One Year Sober. What’s Next?
by Robert E. Williams II (They/Them)
I was sitting across from my partner at the time. He looked at me and expressed concern for my current state of being. I was drunk. This wasn’t the first instance during our time together where I inebriated myself before 5:00pm. We were in a rough spot. When things were rough and my emotions were in flux, I would turn to substances and shut down. He looked at me and said, “I love you so much, but I can’t be in a relationship with you if you keep trying to find problems/think you’re not deserving/dwelling on the past.” We broke up that night.
This time last year, I moved into my first apartment in New York City. My spring semester came to a close. University friends parted ways to go home for the summer. I was alone. I knew I had friends staying in the city, but I hesitated reaching out. I felt shame for seeing another relationship ending because of my lack of communication, fear of emotions, and most importantly, my abuse of substances.
I took note of how my emotional distance and substance use formed relationships and took tolls on others. On May 22nd, 2019, I decided to refrain from drinking alcohol. I logged off all my social media accounts. I removed outside influences that I believe could sway me in early recovery. I wanted to make space for healing. I wanted to begin healing. I no longer wanted to continue pushing down my emotions.
I began my recovery journey with the assistance of the counseling services at my university. I spoke with my counselor about my desire to enter into an outpatient program. With research and consultation, I found a program I thought would be a perfect fit for me.
Right before Pride Weekend, I scheduled an intake appointment with the Recovery Program at The LGBT Center of New York on West 13th Street. I remember feeling vulnerable beyond my own comfort when I entered the Recovery wing. Yet, having never entered the Center prior to my intake, I felt the most at home during my time in New York when I entered the building for the first time.
After moving through the intake process, I began the Youth Recovery Program. The program required my attendance of three to five weekly meetings (each with their own topic depending on the day) and a weekly individual counseling session. My first group I felt frazzled, hesitant to share too much and fearful of not communicating my emotions properly. I know this fear now as rather silly, but it still is a very valid fear. I didn’t know how to communicate my emotions, that’s why I was attending the group in the first place.
I’ll never forget my first TGNC meeting. A part of my recovery process was outwardly accepting my gender identity. A major part of my substance use was consuming to drown out the fears of being misunderstood, fears of being rejected if I no longer aligned with the male identity I was assigned. I felt compelled to perform as masculine in my romantic relationships; to exude a male persona to gain respect in my art. These were narratives I constructed because I feared rejection. I was living in dysphoria and I drowned it out with substances. The further into addiction I went, the greater the dysphoria grew, and my substance use increased because of it. I knew it was time to embrace my gender identity.
That first TGNC meeting was bliss. I came in contact with many TGNC folks who welcomed me to open up about my gender troubles and addiction. They knew what I was going through. I would listen to others in the group and in my mind I said, “Yes, yes, that’s exactly how I feel!” I was seen for the first time in the gender that I identify with. My gender was no longer internal. I was external.
I continued recovery through the summer, maintaining my social media break. I would use this as a tool during my first year of recovery anytime I needed more space to think and breathe. Throughout the summer, I started talking with friends over the phone, meeting a few in person. I opened up about my recovery journey with my family and loved ones, forming a support system to assist me. In the past, I rejected help from others. I knew if recovery was to happen, I needed the support of my family of origin and chosen family.
The Center became my second home. I felt at peace. Truly, I felt connected to the queer community. It was an extreme privilege to be a part of the Recovery program at the Center and connect with other queer folks in the same boat as me. I truly appreciate the staff and patrons of the Center.
On this day, I graduate with my B.A. in Theatre History & Performance Texts. On this day, I am a year sober from alcohol. Of course, I’m not able to share these celebratory moments with my support group in person due to COVID-19. I expected some grand liberation or self-realization after spending a year sober. Truth is, I’m afraid. I know that a relapse is possible if I do not follow my routine I’ve set into place as a preventative measure. I know that this isn’t the end of my recovery. Recovery will take new forms through the years the longer I remain sober.
I witnessed my relationships alter and some dissipate. I let go of people, places, and things that I associated with active addiction and I didn’t see fitting into my sober life. There are certain events or activities I don’t feel comfortable participating in knowing substances will be present. I fear losing more relationships with friends and loved ones because of my sobriety. To all of my loved ones who have provided patience, understanding, and support through this first year, I cannot thank you enough.
The beginning of my recovery started as a redemption arch to prove my ex-partner wrong. But as I dove into recovery, I came to realize most of my previous endeavors to “better myself” revolves around a revenge narrative to gain the last laugh. I knew if I was seriously going to take on sobriety, I needed to refrain my reasons for self-improvement. What was my narrative? What do I want to achieve? It was crucial for me to validate myself in this process and not expect validation or recognition from anyone else in the process. This was not about proving someone wrong, this was about me finally taking control of my life.
I’m proud of my accomplishment. Here I am, one year sober, graduating college, moving into the next chapter of my life. I’m at one with my gender identity and vocalize my emotions, an ongoing challenge I have for myself but one that I am always stepping up to. Though I validate my fears, I also validate my successes and my sense of peace I experience today. To this date, I will say today is my greatest victory.
My name is Robert Williams, I identify as Non-Binary Trans* Femme, I use they/them pronouns, I am a college graduate, and I am one year sober.
For more information about recovery services at the LGBT Center in New York City, visit the following link here.