By Christian Parker
I’m told that I came to in the medical detox unit of a treatment center in Kerrville, Texas. I asked for my mother and a nurse said that she left day before. The nurse said that I was asleep for 2 days. One of the things I first remember seeing from the bed was a poster on a wall that read “Am I Selfish?”. It seemed like a poster that had no relevance in a hospital. It wasn’t until much later in my story that I fully realized the depth and severity of that question. After 72 hours in detox, I was moved to the main part of the facility.
The experience of rehab was really surreal for me. First, it was nothing like what I saw in the movies and far from what I saw in the brochure. The swimming pool was drained, there were no leaves on the trees and, to be frank, it looked really basic. I was introduced to my roommate, Steven, who was rather unimpressed with me and my attitude. I was still convinced that this alcohol and drug problem was just me going through a phase and, therefore, only a matter of willpower. I didn’t think rehab was necessary to get my life back on track and only agreed to go to please my parents.
It was in this rehab that I met a guy named Chris Raymer. Chris was a counselor there. His only job was to introduce us to AA and to focus on steps 1,2, and 3. Every morning, we patients would gather and listen to him rant and rave about how we were powerless over alcohol and drugs and how we needed a Power greater than ourselves which would solve our problem. Every morning for 2 hours I would be forced to listen to him cite examples of his using past and what he did, and what his life is like now. As the days began to pass, my fog started to lift. I was beginning to talk less and listen more.
One of my nightly fears while in rehab was the fear of not being able to fall asleep. I was not used to falling asleep. I was so used to using alcohol to pass out. Now that my body didn’t have alcohol, I began to panic that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. I remember trying to talk to the nurses so that they could give me a sleeping pill. They never gave me anything and said that, eventually, I’d fall asleep when my body was tired of being awake. I remember having late night conversations with Steven, my roommate. He asked me what was going to happen to me when I got out of rehab and went back to New York City.
“I’m probably going to relapse the day I get to Manhattan,” I said to him.
He paused and looked me dead in the face and said “relapse isn’t a mandatory part of the program.”
I don’t know why, but I took what he said to heart. I often wonder what my life would be like today if he had not said what he said to me at that time. Steven didn’t make it. I learned that in 2003, Steven died of an overdose.
I received my discharge date. Before I was released back into the world, one of the other counselors, came up to me and said “the day you get out of here, go to a meeting. And if you don’t like that meeting, you go to another meeting. And if you don’t like that meeting then go to another meeting. And you keep going until you find a group of people that you can connect to.”
And on my 36th day of sobriety, I proceeded to do exactly that.
My first meeting out of treatment was so weird! I mean I was the only gay person there and I felt like the only young person there. I didn’t like it very much. But the next day, I went to a gay group. I still didn’t like it but felt that I could keep going. And who knew, maybe I’d meet a cutie. I kept going to meetings. I started to recognize people and they started to recognize me. They started including me. It felt nice to be included. In hindsight, I always wanted to be a part of something that was so good and so nice and so wholesome. But there was another part of me that thought that I didn’t deserve to have it. Something I began to notice with new sobriety was the return of feelings. At the meetings and at dinner after the meetings with the guys, I was fine. But it was when I returned home from the meetings and walked into that empty apartment and single bed that the feelings of loneliness and desperation would come in. I often hear in the rooms that resentment is the "number one offender” - or a main avenue to a relapse. But I would have to disagree. I believe that the two things which really are a threat to my sobriety are boredom and self-pity. Those two things will probably take me out faster than a resentment. I still go to a lot of meetings and I hear and see this so much with the younger people.
To counter these feelings of boredom, I was told to get a service commitment and to get involved. So, that’s where my second life really started. I’m reminded of that sign in the detox that said “Am I selfish?” For me, helping others and giving back is a way of being less selfish and when I think about others more and myself less, I tend to have better days. Not just better, I have great days!
Another reason that I still go to meetings on a regular basis is to keep myself grounded. To hear from newcomers or others that might have problems much worse than I think I do. That helps remedy the self-pity.
Let’s fast forward to a few years into my recovery. I met someone in the rooms when I was about 3 years sober. We were a nice sober couple for 4 years. But when things went south in our relationship, I began to cave in. Eventually, we broke up and I took it really hard. I became very depressed and these feelings of self-pity, boredom, despair resurfaced. Around this time, a friend of mine asked me to help start an AA group in the city. Who doesn’t love a project? So I did, and slowly saw a fellowship start to grow around me. Thank God for that project of starting a group. That project distracted me from the pain of the breakup and I got through it without drinking or drugging. The name of the group is called Adventures in Sobriety.
This group started to become my home group. I loved the energy of it. It felt friendly. It reminded me of the meetings I first found when I left rehab. For the group’s 3rd anniversary we decided to go all out and have a big party. We decided to do it on the Friday of Pride weekend, 2010. Social networking sights like Facebook were still relatively new and my friends and I used Facebook to invite all our sober peeps from the tristate area. We slapped a silly theme like the Wild West on our party and called it an AA dance that was actually fun, not in a church basement. We didn’t charge a thing. Everything was donated from our group members. People donated beef jerky, cowboy hats, bandanas, and even a couple of sober go-go boys to shake their tails for the crowd. We expected maybe 100 people to come to it. Over 700 people showed up. It was so thrilling to be a part of that! After that party, we realized that we may be on to something. That party was the very beginning of my working with others on the notion that people in recovery really want to have a good time.
In 2009, I began helping a Facebook group called Gay & Sober Men grow into what it is today. Today that group has about 8,000 members worldwide and in 2014, the group decided to start its own conference. The timing was good because we knew that Hot ’n Dry ( a long time running gay, men’s, sober conference held in Palm Springs) was closing in 2015, and Pride weekend in New York City was still at the time unchartered as far as a sober thing was concerned. So off we went and scrambled to get help from around the recovery community. We set up a board, a committee, had some laughs, and got in a few fights, but we made it through all that and in late June of 2017, we will be launching our first ever Gay & Sober Men’s Conference. It’s attracting people from places like Wisconsin, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and we even have people come to the conference from places like Sweden and Hong Kong. It feels surreal just saying that.
It’s exciting to write about it but what is even more surprising is that I’m the one writing it. I came into sobriety as a young, baffled, broken gay boy. I never considered myself a joiner and, honestly, didn’t like people that much. But what staying sober and participating in my own recovery has done at some deep level is change who I was and what I was about. Today, it’s an honor to say I’m a part of something that is actually impacting and helping people that are just like me. This new life is something I couldn’t have imagined and I’m so glad I traded in my old life for the one I have today.
~Adventures in Sobriety meets on Friday nights in New York City at 1 west 53rd street at 7pm
~For more information on the conference, please visit www.gayandsober.org