The Continuing Search for Connection
By Roman R

I’m over six years into recovery and have been swamped with contradictory feelings. I feel grateful to no longer feel as much of a draw towards thinking about the next time I can get drunk or find weed. If I see young people in public going from bar to bar talking loudly, not paying attention to personal space, I wince knowing that was once me. I do feel the sense of missing out when I hear laughter or sense genuine bonding happening over drinks, especially as the pandemic has moved me to become more isolated.

I’m flooded with memories and realizations of my past. Trying to have compassion for my younger self and wishing I could be there as I am now, to hold a younger me through the lonely times. When I was 26, I left a job I’d had for three years. It’d been my first full time, long term job with benefits I’d had since graduating college in 2002. I was living in New York City, still recovering from the previous autumn with government officials embracing a new strain of xenophobia and militarism. There has never been an easy to time to be authentic and/or “make it as an artist,” and with people on edge, I imagine it was even less so then.

The job I’d had was at an advertising agency and one of our clients was Crown Royal. So yes, at times we would have alcohol around the office. Not to mention monthly gatherings at local bars where the company had an open tab. Instead of supporting workers by raising our wages or improving working conditions, we were given unlimited alcohol on that one special night a month. I don’t have to say more about that to show how destructive and coercive some workplace environments can be with fostering addiction and dependency on alcohol.

In the eight months between when I quit the job and decided to transition, every single day I had drank alcohol and/or smoked pot. I kept a tally as if I knew I was working through something. Looking back I could not have been able to stay at that job and transition. Being mocked for simply keeping a vegan diet was enough to know folks would not be able to wrap their heads around me using a different name and going on hormone replacement therapy.

While working, I was enrolled in improv classes, attended shows, performed stand up, made it to the gym a few days a week. It’s a way that someone in their twenties with that energy could do that now seems unthinkable. I kept myself so busy that I wouldn’t have the time to really face myself. After leaving the job, I began using every day so I would not have to sit with my Feelings.

While I was able to stop for a bit after coming to terms with myself, it was transphobic reactions from people that opened up fresh wounds that made it easy to start drinking heavily again. I have compassion for myself, in that I was to a degree self medicating. And I know if we lived in a society that ensured people had their basic needs met (housing and health care as a start), I would not have gone back to drinking and using with such force. Not having a stable place to stay for months at a time over the course of several years and floundering in medical debt crushed the self esteem and hope I was trying to hold onto.

And buying a few drinks or a couple grams of weed is far more affordable than a security deposit. Not being in the present could momentarily help soothe my sense of sadness and grief. I was so happy and at peace as being able to live authentically. It was the transphobia from certain health care providers and society as a whole that made living authentically become that much more arduous.

I look back and can blame behavior on being drunk and/or high as if to distance myself from it. Even though at the end of the day, I said and did certain things I was not proud of – I feel less shame around it. “Oh well, I was young and I’d been drinking…” Now when I make mistakes or say something I regret I have to accept that it is me and me alone who is responsible.

Drinking and drug use are not uncommon in the stand up/improv/art world and while part of this could be easily connected to the idea of how difficult it can be to be an artist in a capitalist and punitive country, alcohol is so incredibly ubiquitous. So much that the majority of the venues where one performs (theaters, clubs, bars) sell alcohol. Often times performers are not paid, except for with drink tickets. As someone who often interned in exchange for classes, I was often the one serving the beer and wine. I do not think of these venues serving alcohol as doing so because of malevolent intent – it’s the reality of having to keep doors open, as art spaces are notoriously underfunded.

There’s the belief that the opposite of addiction is connection. And connection can be so hard to establish if we’re continually taught we are different, if there’s a lack of safe and sober spaces, if we’re so busy trying to make ends meet that we are unable to be in the present moment. 

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