The Recovery Process.

I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with a chest reconstruction for gender confirmation, also known as top surgery, on Friday, September 22nd. The four-hour procedure began at 11:15am, landing me in post-op around 2:30pm.

In the weeks leading up to surgery, many people asked why I wasn’t more worried about the procedure. It was a surgery, after all. Each time someone asked I explained, “I’ve been waiting for this day since the time they grew in.”

What I didn’t account for was the recovery period post-surgery. I stay pretty active during my day-to-day life, jumping from engagement to engagement, so I wasn’t ready for how immobile I’m supposed to be. The two incisions running from the center of my rib cage to beneath each armpit significantly impact my range of motion.

For the first three days, I didn’t have the energy to do much but sit in bed and attend portions of a meeting during the days following surgery. I never played around much with opiates, either, so the way they dumped a concrete dust filter over a world of muted pastel shades overwhelmed me.

My sponsor came over to my house Sunday morning, two days after surgery, to check in and see how I was doing. As we took my dogs on a brief walk around the complex, I explained that I felt dull. I haven’t sat around not doing anything since I was loaded and to sit still was exacerbating.

She cut me off when I mentioned the word “dull,” though.

“No, not dull,” she replied. “That word possesses a negative connotation and this process is anything but negative.”

I nodded in response, remained silent as I knew she would suggest alternative terms to use.

She pondered for a moment. “Healing. Recovery. Those are terms you can use. Not dull.”

Patience with the process

“Patient” is not a term I would use to describe myself, especially for my own process. During these past five days since surgery, I’ve realized how impatient and stubborn I am with my own process. I’ve known it to some degree but it’s been a very physical manifestation of a mental battle taking place since I got sober last April.

I expect too much of myself immediately out of the gate. Whether it’s with my sobriety, my top surgery recovery, my writing, or any new hobby I pick up. I expect to master something immediately. When I don’t, I give up on it after a few weeks.

Ray Bradbury said something excellent: “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump. Build your wings on the way down.”

I jump repeatedly but forget every time that building is a process, not something that happens instantly. It takes weeks and months of consistent and intentional action to build those wings. They won’t sprout from my back without dedicated work. And when I give up a few weeks into the process before those wings have a chance to catch a tailwind, it feels like I’ll never get it. Patience with that process, accepting that I’m on a journey with no exact destination, is an imperative part of it.

I’m still learning how to cultivate that patience. To exist in the present moment with little regard for the moment before or after the current one. Often, I’ll turn around on the path and wonder where the past few months went.

Realization of self-absorption

I didn’t realize it’s been almost four months since I posted here. Limited electronic documentation of the past sixteen weeks exists outside of Instagram and Facebook. Most of it resides within the journals I started to keep again.

I don’t share much of myself with others in person, much less online. I’m open about the process and progress of my transition but very limited in sharing how I’ve felt about the whole thing. I live in fear of what the collective “you” thinks of me and how you see me. I won’t share at a group level and I hardly post on here because I have this obsession with needing to be perceived a certain way.

Through working with my sponsor, I realized how delusional I still am. I didn’t realize this preoccupation with what you think of me is another form of self-absorption. I might not be self-absorbed in the “typical” sense but I’m still constantly consumed with myself. Living based on my perception of your perception of me. Me, me, me.

But, much like my recovery process, this won’t go away overnight. Through intentional practice, altering my thought patterns through diligently working the steps, I can find freedom.

Building my wings

“Change course. The focus on you and where your spiritual life is where the healing and future is,” my friend Andrea told me after adding another tally mark to count the spins on the merry-go-round that are our conversations. “You’re free to stop bashing your head against the wall whenever you choose to.”

Stop focusing on what isn’t and instead focus on what is. Be patient with the process but don’t give up before my wings sprout. Consistent right action breeds self-confidence and self-esteem. Learn as I go and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Patience with my recovery process is a lifelong journey, not a destination. Now I just need to make my feet catch up with my head.

Lessons From Blogging My First Year of Sobriety.

I started Elliott in Recovery to share my experience as a transgender alcoholic. I view the world through a unique lens. I hoped to help other alcoholics and addicts, transgender or otherwise, seek sobriety. I wanted to educate curious people through my own understanding of being transgender and in recovery.

What began as an honest attempt to help quickly unraveled. Through a lack of discipline, dedication, and consistency, Elliott in Recovery fell apart. My blog migrated away from raw and honest to surface level and self-indulgent.

I littered Elliott in Recovery with a series of empty to-do lists and an apologetic lack of follow-through. If you sift through the chaff of recent months you can find grains of insight and honesty towards the beginning of the blog.

I recently realized I lacked a distinct voice. Something to separate my writing from the endless online chatter I now find myself contributing to. Something that readers can connect with. Something that provides a reason to return.

Jeff Goins is an author who began his path to publication by blogging. He suggests asking a few close friends how they would describe you as a voice discovery exercise.

I needed a direction to head in so I sent off a few messages. Many responded, providing lists of adjectives that outlined a framework the my personality. One description in particular stuck out to me.

One of my closest friends said, “Friendly, hesitant, and loving. You’re very open but still a bit shy about being confident. Does that sound like you?”

Hesitant.

That one word blasted away the roadblock I found myself running into repeatedly. I worry about sharing myself and my experience. That hesitation translates into each to-do list I post.

She continued, “You’re hesitant in throwing everything out there so you don’t look, I don’t know, stupid or embarrassed or exposed. I’m not sure what keeps you from pulling back the curtain in your writing. You can be you without the excuses.”

What lies at the root of that hesitation?

Fear.

Fear that I will write irresponsibly.
Fear that something I post will offend someone.
Fear that the wrong person will read the wrong thing and my life will explode again.
Fear that you will find out who I really am inside: an insecure little boy, terrified of his own shadow.

My friend asked, “When you’ve read other things online that you identify with, is it surface level bullshit or inner real fear shit?”

It’s inner real fear shit. And that’s exactly what I’m not writing.

Other alcoholics, addicts, and transgender individuals can benefit from hearing the voice of that scared little boy. From walking alongside him as he navigates his journey.

That’s where the real writing is. It’s in sharing my story and in bringing you along with me. I have a long way to go in this journey, so much left to learn, and you can learn with me.

I planned to launch an eBook today detailing my experience during my first year of sobriety but after this conversation I realized I riddled the writing with apprehension. It is filled to the brim with unanswered questions. Holding back in places that should have pressed forward full-force. Rather than releasing a half-hearted documentation of a pivotal period of my life, I prefer to crack myself open and spill out every truth I have. I apologize for not following through but I also owe you more than that.

I have plenty to explore within my own experience: being transgender, addiction and alcoholism, staying sober, mental health, eating disorders. Much also exists outside my scope of understanding which I can start to learn about: privilege, transgender rights, politics, and the rights of other marginalized groups.

Fear controls my life and that reflects in my blogging. There is so much I can do with Elliott in Recovery if I stop hesitating. If I drop the fear of sharing myself with the world. If I focus on the one person I can help rather than the dozens I can offend.

Faith is the antidote to fear.

Faith in myself, my journey, and my higher power. Faith that things work out the way they are supposed to, whether or not it’s convenient for me.

Faith without works is dead. If I want to cultivate self-esteem, I need to do esteemable acts. That can start by sharing openly and honestly with you here on Elliott in Recovery.

Welcome to the next year of the blog.

How to Not Drink At a Graduation Party.

Initially, I intended this post to be about how I spent the weekend blending in. Most of my family doesn’t know how to handle my being transgender. They still use my old name and female pronouns. I felt like I spent the weekend blending in. Much like the earth from the window of a plan 35,000 feet in the air, I felt like I watched myself going through the motions.

As I wrote the post, though, I realized the important part wasn’t the inability to assert myself. The weekend was about my sister and her graduation, not about Elliott insisting he be called by the correct name and pronouns. There is a time and a place for that; two weekends ago was not it.

It was that I made it through the weekend sober.

As I sat down this afternoon and began formatting the post I initially wrote, I thought about the true accomplishment of the weekend. Once I started the rewrite, I remembered a series written by my friend Kristi Coulter called “How to Not Drink At a ..”

This one’s for you, Kristi.


I took my one year of sobriety on April 19th, about two and a half weeks before leaving. I gathered reminders at many of my regular locations and a few I don’t frequent. I was plugged in and feeling good. Admittedly my connection with God was lacking but I had a large list of other sober alcoholics to call.

I didn’t imagine the weekend of my sister’s graduation would be as difficult as it was, though.

My alcoholism stems from a combination of environmental and biological factors, with a heavy emphasis on the biology. Much of my family drinks to excess. Whether or not they are alcoholics is up to them; that’s not for me to decide. I do know that many of them enjoy a few drinks and a few more than that when the family is gathered together.

I haven’t seen most of the family I saw since I was about 16 or 17, before I started drinking. Today I’m not drinking. I sandwiched the destruction of my life between gatherings with my heavily intoxicated family. Thankfully everyone is more than supportive of my sobriety.

That doesn’t make it any easier to transport a beer bong chilled by a cool Coor’s Light from the dedicated beer bong holder in the living room to the back yard.

So how did I stay sober during her graduation weekend? And how can you stay sober through the upcoming graduation weekends you may have to attend? The season is upon us and graduation is rife with champagne-soaked celebrations.

Here are a few things that helped keep me away from the drink for another few 24-hours:

1. Always have something in your hand.

Whether it’s a bottle of water, an energy drink, or a cigarette, having something in your hand helps keep people from offering you something. Common drinking courtesy includes offering others a beer, mixed drink, or a shot. If you have something in your hand already they’re less likely to offer.

Personally, I channeled my inner Red Bull affiliate throughout the weekend, crushing can after can of the wing-giving beverage (and I should have taken them up on that large settlement a few years back .. I never grew any wings).

If you don’t already smoke, don’t pick up smoking. If you are a smoker, having a pack on hand at all times helped me. It gave me something to physically distract myself from the presence of alcohol. It was my “thing to do.” My mom doesn’t like that I smoke but it’s better than me drinking.

I didn’t ruin my sister’s graduation because I had a cigarette on the front sidewalk.

Since only one other person in my family smokes, it provided an excuse to walk away from the madness even momentarily. Having a cigarette gave me a quiet moment to myself. And before you non-smokers jump on me, I know I could have stepped away without the excuse of a cigarette. It simply gave me something to do with my hands and relieve stress while I had that moment.

2. Keep some other sober alcoholics on speed dial.

Actually, is speed dial even a thing anymore? I used to have all my speed dials programmed on my old flip phones. Now it’s much easier to search your contact list and find who you need.

Regardless, have a list of sober alcoholics who know where you will be. Enlist the help of friends who are willing to pick up the phone at any time of the day while you’re there. I made multiple calls a day which helped get me out of myself, kept me from focusing on my self-pity.

Let people know where you’re going before you leave. There is little worse than having no one available when you need the help of another person who understands. I know that when it comes down to it all you have is God, but the voice of reason from a fellow alcoholic helps, too. Keep lines of communication open while you are out of town or even down the street.

3. Have a physical object to hold onto that reminds you of your sobriety.

I keep my one-year chip with me wherever I go: one in my wallet and the other in the watch pocket of my jeans. Whenever I need a physical connection to my sobriety, I pull out either one of these chips, look at it, reflect upon it.

Having something to hold in my hands connects me on a physical level to why I’m doing this. It provides a moment to pause and meditate wherever I am, to remember why I am walking this path today.

The foot-long scar on my right forearm is another reminder to stay the course. Each time a frozen shot of Fireball looked appealing, I glanced at my arm. I know, deep down to my core, I will die the next time I relapse. Oftentimes I hear the phrase “seconds and inches.” I am living proof that alcoholics often survive by the skin of our teeth. That’s something I never want to forget.

4. Come up with an exit plan.

This is one thing I did a poor job at: I didn’t have an exit plan. I was able to walk out of the party and down the street a few times but there was no way to physically remove myself from the situation. I imagine if push had come to shove I could have borrowed a car but I didn’t have anywhere to go.

Whether you are going across town or out of town, plan ahead for a way to remove yourself from the situation. No matter if it’s a borrowed car, an Uber, a taxi, or public transportation, figure out a way to leave the party if need be.

I’m grateful the need for this never arose. I would have figured something out but it would have been difficult. Having an exit plan is a necessary part of attending an alcohol-infused celebration.

How do you make it through celebrations sober?

Again, the whole weekend was for my sister. Every crack of a beer can, shouting of “Shots!”, and turning down accidental offerings of drinks was worth it. To be there, sober, for my sister, was one of the many gifts I’ve received during this first year-and-change.

These are just a few options to help you stay sober during a graduation party. Do you have any suggestions? Let me know in the comments.