because we should. But, feeling the sadness doesn’t have to look like living in the sadness. We can feel the sadness and try to bring joy and laughter into our lives. We can feel the sadness and actively work on moving past the sadness.
What lights you on fire?? That has been something I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time. In early sobriety I could really only focus on not drinking. Which is fine. Which is what I needed to do and what most, if not all, people need to do in those first few days/weeks/months of giving up the substance or behavior that they have been using as a coping mechanism.
Eventually though, things will even out and you’ll be able to get though hours/days/weeks/months without thinking about alcohol (or whatever your “thing” was.) When that happens you’ll begin to want to fill your time with something that lights you on fire. The thing that keeps calling to you from your deepest insides.
I had the hardest time figuring out what my thing was but, I just kept doing the next thing that seemed right. Small things like letting people know I heard them, sharing my opinions and beliefs on Instagram, writing about the things I was thinking about and, reading/hearing about the needs of under-served communities.
After all of these small steps and, a fuck ton of encouragement, I’ve found it. This. The thing I kept coming back to was making sure people who felt like they didn’t belong or that they weren’t seen to feel seen. To feel like they had a place they belonged. Creating visibility for queer and trans people within the recovery community and helping people already in the community be as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
It took a lot of small things to find this larger passion in me. Keep looking and don’t give up. Listen to the voice inside of you.
We all deserve to be the best, most content and, most fulfilled people we can be.
Don’t for one minute think that because you are an atheist or agnostic that you can’t have all of the fantastic things that sobriety and recovery can bring. Don’t for one minute think you’re not worthy of these things. Don’t for one fucking minute think that your queerness (and all of the baggage + trauma that comes with it) in any way makes you undeserving of recovery or love or a community that will support you. And don’t, for one minute, think you need to uproot your entire belief system in order to comply with a program. Because you don’t.
You are valid, just as you are.