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Relationship Advice: Anxious About Pride Festivities

How can I overhaul my Pride habits and stay on the right path?…
 
Dear Adam,
I am 36 years old and have struggled with substances for most of my adult life. Starting with pot in my teens and moving towards alcohol and cocaine as the years passed, these habits started to really affect my work life and relationships. Over the past year I have taken steps to reduce my drug and alcohol use significantly¬—where I used to drink most nights and party every weekend, my use is more occasional these days and less intense. I’ve been going to meetings and confided in a few friends who have been supportive. But now, with Pride festivities on the horizon, I am a little freaked and extra anxious about how I will stay focused on my health. It’s just been a given, in the past, that Pride is a booze fest where I (and many of my friends) cut loose and have a total binge. I refuse to not participate in Pride, because it is such an important time for me, but don’t know how to overhaul my Pride habits and stay on the right path. Can you help? —James

 
Dear James,
The Pride month of festivities is a confusing mix: on one hand, it seems like an endless glitter-filled party, but on the other, it can be a lightning rod for a lot of complex and painful issues. Whether it’s about loneliness, acceptance, substance use, self-esteem, sex, or some intersection of all of these areas, Pride can be a tricky time for a lot of folks, and a sort of ‘trial by fire’ scenario for anyone trying to change their habits around substances.
 
You’ve made some great strides over the past year and it’s great that you’re already reflecting on your needs as Pride approaches. It is vital that you try to be as realistic as possible. Expecting yourself to participate as fully in Pride as you have before without using at all might just be a set-up for you to fail. You’ve been essentially following a harm-reduction approach for a year, and the Pride season is an opportunity to carry that forward. Think of ways to reduce the overall negative impact on yourself—should you prioritize socializing with certain friends over others? Could you take a night off between Pride plans? If you do use, could you choose one substance for the night? Remembering that you have choices, no matter what is happening around you, will be your key to sustaining the positive changes you’ve been making.
 
The good news is that you are already doing something right—you’re not automatically giving yourself permission to get loaded during Pride. A big factor in compulsive substance use is a sort of ‘permission giving’ that keeps you trapped in an addictive cycle. So often, we make the decision to get high way before it actually happens—and then add to the problem by shaming ourselves for not knowing better. We think that if we criticize ourselves enough we’ll eventually stop, but it only leaves us feeling worse. Something I can say with certainty is that shame never seems to be the solution to an addiction problem—you need to be compassionate with yourself to keep the positive momentum alive.
 
You are readying yourself to have as mindful an experience as possible and therefore this Pride will feel different from previous ones—you might even have moments of grief for the loss of the particular heightened intensity you’ve experienced before. Put simply, it might be a little tough to be so grounded this time around. It would be easy to stop attending meetings until Pride is over, but it’s likely the most important time to keep going—if only to remember that so many others are struggling despite the joyful sheen of the rainbow fantasia.
 

 
ADAM SEGAL, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your relationship or mental-health questions at @relationship@inmagazine.ca.
 

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