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I had my first drink when I was 14 or 15 in the basement of the apartment building that my friend Donny Well’s parents managed.
Donny was my age, and the half empty bottle of cheap wine was ‘borrowed’ from his folks ample supply. The few gulps that I took was exciting. Forbidden. Slightly erotic in its stealth and covert very underage daring.
When I was in my late teens I roller skated three nights a week at the Arcadia Roller Rink on mid-Detroit’s Woodward Avenue. Alcohol was supplied by friends who were 21. It was great lubrication to skating to recorded Rhythm & Blues music.
(At 18, aware that I was gay, it gave me a secret pleasure to learn that hot number Billy Blair was being ‘serviced’ by rink owner and skate dance organist Don Norton. When Don’s wife found out, the music got very much off tempo for him.)
I borrowed a friends ID when I visited my first gay bar at 19, a dyke bar, The Silver Slipper. Gay men and straight ‘tourists’ sat on the main floor. Lesbians, dykes, stone butches, in the balcony area. Once famous Chi Chi LaTrine was the comic host.
At 21, I started going to Detroit’s half dozen or so gay and lesbian bars. And, as was the accepted social expectation and behavior I drank. Beer 50 cents a bottle. Martinis, a buck fifty. Year by year my tolerance increased.
Gay bars were for a long period of time the only place where homosexuals could meet, socialize, make out. The ideal bars were those that had a back door entrance so that one could enter unseen.
(The smart phone has changed all that. For many LGBTs it seems to work. Perhaps with the big exception that face-to-face, in person, warm body socializing is bypassed. First meetings after online contact tend to be awkward, disappointing, don’t match up with online photos.)
It’s my understanding that an alcoholic’s body metabolism is such that capacity and tolerance increase, in contrast to a non-alcoholic, who with one too many drinks gets sleepy, nauseous, or stops. I was the former. I could keep going.
(I also had a grandfather who was alcoholic, who passed out in the snow one long-ago winter and shortly thereafter died of pneumonia.)
In 1981, my alcoholism caught up with me. I had at Christmastime a classic lost weekend. A near brush with the the outer edge of time and total mental instability. I was told not to return to my work as an educational professional without seeking help. Fortunately, I did so.
My alcohol rehab took place at Cottage Hospital and, a month later, at Deaconess Hospital. Both centers are no longer operating. I am, shall I say, eternally grateful to both staff and their respective programs.
Recovery advice: Seek an established hospital rehab program; join AA or Secular Sobriety; get in touch with affirming LGBT spiritual affiliations (MCC Detroit has sustained my sobriety for decades); cut back on caffeine and sugar consumption; take daily vitamin supplements (with strong B content); avoid Xanax and other opioids as tools for recovery.
I am eternally grateful to realize and to share that I have had a second chance at rewarding LGBT living, one day at a time for 36 years. I owe my ongoing, one-a-day art and my BTL columns to my recovery from alcohol addiction. Happy Easter. One resurrection at a time.