Getting sober is a huge accomplishment. You’ve changed your relationship with drugs and alcohol and that will change your life in big and meaningful ways.
However, the hard work doesn’t end once you’re sober.
We often chose substance use as a way to self-medicate or cope with difficult life events. When changing your problematic substance use, it’s very important to address the underlying reasons for using in the first place. Therapy can be an excellent way to learn new coping skills and figure out what other changes you may want to make in your life.
How can therapy be helpful when you’re gay and sober?
Whether it was trauma, neglect, abuse, internalized homophobia or a number of other things along the way, there were good reasons you needed to numb yourself with problematic substance use.
My use isn’t under control yet
If you’re still working on getting your substance use under control, make that your first priority. There are a number of different options to help you deal with problematic substance use. If you’re at the point where you want to change your relationship with drugs or alcohol, but you don’t know how, here are some ways to go about doing that.
Harm reduction is an evidence-based model of treatment that helps people address problematic behavior while healing the emotional causes of the misuse in the first place. We’re lucky in San Francisco to have many options for using harm reduction to help control substance use. This is not an abstinence-based program, although you may decide that abstinence is your goal along the way.
Smart Recovery is an abstinence-based approach that uses self-empowerment, support groups and a series of “tools” to help with addiction. If you look on their website, you can find local peer-led groups and read more about their approach. This is a good program if you are not comfortable with the spiritual part of traditional 12-step programs or you like more concrete tools to help with cravings and motivation.
12-step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous are the most common form of addiction treatment. These programs use an abstinence-based approach. Typically you find a “sponsor” who has worked the program and together you’ll work through the 12-steps using your own lived experience. Meetings are free (donation based) and plentiful in San Francisco.
Things to look out for in early sobriety
Once your substance use is under control, new things may pop-up that require your attention. For example, instead of drugs or alcohol, maybe you’re turning to food, sex or exercise to fill the void created in your life. If your use was intended to avoid big, overwhelming feelings like loneliness, sadness or isolation, you may need to find other ways to process those feelings.
In early sobriety, some people encounter the problems listed below.
It’s hard to connect with people in a real way.
Perhaps you drank or used to ward off social anxiety. Maybe you don’t think highly of yourself and it’s hard to articulate or notice your strengths. Find tools to navigate social interactions sober and seek support if you need it.
You’re not sure how to deal with your feelings.
This may sound simplistic, but feelings are hard! They can be especially challenging for men in our society. As gay men raised in a culture that values hyper-masculinity, feelings can be dangerous. If you’re seen as feminine or emotional, you could be considered weak. In the past, you’ve learned to hide your feelings or drown them out through use. When you become sober, that’s not an option anymore. Though it can be very scary to look at your feelings in a more open way, it can also be freeing.
You’re full of guilt and regret about all the “time you’ve wasted” being high.
Feelings of guilt and regret may teach you a lesson or two, but if you allow them to take root you’re setting yourself up for relapse. Work on forgiving yourself. Whether you’re 25 or 55, focus on gratitude for all the time that’s still ahead. You’ve gotten sober and chances are if you maintain your sobriety there’s a lot to be hopeful in the days, weeks and years ahead.
Spaces for gay and sober men in San Francisco
Luckily, there are a number of sober spaces for gay men in San Francisco. Locate sober spaces and build community, especially if you’re new to the process of being sober or reducing your substance use.
The Castro Country Club is a sober and safe space for the Queer community in San Francisco. They offer a number of different recovery meetings in addition to a café and coffee shop with a space to hang out and socialize.
The Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club was the first nationally organized LGBTQ democratic organization in the country. Today, they offer a number of events, rallies and discussions around issues that are important to our community.
This is an organization in the heart of San Francisco dedicated to providing a safe space for the community to socialize, heal and grow. Check out their events page for a list of upcoming social and volunteer opportunities.
Here is a thorough list provided by the SF Bay Times of the various LGBTQ sports leagues that exist in San Francisco. Joining a league is a fantastic way to meet people who have similar interests as you. While some may include a social aspect afterwards that involves alcohol, you could look for a sober team or join with another sober friend.
Strut is a health and wellness center in the heart of the Castro in San Francisco. On their events page they list a number of book clubs, drop-in groups and discussions on various subjects. Again, I suggest finding something that interests you and giving it a try.
My use is under control, now what?
You’ve gotten your use under control, but you’re still not happy in your life. You’re not sure what direction you want to take with your career or you’re having trouble finding a meaningful relationship.
Chances are there are still negative beliefs or challenging emotions that are getting in the way of you achieving the life you want. Therapy can help you find better understand, healing and growth.
As gay men, we’ve been forced to see ourselves as different, other and wrong for most of our lives. Whether you experienced these messages in subtle or heavy handed ways, they can leave a mark.
Seek out support and work on healing the wounds left by growing up gay in a straight world. You deserve it! And more importantly, you don’t have to do it alone.