The gay community tumbles into the New Year this month after an extended bout of socially accepted (and sometimes even mandated) indulgence in all that is bad for us, including sweets, alcohol, and drug use. For some folks, it’s a welcome diversion that can help them make it through the holiday season without losing their mind. But for many others, it’s yet another step down a dark road toward addiction and an unhealthy lifestyle.
Holiday stresses can lead to excess drinking in all of us. Add to that the added stressors of spending extended time with your nuclear family, and that is one insanely big trigger.
“Your family knows how to push all your buttons, because your family installed all those buttons,” said Knoxville, Tennessee Gay & Sober member Landon (last name withheld to respect anonymity). For him, the holidays meant the beginning of ‘drinking season.’ “The drinking season began around Thanksgiving, went right into Christmas and New Year’s, included for me Chinese New Year because my husband is Asian, and didn’t finish up until well into Superbowl Sunday,” said Landon.
Landon’s alcohol and drug abuse started when he was young, and he admits, was fun well into his 20s. Until it wasn’t anymore. Going out and partying with friends morphed into solo drinking every night until he reached his comfortable oblivion.There was little else in his life, and it was far from fun for him.
“It sure was no fun for my husband, I know that much,” said Landon. “My days were about one thing: getting supplies like booze and cigarettes, getting home with those supplies, and spending the rest of the day sitting on the couch smoking and drinking until I passed out. My world was small, and so my husband’s world became small, too, because I never wanted to go anywhere or do anything else but drink.”
Eventually, Landon found his way to Gay & Sober, a one-of-a-kind 501c3 non-profit organization that empowers our community members to lead healthy, successful lives via face-to-face recovery. The organization, which started as a private Facebook group in 2009, now offers meetings across the country, and a curated directory of LGBTQ 12-steps meetings around the world.
Landon gets a lot out of gay 12-step meetings but said he can find community and a space for himself to thrive in any 12-step meeting, regardless of the participants.
“My friend Dan, who is no longer with us, but who died sober, used to say about our one gay meeting in Knoxville, ‘There are a thousand things we know about each other without saying a word.’ I love our gay meetings, but I have always found the message of recovery I need in any meeting, sometimes in the most unlikely places,” said Landon. “I could be the only gay person, or the only white person, or the only Tennessean. It doesn’t matter. The message of love and recovery is always the same, and I have always found it when and where I needed it.”
Now, Landon says his life is actually fun—something he never imagined it could be as a sober alcoholic. “I was afraid that when I stopped drinking, I would stop being fun.That everything would stop being fun. But I didn’t realize that it had already stopped being fun.”
Landon said he could never successfully quit alone, not even for one day. With the help of Gay & Sober’s free programming, he is now 15 years sober. He follows a 12-step program, and although he said he is religious, he likes the fact that the program allows each person to define what their own “Higher Power” is. He also likes how Gay & Sober’s year-round program helps fill the void after treatment programs, and engages participants in discussions around co-issues like body image, homelessness, HIV, homophobia, harm reduction, and redening fun.
“This is a safe space for people to share their successes as well as struggles insobriety, and get positive support and feedback as requested. It’s a great way to meet and feel connected with like-minded sober men all over the world, which broadens my sober network from my local community to worldwide,” said Steven from Georgia.
The highlight of every year, said Landon, are events like this year’s Gay & Sober Men’s Conference: Freedom Is… 2023, held from June 22-25 in New York City, and attractingan attendance of more than 500 people. The fully vaxxed conference features threedays of meetings, health and wellness workshops, speakers, and fun activities devoted to gay men in recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction (including transmale, queer boy, genderuid, and non-binary people). Sixty annual scholarships are offered to those in need to cover all conference events, meetings, and activities; they are awarded on Christmas Day.
This year’s conference will be held at The Westin New York, with rooms starting at $289 per night. While all workshops are held at the hotel, events are scattered acrossthe city, including Sober Eats meals like lunches and dinners in Hell’s Kitchen, acomedy show, a sightseeing tour via The Ride, a Morning Glory four-mile run, morning meditation, a rooftop pool party, a costume social, and a keynote speaker.This year’s speaker is author and addiction expert Gabor Maté.
Their events attract people from Brooklyn to Brazil, who head to the city for an eventthat is more than just a traditional conference experience. It’s a complete sobervacation that one participant called “the best sober event for gay men in recovery.” It features a rooftop social, reworks, a dance party, and special entertainment; past performers have included Bianca Del Rio, Sandra Bernhard, and Margaret Cho. The weekend’s highlight is The Dance on the River, a cruise out to the Statue of Liberty that ends up in a high-energy dance party with a world-class DJ—and without booze.
And Gay and Sober doesn’t just talk a good game. They also walk the walk—right down Fifth Avenue in New York City. On the last Sunday in June, nearly 1,000 members of the LGBTQ+ sober community gather to march in the Heritage of Pride Parade.
“I didn’t know how I was going to stay sober on Pride Sunday,” said Elaine from London. “I discovered this group and marched with them in the parade and danced with them at night. I met other sober women that have strengthened my support network.”
“The Dance on the River truly is the highlight of the conference weekend for me. It issuch a celebration of sobriety and Pride, and we have so much fun,” said Landon. “Our whole community comes together and has a blast. We love to have the entire LGBTQ+ recovery community join us!”
For more information, visit https://www.gayandsober.org