Growing up in my weekly Catholicism class, I was the one who was more concerned with who I’d be sitting next to when we watched The Ten Commandments than anything I was actually supposed to be learning. I’d say I’m about 80% atheist, 20% agnostic. Although I grew up with religion, by the time I was 11 or 12, I just knew I wasn’t interested. I didn’t believe.
As I got older and fully realized my queerness, I saw the way almost every religion I was familiar with attacked the LGBTQ+ community. It hurt. And it made me more confident in my identity as an atheist. Why would I want to be part of something that had no interest in accepting who I was? We’re literally just human beings, living our lives.
Early in my sobriety, one of the hardest things I had to grapple with was all of the references to a higher power, religion, and spirituality. I don’t even consider myself spiritual like a lot of non-religious people. Talk of all of that stuff makes me shut down, and it’s hard for me to move past it to accept the overall message being presented. I’ve often had to fight the urge to dismiss what people are saying because of the God thing.
I had to wade through three months of solitary sobriety before I could connect with a community that was meaningful to me. What I needed was an environment where the idea of God wasn’t a primary, secondary, or even tertiary part of the conversation.
Although it felt impossible, I found it. I signed up for an online sobriety school, looking for tools to help me feel less miserable in my sobriety. But what I found to be most important were people who didn’t (and still don’t) care that I’m an atheist. The other thing that I found were a group of humans who helped to take down some of the walls I had about listening to and having conversations about spiritual topics. These people, the core of my sober community are accepting, loving, thoughtful, and non-judgmental. Never once was told that I needed to find a higher power in order to be happy in my sobriety. And it’s true: I didn’t. I don’t. Here I am, 30 months in—content, secure and, confident in my sobriety.
What I found is what I believe in instead. Here’s what I use to support my sobriety as an atheist. And maybe these tips can help you, too.
People, Connections, and Community
I was in Hawai’i when I’d had enough of alcohol. The first thing I did was text two of my people, from thousands of miles away, to tell them that I was done. Those two texts, one to Portland and one to Virginia, helped me make a commitment to this new and definitive decision to stop drinking. The added benefits of support created the base I needed to help keep me sober. Over the next few weeks and months, I would see that I had a great little group of people to help me while I was going through this miserable, messy time.
I started my recovery program in Spring 2016, which is where I ended up with a community of others who really made the base of my sober family. The community was just the tip of the iceberg.
Once I began making connections there, I was able to find a much larger and wider online community that I was able to tap into. Being able to see and share with others who understand and are going through many of the same things changed everything. I began sharing my story on social media. I could see that visibility was a way into change for me—and others, too.
Now, I’m trying to build and foster the same community for queer and trans people. The overlapping Venn diagram segment of the LGBTQ+ community and the recovery community is significant. I want to create a space for people to share their stories of recovery, and for other people to read those stories. Seeing someone like you being successful, or even attempting recovery, can be the spark you need to know that you can also do this sobriety thing. I want to make sure people can see that being sober or in recovery can be fun and exciting and you can still be freaky or dirty or funny. Your queer card won’t be revoked if you no longer drink or do drugs.
Physical Activity and Nature
Walking is one of the biggest items in my toolbox for when I feel cravings or anxiety or depression. But walking isn’t the only thing I use to help support my sobriety.
Perhaps you can argue that hiking is really just walking in nature, but it’s also something that has helped me recenter myself more times than I can count. Even before I quit drinking, getting out into the forest was the best way for me to calm down when my anxiety was high. There’s something about the air and the quiet and the dirt and the green. If we can add a tent and some camping to that, well… swoon.
And, if you’re walking or hiking outside, try to do it without listening to music or podcasts. I find that fully immersing myself in my surroundings gives my brain time to work through shit and a podcast or music is a huge distraction.
If I don’t have the time or the weather is too bad for a walk or a hike, I dance. I’m not a particularly good dancer, and I don’t really go out to clubs… but I dance the shit outta my kitchen and living room.
It looks very similar to how I did it as a kid. If I’m listening to something the slightest bit classical, I pretend I can do ballet. I’ve been known to rock an interpretive dance to a particularly emotional song. A good song on a commercial or a TV show? I’ll get up and dance to it! I shake my booty. I flail my arms. I jump up and down. I leap. I make shadows on my walls. I just go with it and it brings me complete and absolute joy.
Whatever you do, just find something that gets your energy out and makes your heart happy.
Whatever you do, just find something that gets your energy out and makes your heart happy.
Learning how to love myself by taking care of myself and not listening to or encouraging that supercritical, negative voice in my head was one of the first things that helped me feel more comfortable in my sobriety.
It may sound silly but actually speaking to myself out loud in a kind, loving manner got me through many freakouts. I clearly remember walking through downtown Portland with the regular loop going through my head, Of course she’s not texting you back, why would she? You’re so annoying, why would she want to be your friend? and on and on and on.
This time, though, I caught this loop and started speaking to myself like I would speak to a best friend or a child whom I love.
“You are an amazing friend, sweetie. Your friends love you and they care about you. You are funny, caring, loyal, and thoughtful. Everyone you know has their own life and can’t always reply to you right away. You are loved. You are smart. You are valuable.”
And on and on and on. Saying these kind words to myself over and over have really helped break the cycle of negative self-talk and now, my loop is an automatic loop of confidence and love instead of negativity. Well, mostly. We all have insecurities, eh?
Also, love for all other people. There are plenty of people out there that I don’t like—but, I love everyone. I truly believe that all people deserve empathy and love.
Being a part of many different circles has taught me that no matter what someone looks like, what their circumstances are, their education level, job, housing situation or any number of other things that can be perceived as signs of success or failure, you can never really know what a person is going through at any given moment. Treating people with empathy and love can not only create connections, but it can also let the person you’re interacting with know that you see them as a human and are not overlooking their existence.
And don’t most people just want to be seen and feel loved?
Science and Education
These two things might not be what immediately come to mind when you think about sobriety and recovery. But learning how and why alcohol—or other substance or behavior—affects your mental and physical health is a great way to put some extra oomph behind your reasons for recovery.
Plus, once I was learning and my moods began to stabilize through sobriety, I realized that there were so many things I’d like to do and was interested in that I never really had the motivation to explore while I was drinking. Or, if I did, I would either lose interest quickly or not retain the information. I’ve been absorbing information about all sorts of things lately at a rate that rivals my high school years.
Things I’ve learned about and discovered interest in since getting sober include how to get adequate nutrition in order to support my physical and emotional health, white supremacy and how it’s ingrained in every aspect of our country, meditation, photography, writing, connecting with people and, a basic interest in listening to the experiences of people who are different from me.
Reading about other people’s experience with recovery, learning how to take better care of yourself, asking questions, taking up that hobby you’ve always been meaning to start, learning that you have an interest in something that you never even considered before, these are all ways to help create a more well-rounded and complete version of yourself.
You deserve to be the most whole version of yourself that you can be. One of the best ways to do that is to take the chance to learn about all of the things you’ve always been too afraid to learn.
You deserve to be the most whole version of yourself that you can be.
It’s hard to be miserable when you’re laughing. It’s possible, but it’s more difficult.
I went months where I could only watch and rewatch Parks and Recreation, The Office, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I needed to laugh and I couldn’t handle even watching TV that was serious.
If I’m struggling, I reach out to my funniest friends. They can always give me a boost in the form of memes, sarcasm, silliness, or just plain random ridiculousness.
There is something to be said about smiling and laughing, even if it’s not genuine. I find that a fake smile can slowly make way for a real smile. A fake chuckle can really open the floodgates for a real, belly laugh to come out. It’s tempting to wallow in sadness. And although it’s important to feel our sadness, we don’t always have to look like we’re living in it. We can feel the sadness and try to bring joy and laughter into our lives. We can feel the sadness and actively work on moving past the sadness.
What lights you on fire? That’s been something I’ve been trying to figure out for a long time. In early sobriety, I could really only focus on not drinking. Which is what I needed to do—and what most, if not all, people need to do in those first few days, weeks, or months of giving up the substance or behavior that they’ve been using as a crutch.
Eventually, though, things will even out, and your mind will clear. When that happens, you’ll begin to want to fill your time with something that keeps calling to you.
Although I couldn’t figure out what that was, I just kept doing the next thing that seemed right. Small things like letting people know I heard them, sharing my opinions and beliefs on Instagram, writing about the things I was thinking about, and reading or hearing about the needs of underserved communities.
After all of these small steps, and a fuckton of encouragement, I’ve found it. The thing I kept coming back to was making sure people who felt like they didn’t belong or that they weren’t seen to feel seen. To feel like they had a place they belonged. Creating visibility for queer and trans people within the recovery community and helping people already in the community be as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
It took a lot of small things to find this larger passion in me. Keep looking and don’t give up. Listen to the voice inside of you.
We all deserve to be the best, most content, and most fulfilled people we can be.
Don’t think for one minute that because you’re an atheist or agnostic that you can’t have all everything that sobriety and recovery can bring. Don’t think for one minute that you’re not worthy of the gifts of sobriety. Don’t think for one fucking minute that your queerness—and all of the baggage and trauma that comes with it—in any way makes you undeserving of recovery or love or a community that will support you. And don’t think you need to uproot your entire belief system in order to comply with a program. Because you don’t.
You are valid just as you are.