What Being a Transgender Alcoholic Means to Me.

“You’re so much more than those two labels,” a mentor of mine commented when I shared a post from Elliott in Recovery on my Facebook.

I spent much of my life attempting to avoid labeling myself, trying to simply exist and be. But through Elliott in Recovery I branded myself as a transgender alcoholic, a man born as a woman with a drinking and drug problem.

Yes, I am more than those two labels. But at the same time, those labels help to make up who I am.

What does identifying as a transgender alcoholic mean to me?

It means I’ve found myself among two marginalized groups of people. Misunderstanding and a general lack of knowledge surround gender-nonconforming folks. A refusal to learn about our experiences continues to pervade much of society. Blind dismissal runs rampant.

Increasing amounts of medical research and a surge in media attention brought recognition to the struggles of alcoholics and addicts. Society better understands the impact of alcoholism and addiction on millions of Americans. Still, stigmas continue to penetrate the lives of substance-dependent individuals.

My identity as a transgender alcoholic means lots of questions. Questions about alcoholism, questions about addiction, questions about being transgender. I almost always have little problem with explaining my experience to those who ask with sincerity. I am the only transgender person that many of my friends and acquaintances know.

My identity as a transgender alcoholic sometimes means frustration. There are days I don’t want to play 20 questions. People can find the answers to many of the questions they ask with a quick Google search. I never want to talk with you about what’s in my pants or my plans for the space between my legs.

My identity as a transgender alcoholic often means anxiety, caused by those who refuse to understand or accept who I am. It is difficult to co-exist with people who deny the existence of my true self. While I should not determine my worth based on someone’s acceptance of me, knowledge of this fact does not always make it easier.

If I’m not careful, I find myself stuck in these feelings of frustration and anxiety. I permit their hijack of my emotional state for extended periods of time. And that is a dangerous place for this transgender alcoholic to exist.

How do I combat the emotional hijack?

Courtesy of the alcoholic label, a friend introduced me to an indescribable new way of living. I received the opportunity to look inwards at my own behavior rather than outwards at the actions of others. With the help of another alcoholic, I got down to the causes of why I am where I am today.

I learned to take responsibility for the choices I made that led me to my present situation. I know that my identity is not a choice but how I conduct myself in light of it is. This raw and honest self-reflection is an opportunity many of my trans brothers and sisters do not receive.

Through this new way of life, I practice the cultivation of patience to tolerate intolerance in order to live a peaceful life. Although I do not condone bigotry and ignorance, accepting the state of things provides inner peace. But I am nowhere close to perfect in this practice.

Also, I still don’t know where the line between acceptance and push back should be. Prolonged emotional turmoil will lead me back to the bottle. At the same time, blindly accepting ignorance will not help the progression of society.

I struggle knowing that not everyone will like me but it is a fact of life. There will always be people who dislike you, regardless of who you are. I’m sure I could find someone who disagrees with Mother Teresa. And she’s a thousand times kinder a person than any of us will ever be.

What about identifying as a transgender alcoholic in recovery?

My identity as a transgender alcoholic in recovery means I received an opportunity to grow stronger. I can think of no better cross of labels. Being transgender is difficult because many still disagree with my “lifestyle.” However, with the spiritual program of action, I learn on a daily basis how do cultivate my self-worth from within.

This is something I have to work at daily. On the days I don’t acknowledge self-worth from within, I suffer. But through practice, I will no longer seek external validation from strangers. I will validate myself.

My identity as a transgender alcoholic in recovery means I have the chance for a new life. A life where I am no longer a slave to drugs or alcohol. A life where I am able to be my true self.

As a transgender alcoholic in recovery, I built a community in which I am respected, supported, and loved. One that asks nothing of me. One that wants to see me happy, joyous, and free, just the way I am.

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.

Transgender Alcoholic.

I have abandoned this blog for over three months now; I thought it had been only two but time is passing much quicker than I realize. This also means that I have been out as transgender for nearly three months. Coming out (again) was something I thought I would never do. Once seemed like plenty and twice was simply torturous. Hiding my true self was a massive contributing piece in the puzzle of my alcoholism; up until the end of my drinking and using, the alcohol and drugs allowed me to avoid diverting attention to the part of me that wished so badly to be revealed. My dishonesty contributed to my suicide attempts as well. If I killed myself I wouldn’t have to tell anyone. Now that I’m on the other side of the door again life has taken on a much brighter filter.

Entirely accurate statistics regarding the LGBT community have yet to be collected; there is still fear in coming out, regardless of the progress society has made, which contributes to the inability to properly gather correct information. Studies that have been conducted reveal that those in the community are more likely to use alcohol and drugs compared to the general population. Research suggests that up to 45% of the LGBT community struggle with alcohol dependence. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, there are nearly 18 million Americans who abuse alcohol and more than 100,000 die of alcohol-related causes each year.

I’ve been considering lately my purpose in life. It’s an unknown that’s endlessly plagued my existence for the past few years. What am I here for? What am I meant to do? As the fog of alcoholism slowly dissipates, I’m starting to make discoveries about myself that I was unable to make before. I have been pondering what my innate gifts are and realized I’ve always had the capability to help people and make them smile, so perhaps that is a facet of what I’ve been placed here to do.

I’m starting to accept that I’ve fallen into two niches of the population: transgender and alcoholic. Both have copious amounts of people I can help, people I can make smile. I want to be a place of support for those who are like me, to be a beacon of hope that things can and will eventually get better, as long as you’re honest and willing to work on yourself. That is what I’ve learned thus far. I’ve been far from perfect and have only done a few things properly but as I’ve shared myself with people and taken a step back to see the areas in which I can make adjustments, I’ve grown into a better person. I’m in a completely different place today than I was 163 days ago when I was shattered, hopeless, and addicted.

I’m still an alcoholic; that is as much a part of me as being transgender is. But today I am a recovering alcoholic. I am taking small steps each day to adjust my thinking, my behaviors, and the way I respond to life. Today I try to pause before instantly reacting to whatever takes place before me. Living reactively is exhausting. Today I have direction and goals I am working to accomplish. I want to legally change my name, to begin HRT, to run for thirty minutes without having to pause and catch my breath. I want to finish my steps, to start helping other alcoholics, to become more involved in the LGBT community. I want to find other transgender alcoholics who struggle with the same difficulties that I have.

My reach on this blog is minuscule but I would like it to be greater. I’ve heard the saying, I’m finding my place in the world and I want to help others do the same. I don’t want to see anyone else die to this disease, nor do I want anyone to die feeling lost and alone in the sea of binary heteronormativity. I want to make a difference in this world and that is what I aim to do.

My name is Elliott and I am a transgender alcoholic.