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.

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.

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.