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Grapevine : September 2011
S o many sayings get burned into our memory in early recovery: "Easy Does It," "First Things First," and so on. We call upon these slogans in moments of trouble; they help us remember that we're alcoholics who can't drink safely, and remind us of the consequences if we try to. Last night, I was reminded of a truism I've heard repeated over and over: "Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic." Never has an expression meant so much. The scene that played out began with me sitting in a bar, waiting for my colleague to arrive for our prear- ranged meeting. When we had made the arrangements to meet, I thought the place he suggested was a res- taurant. I arrived unusually ahead of schedule, walking right into an environment that, in 21 years of so- briety, I have made it a point not to frequent---a bar. I felt very much out of place for a number of reasons. Not having stepped into a bar in so long was a factor, certainly. I was, at least for the moment, alone with my "I'm in a bar; must stay sober!" cautiously guarded stance up. I was also, however, experi- encing this for the first time since my recent gender transition. As I sat waiting for my col- league, I recognized old, familiar sig- nals that I hadn't experienced in over 20 years: bar smells, clinking liquor bottles, oily wood floors, loud conver- sations. I began texting an AA friend for support. How wonderful it is to have this technology instantly available so we can reach out for help, I thought, re- calling what it was like in the early days. Then came a whiff of alcohol followed by an old physiological re- sponse: My mouth watered. Internal sirens sounded in my head. Texting faster, I saw my phone battery was getting low and remem- bered a recent application I had downloaded. Suddenly, I had some program literature available, but it was difficult to focus. I drank a cup of coffee, then two, which eased the uneasiness as the moments led on. I noticed my twist- ing thoughts, bargaining with myself, an old habit that told me I was on dangerous thin ice. Time and space disappeared as I listened to nonsensi- cal conversations, taking me back to when I frequented bars. Yes, I used to show off too, pretending I knew about topics when I really had no idea. My mind threw me a wicked curve ball as I became aware of the "new me" feelings, the excitement of experiencing this environment in ways I never had before. My body and self were still beginning to arrive at this new place, a gay male who used to be a heterosexual female. I noticed I was no longer coming from a place of shame or lack of confi- dence. I was surprised and grateful. aagrapevine.org 43