It’s the 15th of the month so that means it’s time for the next installment of We’re Here, We’re Queer!
I keep reading Jen’s story over and over because I love how she keeps changing and evolving with time, as things feel right for her. She just celebrated her nine years last week and I’m so excited to see what the future will bring for her.
Another milestone in my sobriety journey recently occurred. I’ve now been sober for longer than I drank which is an astounding fact and one that continues to shock me.
At age 15, I started drinking and smoking weed because I glorified popularity and measured my success by the number of party invitations I got and the number of dates I was asked out on. Let’s just say I was never popular by those metrics. Nonetheless, a fake ID got me access to all the alcohol I wanted and by the end of high school I was a daily drinker. As a purebred Minnesotan, beer was my drink of choice, and to be completely honest I still drink non-alcoholic beer because I fucking love the taste.
One morning, I woke up with the shakes. I lived with my parents but they were at the cabin and I was home alone. Dehydrated and nauseated, I walked out the front door onto the deck and lit a Marlboro red. When that didn’t take the edge off, I rummaged around the fridge for a bottle of water. Instead, I found a beer way in the back. My parents weren’t big drinkers and I figured they wouldn’t notice if it was gone. I cracked that beer and sure as shit, after a few gulps my breathing slowed down, my skin no longer felt like it was on too tight, and my hands stopped trembling. I distinctly remember thinking ‘I’m so fucked’ as I finished off that beer. It was 9:00 a.m and I was 18 years old.
For about 5 years thereafter, I waffled between intensely willing myself to drink like a ‘normal person’ and having a true desire to be abstinent from substances altogether. Rehab, religion, 12-step programs, therapy, anarchy, and hundreds of self-help books were merely pit stops along the track toward an escalating substance abuse problem.
The thought of being an actual alcoholic was disconcerting. I held on to hope that if I remained supremely self-aware then it would all just go away. It did not go away. Instead, I kept finding more creative ways of getting fucked up. That period of my life is best defined as purgatory. I knew I had a problem but I couldn’t wrap my mind around being sober for good.
And then, May 10, 2009 happened. I wasn’t going to drink that night, but after working a double at my restaurant job, I decided to ‘have a few’ with my coworkers. I blacked out within an hour.
The next morning I was barely able to move. My hair and mattress were covered in puke. Except the mattress wasn’t mine because I was sleeping in the apartment of my then-lover because I didn’t have a home of my own. That is to say, at three weeks shy of 24 years old, I was homeless.
I vowed to never drink again and miraculously I’ve stuck to it.
To kick off my newfound sobriety, I dedicated myself to AA by finding a cool young sponsor and ‘working the steps’ for the first time in my life. You could almost always find me sucking down iced coffee and Marlboro reds at a notable sober hangout in Saint Paul, MN [or as we fondly nicknamed it ‘Saint Sober’, MN because it’s a sober destination for people from all over the world].
That summer, I fell head over heels for a woman while on a sober camping trip in the deep woods of Wisconsin. I don’t specifically remember feeling shame about my sexual orientation, but I did feel pressure to define myself as EITHER gay OR straight. Perhaps that was pressure I put on myself, or maybe it was a result of being exposed to traditional social binaries for my whole life. Nonetheless, I found it difficult to categorize myself. So, I defaulted back into dating men after the thing with the lady fizzled a few months later.
While I didn’t go out of my way to hide my experiences with women, for many years I discounted them as ‘experimentation.’ For that, I have some regret because I see now that I was denying myself the opportunity to have an authentic experience as a queer/bi woman. That’s something I will never get to take back and I’m fairly certain my recovery was stunted as a result.
Now I’ll give you the highlight reel of my sobriety:
I spent the first 7 years of my sobriety trying to be a super-duper AA member [I wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I was nothing if not consistent in meeting attendance]. Some great things happened in the first 7 years. Like:
I finished an undergraduate degree.
I finished a master’s degree.
I achieved the ‘ideal image of success in America [marriage, dog, house, high income].
Then, something shifted around Year 7. A combination of soul-searching and being in more emotional pain than I could begin to summarize forced me to accept that I hadn’t been living ‘my truth.’ I wouldn’t quite say I was living a lie, but I definitely was in denial of some key aspects of who I am. I knew that I needed to make some changes, so:
I got divorced after being married for only 6 months.
I took my dream job and moved across the country.
I embraced my sexuality as queer/bi.
That last one is probably the biggest deal of all because it opened the door for me to stop looking for acceptance in other things [including: sponsors, therapists, parents, lovers] and finally have acceptance for myself.
The past year and a half has involved a lot of heavy questioning of my personal value system which has prompted me look at my involvement in AA. I’m still working through my feelings and thoughts around that subject but currently it doesn’t feel like AA is a thought-system that matches my personal values. I have not attended meetings in about 6 months, but I often joke about needing a support group to quit support groups because it was a HUGE part of my life for so long! Currently, I’m also doing a lot of work on my emotional reliance on other things like food and romance and my career. I try to look at life as a big experiment – I’m always messing with variables and checking on the results to see what’s working and what’s not. It’s fun! I can say with 100% honesty that my favorite thing about my life is the fact that I’m sober.
Jen Cooper is a queer/bi woman who is originally from Minnesota but, now calls Massachusetts her home. She’s a design researcher at a consumer electronics company. If you’re interested in reading more of her writing, seeing what she’s up to or, having a sober pal at Burning Man – check out her blog or find her on Instagram @jen.super.cooper
If you’re interested in sharing your recovery story in a future installment of We’re Here, We’re Queer!, head on over to the contact page and get at me!