January 13, 2014

Salutogenesis Factor #2c: My Gay and AA Families, Part 1

I wrote last week about my natural family: parents, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. Now, I want to pay homage to two non-traditional families, cherished groups that have developed through the decades from my coming to terms with being gay, and being an alcoholic.

Diana, my wife of 20 years, preceded me on the road to sobriety by almost two years. Her struggle with alcoholism was tougher than mine. She loved her sobriety, as you can see in the photo below. But her journey was tragically cut short when she died of cancer in May, 1978.

The Six Months that Turned My Life Around
My alcoholism and my homosexuality are central to my identity. For the first half of my life, I denied my alcoholism and concealed my homosexuality. But during the six months between October, 1977 and March, 1978, everything changed. 

"Coming Out"
In October, 1977, I came out to my wife and children. The year before, a therapist helped me come to terms with my homosexuality. I would have spoken with my family then, but there were other challenging family issues at the time. The professionals we were working with recommended that I wait for a better opportunity before rocking the boat with this explosive new issue.

In the fall of 1977, Diana and I were working with a therapist on those other family issues. He knew I wanted to come out as soon as he thought it appropriate. He chose a session on a Saturday morning, the day before I was scheduled to take a vacation on my own, my first without the family. I was flying to London on Sunday to visit my pal Terry, whom Diana and I had met when he'd visited BNA in Washington the year before. I knew he was gay; Diana didn't. At the end of our session, the therapist announced that he thought it was "time for the hidden agendas to come out in the open."

We had a long talk. I told Diana about a couple we knew who seemed to have a happy marriage. Diana hadn't known the husband was gay, or that the wife knew it. With the wife's agreement, he had a regular weekly night out, enjoying the gay scene. She enjoyed including his gay friends when they entertained, and their adult children knew about the arrangement.

I didn't think Diana would find a similar option appealing. I was right.

What we did agree on was a separation, followed by a divorce. Later that Saturday, we talked with our children. On Sunday, I flew to London.

In London, I received a "Dear John" letter from Diana. She wanted the separation to begin as soon as I returned. She said she had already booked me into a hotel.

Working at the same company (BNA) complicated an already difficult situation. When I returned to work on Monday morning, the president --a close friend -- called me into his office to say the news of our separation, and the reason for it, was already in the office grapevine. I spent the next day meeting with close friends at work so that they would hear the news from me, not via the grapevine.

A Sad Sequel 
A month later, we learned that Diana had throat cancer. She was in the hospital for most of the next six months. She died on May 23, 1978.

We became reconciled during this time. I visited her in the hospital almost every day. She discouraged regular visits from her mother and the children, thinking it would be too traumatic for everyone. She also figured I'd give her less hassle about wheeling her to the visitor's lounge so she could smoke a cigarette.

Diana had a tougher battle with alcoholism than I did and she got sober a year and a half before I did. She thoroughly enjoyed her new sober life. Cutting it short so soon was tragic. 

Coming Home to AA  
For years, I convinced myself I was drinking too much because of family tensions and my repressed homosexuality. In March 1978, "out" and living on my own for months, I realized I was drinking more than ever.

I'd attended AA meetings with Diana often, (In open meetings, a few AA members share their stories of battling the addiction and non-AA members can attend.  Most AA meetings are closed to outsiders; this is where members share their experience strength and hope.") Attending open meetings, I'd often think: "Gee, this is a nice group of people, and their 'drunkalog' stories are more entertaining and inspiring than anything on TV. Too bad I'm not an alcoholic." My capacity for denial was enormous.

When the light bulb finally clicked on -- "I'm an alcoholic!" -- I knew what to do. I attended my first meeting as an admitted alcoholic on March 21, 1978.

For about ten years, I attended AA meetings almost every day. After a while, I realized I was going to       meetings not so much out of a fear of getting drunk but rather out of a fear of  being home alone.I began cutting back on meetings.

I'm grateful to say I've remained sober -- one day at a time -- for almost 36 years now. I no longer attend meetings, and I've learned to treasure my alone time. But AA remains with me; I'm frequently reminded how its teachings and maxims help me live a sober, meaningful life. Many of my friendships today have their origins in AA.

Living Gay and Sober 
Acknowledging my sexuality and managing my alcoholism have had a profound positive impact on my life -- something I'd like to discuss tomorrow.  

I'll sign off for now by saying: My name is John and I am an alcoholic and I have been sober today.  

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