A Conference for Gay & Sober Men

* THIS ARTICLE WAS CO-WRITTEN BY CHRIS HEIDE, Editor in Chief of Chosen Magazine, and Seamus Kirst, author of the memoir, Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk. *

Learning how to have fun in sobriety is of paramount importance to Gay & Sober Men, The Conference.

Gay & Sober Men (GSM) started out as a Facebook group. In its early days of solely existing on social media, its mission was to offer a refuge for gay men in recovery - a welcome respite from a world that they say can so heavily be focused on drugs, alcohol and partying.

GSM launched their first annual conference last year. The conference was founded by a group of sober friends who wanted to carry on in the tradition of Hot n Dry, a now defunct conference that was once held annually in Palm Springs.

This celebration of sobriety and recovery was held last year during NYC Pride weekend. It included a host of activities including yoga, meetings, workshops, dancings and fellowship.

Even more important than the scheduled events, the weekend allowed for a group of gay men, who may have felt ostracized from the LGBT community as a result of their recovery, to come together and form a supportive network.

“I got involved with Gay & Sober Men-The Conference early in sobriety because it gave me a sense of belonging and purpose,” said Jeremiah Johnson, one of the board members of the Gay & Sober. “For so long I took from everyone and everything that crossed my path. Gay & Sober gave me the ability to show up for others when they necessarily didn’t want to show up for themselves. What I didn’t know when getting involved with Gay & Sober it would change my life forever. Today I have found my tribe.”

The organizers said the goal of the weekend was to celebrate recovery and to create an atmosphere that promotes genuine, substance free fun. Due to the success of the 2016 event, GSM will again hold the conference in NYC during Pride weekend. GSM is unusual in its conception, in that it is not specific to AA. Although many GSM members are participants in 12 step programs, the GSM conferences welcomes any gay man who is engaged on a path of recovery. This inclusionary view helps to foster a sense of togetherness among a group of men who might normally be divided and fractured, they said.

“Getting out of my comfort zone and going to the conference was the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken- and by far the most rewarding”, said Kekoa Kealoha, one of the conference attendees. “I am deeply grateful for the genuine excitement, connection and love that I felt.”

That’s what sobriety is about, after all. Learning how to have fun, when even the idea of fun seems unattainable. For every addict and alcoholic, the ability to enjoy life is a keystone of recovery. While our paths may be different, our desire to find connection and discover fun is a powerful commonality.

We write about our experiences with seeking fun below.

Chris Heide, Editor in Chief of Chosen Magazine:

Here’s the thing about addiction. Not only is it a brutal, debilitating illness, but it is also a thief. A thief of relationships, time, money and happiness. Years of my life were stolen by the addict within me. During my time of active use, I had lost ability to experience pleasure, fun, contentment and happiness. I was a slave to drugs and alcohol. I needed drugs to socialize. To have sex. To function in the world. To wake up every morning.

For nearly 6 years, everything was tainted by the intoxicating allure of drugs and alcohol. It was easy for me to mistake happiness for the chemical feeling of euphoria. That feeling was my best friend, my champion, my lover and my absolute worst nightmare. I convinced myself that every emotion needed to be intensified and that every experience needed to be memorable. The addict in my head lied to me. He told me that if I did not chemically alter my thoughts and feelings, then any experience I had would be worthless. After a while, I had forgotten what it was like to have sex, or watch a film, or enjoy a concert without chemical aid. In fact, the thought of embarking on those very normal human experiences in a sober state of mind was terrifying.

When I finally got sober in 2013, I truly believed that I would not be able to experience happiness ever again. I felt that drugs and alcohol had robbed me of that right. It was my consequence, my burden, to walk through life in a sober, boring state. Thankfully, that fear could not have been further from the truth.

Sobriety has given me countless gifts. Not only do I have a life I never imagined possible, but I am able to contribute to the world. No longer am I driven by my addictive impulses. The ability to fully present in my life has been returned to me.

Since getting sober, I have taken countless trips. I have developed a love for the theater, concerts and live shows. Even sex is better than I could have ever imagined. Before my addiction took over, I would have never approached the world with a sense of wonder and adventure.

All of this being said, being sober AND gay is a whole different ballgame. A great deal of gay culture revolves around clubs and bars- places that were historically considered safe spaces, free from violence and opporession, for LGBTQ people. As luck would have it, my addiction started around the same time I accepted my sexuality and “came out”. As my disease progressed, I became more and more alienated from those safe spaces, opting to alienate and withdrawal from other people. As the addict took full control of my brain, I found that I spent most of my time using by myself. The idea of socializing was exhausting. Ever after achieving sobriety, the idea of socializing was terrifying. I felt that I did not know how to fit in or relate to other people, without the pretext of chemical aid. Given that the LGBTQ community still frequently fields on clubs and bars to foster community and fellowship, where would I be able to find my tribe as a sober, gay man?

The one thing holding me back was the idea that I had to be drunk or high to achieve any possibility of having a ‘fun’ life. I believed I had to somehow hold on to my old life and just not use those substances. Once I was able to let of my past last, I discovered that I was able to be fully present for my new one. Relationships, conversations, experiences- everything became novel and liberating. My whole definition of ‘fun’ was rewritten.

Seamus Kirst, author of Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk:

During college, my whole idea of ‘fun’ revolved around drinking, and using drugs. My social life revolved around drinking, my romantic life revolved around drinking and my sex life revolved around drinking. Alcohol became the means through which I related to people, a way to quickly – if not superficially – bond with everyone else around me, many of who seemed to share my desire to get shitfaced.

Soon after graduating from college, I stopped drinking when I was 22-years-old. As I made the decision to become sober, I was terrified that I would never have ‘fun’ again. Regardless of all of the relationships I’d ruined, dangerous situations I’d put myself into, and general unhappiness I’d fostered, I still hung onto this notion that having fun was, in some way, synonymous with being intoxicated.

Of course, as time has gone on, I have learned that could not be further from the truth. Of course now, when I am not drunk, it is less easy to have conversations with everyone around me, but why would I want to still be doing that? I prefer the idea that when you are sober you are more inclined to seek out conversations, friendships, relationships and activities that you actually enjoy, find important, or that make you feel good about yourself. When I used to drink, I was much less picky with what I was doing and whom I was doing it with, because nothing was ever really about much more than getting drunk.

When people talk to me about wanting to get sober, they often express this fear about their social lives having to change. I think people sometimes want to be told that isn’t true, but of course it is. But, what I have found, is that once you are committed to recovery, your life changes not because you are left behind, but rather because you have a reevaluation of what activities and friendships are actually beneficial and rewarding and which aren’t.

But, that definitely doesn’t mean you stop having fun.

Seamus Kirst is the author of the memoir, Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk.

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