Another Round, Jimmy
When I first got the idea to write a blog about my experiences, I started a list of possible topics and drinking wasn’t even on it. It wasn’t until only a few days ago that I had yet another epiphany about how much this surgery has changed who I am – and I haven’t even had it yet.
(Takes off shoes and puts on house sweater/slippers) Thanks for stopping by.
Starting from as early as I could remember, I knew I was different. And I knew I had to hide it. And I knew I couldn’t talk about any of it.
And it ate me alive.
I got made fun of for always playing with the boys and for always playing sports, for dressing like a boy and for wanting to play in the dirt. So by the time fifth grade rolled around, I was tired of dealing with it so I traded in my umbros and t-shirts (that took years to convince my mom to let me wear, BTW) and only picked out clothes from the girl’s section at Limited Too and Gap Kids (though I tried to find the most masculine girl clothes I could find). I had a pair of AMAZING red corduroy overalls that I absolutely adored until one day I got to school and saw who wearing them? The art teacher who I absolutely hated. I never wore those things again. No thanks.
My bedroom walls were covered from floor to ceiling with posters of *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, BBMak, 98 Degrees, O-Town, 5ive, All-4-One, LFO, Joey Lawrence (yep), and I had one, ONE Britney Spears as a “treat.” I figured if I had enough boy band posters, the ONE Britney poster wouldn’t stand out or expose me. Lucky me.
Every crush I had on a boy was a lie. Every crush I had on a girl I had to lie about and hide.
In high school we used to drive around hoping to catch glimpses of our crushes coming in or out of their houses. I was #blessed that one of my actual girl crushes lived near one of my BFF’s boy crushes so we’d drive by her house by default. Oh crushes. They don’t call them a CRUSH because they feel GOOD.
My life was me constantly lying to others and to myself. I was lying or pretending about pretty much everything.
And man, that was exhausting.
Looking back, I remember feeling hopeless. I remember feeling like I’d never get to be ME. I’d be alone forever. I hated my core reality. I loved my family and my friends and was able to have fun but this was a deeper sadness I couldn’t seem to shake.
I was never suicidal but I would have these thoughts of ‘If this plane crashed and I died, I wouldn’t be that sad for me. If this car crashed, and I died, would I really care? Nah.” Even after I came out, I could never pinpoint why I felt this way when I posed these questions to myself – I just did. It was a little baffling because I never felt like I wanted to end my life when I wasn’t posing those questions. It was always hypothetical fantasies. It’s very scary and vulnerable to admit this, but I felt this way up until only recently. The other morning the hypothetical went more like this, “Whoa, yea if this ceiling fell on my head and killed me, I’d be really sad to miss out on what’s ahead.”
And so I drank. And the older I got, I drank harder, heavier and more often.
So you can imagine that when I started drinking when I was 15 years old, it’s no surprise that I loved every drop I drank. It was like magic. I loved the feeling of escaping reality and numbing the pain and hurt that I felt every minute of every day. Drinking gave me the sense of control I didn’t have in my life otherwise. I know that doesn’t seem to make sense but I could make myself lose control – I had control over losing control. And the after-effects of drinking were just as great. Not remembering most of the night was ideal. I subconsciously was using drinking as an excuse to not be held accountable and erase big parts of my life. Why remember living an inauthentic life I didn’t love anyway.
And so I drank. And the older I got, I drank harder, heavier and more often. These feelings never changed only until recently.
At parties in high school and early on in college, I secretly hoped that one of my classmates would get drunk and want to make out to impress the boys. Never happened. Or even better, I hoped one would get drunk and want to make out with me just to make out with me. Never happened. Without even knowing what I was doing, I was conditioning myself at a young age to think that alcohol was a required ingredient for girls to like me or want to kiss me and vice versa. That definitely didn’t make me want to stop my drinking or slow it down at all. The first few times I kissed or slept with girls, I was drunk. And that pattern went on for a while. It was only until I was in my first real relationship that that changed. That’s one thing that I grew out of early-ish on and I’m grateful for that.
Even when I was wasted, I was too scared to ever make a move or tell a friend that I had feelings for girls or that I felt different. So I’d just drink more until I’d either be really mean or cry in a corner. And this continued until I was 20 years old.
My sophomore year of college at The Ohio State University, my drinking had gotten really bad. I’d say I was drinking 4-5 nights a week, maybe more and I would drink until I’d be sick the next morning. My friends named my alter-drinking-ego “Brevrick.” When Brev came out, it was not a fun situation. Brev threw things. Yelled things. Cried everywhere. And was MEAN. And what’s interesting is that thinking back and trying to remember Brevrick’s gender, it definitely wasn’t female. I wonder now if this was me trying to say something. Probably.
It baffles me that most of my best friends then are still my best friends now. They stuck with me during my shittiest times and I am so lucky.
At the time, though, most of them were Bush-voting, some of them church-going people and in my immature, young brain, that equated them with being homophobic – so me telling them why I was drinking myself into an oblivion every night was impossible.
There was a night in late fall where my best friend came into my room – I was drinking Natty Light alone – and she said, “Listen, you need to tell me what’s going on or we can’t be friends anymore – I can’t keep doing this.” And I knew she was right. She took care of me every single time I turned into Brevrick (which was every time I drank). And she’d had enough. And I got it.
I had a choice. I knew this moment would come where I would finally have to say outloud the one thing I didn’t want to say/couldn’t say because I was risking losing everything. In that moment and every moment before it, I, one-hundred percent, absolutely thought that if I told people I was gay, they’d disown me and I’d lose everything. My family. My friends. I don’t know that it ever occurred to me that there could be any other outcome.
I lived in constant fear every minute of every day.
And man, that was exhausting.
So I decided it was now or never. Whatever happened, happened. I couldn’t physically say the words so I took a post-it, and wrote “I’m bi” on it. I came out as bi to everyone in the beginning because that was just a little less scary for me.
She looked at and and looked at me and said, “That’s it?”
And then I burst out crying. Twenty years of pent up fear and sadness and loneliness – I could just let it go. She held me and I think we cried for hours (it probably wasn’t hours but it felt like it).
After that, I slowly came out to everyone else in my life. I was very lucky that everyone accepted me and loved me – and most people weren’t surprised. My brother said, “I just thought you were sporty.” We still joke about that.
This all took place a solid 11 years ago – so where does that leave us now? Did I stop drinking since I was finally out and could face the world? Nope. But I had no idea why.
I still drank a lot; binging 4-5 nights a week but one difference was that I was no longer vicious or sad. I was just a happy drunk. No more Brevrick! But I was still always drinking and always wanting one more to push me over the edge. I still longed for the feeling of being really fucked up and not caring about the consequences. I never thought about why. I’d say to myself, “I’ve already come out, what ELSE could I be dealing with? This is just how I am.”
I never picked up on the pattern.
So during the next 11 years or so after I came out, I moved from Columbus to Chicago back to Columbus and then to NYC. During that time I had more than my fair share of drinking, blacking out, having sex with people I would regret (men and women – yes I’d already come out) and drinking until I was sick the next day. Every morning I’d wake up and the amount of self-hate I’d feel was insane. But that never stopped me. It was too deep inside me. Put me in front of an open bar – fuhgettaboutit. But I wasn’t paying attention. Not realizing that hey, there’s probably something deeper going on here that I need to address.
I’m not proud of any of this, but it’s my truth.
I’ve been in therapy for the past 3 years for different reasons and one of the most important things it’s taught me is to recognize patterns and pinpoint when certain things change and why they changed.
About two years ago when I finally put two and two together about my gender identity and not feeling comfortable in my own body; things started to shift inside me.
Here’s basically how it went down: I made the realization that I didn’t have to identify as anything but myself. I talked to everyone about it all day every day. I became overwhelmed by the fact that I actually had to take action to be genuinely happy so then I stopped talking about it (except secretly in therapy) and hoped it’d go away – it was scary. I became depressed. I stopped caring about what I ate and gained about 25 pounds. My drinking steadily increased.
Finally in January of this year (2016), in needing to deal with my headaches (I talked about this in my second blog post), I finally got on a path of taking action. Enough was enough. I met with an LGBTQ therapist recommended to me by the neurologist and we talked through the steps I actually needed to take to have Top Surgery. I started to feel empowered – like I was in control. And I liked that feeling. And there wasn’t a drop of alcohol that was prompting that.
I started running again and heading to the gym more. Then I hurt my foot pretty badly and couldn’t keep up with the physical exercise. Also during this time, I was struggling to find a surgeon that would even set up a consultation with me for the surgery – most only did bilateral mastectomies for people with cancer.
Again I was back to feeling alone and scared that this surgery wouldn’t happen. My foot hurt (can I go to the nurse?). I had no outlet. I posted in a group on Facebook called ‘Queer Exchange’ asking for help regarding surgeons and I finally started to get some answers. Four or five people recommended Dr. Alexes Hazen at NYU. I called her office and they would see me! In three months. It took that long for me to get a consultation.
Those were a really hard three months for me. My future was so close yet so far. I couldn’t do anything physical because of my foot. The waiting was really hard. So I drank a lot! That was my go-to crutch. “Luckily” I’d had years of experience and so I was mostly able to keep my drinking to a certain “acceptable” level and hide my sadness but I could feel inside I was just drinking to lose control. That feeling was really starting to get old.
Finally, the first week in April, I had my consultation – and it was great! Every single person started their conversation off with, “I see your name is Laura, do you prefer a different name?” “Why yes, yes I do. Thank you for asking!” I was in the right place! We talked through the whole process and then we set a date for surgery. WE SET A DATE FOR SURGERY. But it wasn’t for months. That’s okay! It’s happening!
But then time stood still. While I was dealing with my foot, I herniated and ripped a disc in my back. I was in such a low place. Insurance continued to deny my surgery and eventually we got to a point where I was going to have to pay the whole $18K upfront. I decided that I needed to have the surgery regardless of the money. As soon as I took the power back from the insurance company, I started to feel a little bit better but man, talk about stress!
I was very down about all of these setbacks while I was waiting for surgery to happen but something had shifted inside me when I set my date. This fantasy that I’d been talking about for years was now becoming a reality and my authentic, real life could finally begin.
It’s interesting because I didn’t even really pick up on how my drinking pattern changed after setting the date for my surgery until only very recently. I was thinking back on a few opportunities that I had where I could have gotten completely wasted…and I didn’t. I’ve been to open bars and only had a few and went home. I’ve been out with friends, drinking for hours and never lost control or blacked out and was fine the next morning.
The extremely strong urge of needing to escape has completely disappeared. Sure I’ll go out and have some drinks but I’d like to say I have complete control now. I bet there will be nights where I accidentally drink too much because I’m just having too much fun but I don’t feel the need to use alcohol as a crutch to be brave so overall, drinking has lost a lot of its appeal. I want to be present and remember everything.
I got the news from the NY State Attorney General’s office (who had been helping me fight since the beginning) that they finally persuaded the insurance company to overturn their many denials! And do you know what happened? Pretty much immediately my physical ailments (foot and back pains) disappeared. AHH!!
My friend asked me the other day how I was and immediately the word “Great” came out of my mouth. And it was true. For the first time in an extremely long time I actually felt great and meant it. What a feeling! I’ve never felt more empowered to be me and to live authentically in my entire life.
I can’t even begin to describe (though I’m trying to through these blogs) the feeling of finally being brave (not with alcohol) and taking control of my life and facing and dealing with the scariest parts. It is the most liberating, exhilarating thing and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Trust me, I know it’s not easy but holy hell it’s worth it.
All my love,
Originally posted on June 11th, 2016.