We've been chatting to Ben (@benbodenuk) behind the scenes for a while now and we caught up with him for what is probably our most raw and vulnerable interview to date. Thank you, Ben, for being so open and honest with us, your story is a beautiful one and we're so glad you shared it with us!
Tell us more about you:
My name's Ben and I currently work as a creative facilitator for a luxury rehab in Bali. I am a trained Life Coach, Art Teacher and Performing Artist and use these three areas to design and run creative workshops and programs for client. My
workshops and programs are designed to help clients understand and express themselves through creative practices, whilst on their journey of recovery and sobriety. I continue to write and perform my own music, with hopes of inspiring and touching others through my songs.
How long have you been sober and why?
I have been sober since April 16th , 2018. I like to think that my choice of becoming sober was somewhat of a sudden decision but when I think about it in more depth, I was aware of my dependency on alcohol, and how, like most of my relationships at that time, it was an unhealthy one.
You could say that I had a love for alcohol before I had even tasted it. Both sides of my family would have gatherings which often lead to karaoke, dancing, deep and meaningful conversations and were always laced with excitement (and sometimes drama).
As a child, I would be excited going to these family gatherings knowing that alcohol would be present, as this meant that my family would inevitably have a great time and therefor so would I! The first time that I tried alcohol, was when I was given a thimble of wine during a family gathering which I continued to top up throughout the night, and suddenly felt part of the family/party.
From that day, my fascination and love for alcohol, and its ‘superpowers’ only grew. I grew up associating alcohol with sophistication, happiness, excitement, and fun. With my career being within entertainment, alcohol was always present. Whether it was a couple of pints before a gig, or a night of excessive celebration after a tour or contract, alcohol was the go-to. I would not say that I used alcohol to become a different person, but rather, I relied on alcohol to feel comfortable with who I was.
In 2013, I was diagnosed with HIV. This overwhelming news shattered me. For someone that grew up feeling deeply ashamed for being gay, this only contributed towards my self-hate and insecurity. As well as the medication prescribed by my clinic, I also self-medicated with alcohol. Despite feeling self-hate and disgust, I used this diagnosis to make a difference to others living with HIV. I ran the London Marathon for Terrence Higgins Trust, and travelled to Uganda, a place where HIV is heavily present and stigmatised, and helped build a playground for children. These were the times, the times when I was not drinking, that REALLY made me feel happy and proud with who I was, not the late night lock-ins down the local watering hole.
Eventually, over time, I began to question whether alcohol was in fact allowing me to feel comfortable in my skin or preventing me from being who I really was. It never really changed my personality, I wasn't a Jekyll and Hyde kind of drinker. Instead, I began to realise that alcohol was dimming my light; it was draining my energy, stealing what truly little self-love I had for myself, and making me feel depressed. For someone that naturally views life through rose-tinted glasses, alcohol saturated life’s colour– and for someone who believed that alcohol was the very thing that made me happy, this realisation was petrifying.
What method did you use to become sober?
I am incredibly lucky. I have extremely close people in my circle that have years of sobriety under their belt, and over the years, I was able to witness truly amazing things happen to these people when they began to live a life of sobriety. I knew what life was like WITH alcohol, and I could see what life would be like WITHOUT it, so I set a date. On Friday 13th April, I wanted to give up drinking. I was going to see my Dad that weekend, so I knew that drinking would be on the cards and allowed myself that night to ‘enjoy’ my last few beers. I wrote my sobriety date on my calendar, I stocked up the fridge with some non-alcoholic beers, and I felt excited. For me, that decision was extremely easy. It was easy because I knew that I was tired of feeling this way; tired of hating myself and knew that things could only get better. There was no other option.
Whilst drinking, I would find myself googling ‘sober celebrities’ to see testimonials of people that were happy and successful whilst being sober and continued to do this after I gave up drinking. I read books such as ‘The Unexpected Joy or Being Sober’ by Catherine Gray and attended one or two AA meetings.
For me, I chose to be sober so I could LIVE, so I did just that. I continued to go out with friends and banked each of those experiences to support my sobriety. I wanted to prove to myself that life did not end when the alcohol did. I went to Las Vegas for my friends’ wedding; travelled to Nashville, went to music festivals; planned my backpacking adventure across Europe, America, and South East Asia, and journaled.
What are your thoughts on the LGBT+ community’s attitude towards alcohol and
I think that alcohol, and often drugs, are heavily relied on within the LGBTQ+ community. We want to love life. We love arts, music, dance, expression, passion, individuality, and celebration; the things that many of us are made to suppress during our upbringing and throughout our cultural history. I fear though, that many of us, including myself once, are conditioned to believe that alcohol is one of the significant tools for us to celebrate these areas we love so much. From personal experience, when I tell someone in the LGBTQ community that I am sober, they are quite intimidated and often view me as ‘boring’. This is a community where many will order drink, with a side of poppers, or meet someone in third cubicle for a bump. I am not looking down on these individuals, because I too was one of them, but the fact that this type of individual is more accepted within the LGBTQ community than a sober one says a lot.
Why do you think members of the LGBT+ community are more susceptible to
experiencing difficulties with alcohol and drugs?
Sadly, I believe that the LGBTQ+ community is one of the highest demographics for drug and alcohol abuse. A lot of our cultural heritage stems from underground raves and parties; places and events that went on under the radar in fear, and in solidarity. For many LGBTQ+ folk, they find themselves disowned by relatives, and even find themselves homeless, leading to drug and alcohol abuse, or like myself, it stems from insecurity and pain. For others, including myself, we found refuge and acceptance by going to gay bars and LGBTQ+ events where we were able to feel accepted for who we are, and these places are often laced with alcohol and drugs.
What do you think we can do to change this?
There are a lot of stigmas within the LGBTQ community which is a contradiction right? Body norms, preferences, classifications etc. For a community which is fighting for the right of equality, there is a lot of stigma and inequality within our own community which needs to be worked on. I think it’s all about not being afraid to speak your personal truth. A lot of us are afraid to do this, due to the consequences that our truths have led to in the past, but in order for us to lead a community which represents a different identify for each colour of the rainbow, we must accept each and every colour of the flag before waving it.
I think, when focussing on sobriety, LGBTQ sober events would be highly appreciated. Non- alcoholic beverages that are offered in many establishments, to be offered at gay bars to cater for the sober LGBTQ community.
We also need more focus on LGBTQ Alcohol and Drug support groups which are offered across the globe (and online).
I believe that Proud and Sober is another great example of a platform which caters to a demographic which feels somewhat ignored and helps to celebrate this LGBTQ minority.
What’s your favourite thing about being sober?
My favourite thing about being sober is my clarity. Clarity in how I feel, what I do, what I say, and most importantly, clarity in who I am. I did not wake up on the 13th April when I decided to give up alcohol, and suddenly fall in love with myself, and there are still areas in my life which need tending to, but the lessons, gifts and experiences that sobriety has given me is priceless. My life has completely changed; what goes on in my life, and how I view it, and I owe that to being sober. My friend once said something which has also stuck with me. After seeing me living a life of sobriety, she said “I am jealous. I feel like I am missing out.” For someone that felt as though they would be missing out when giving up alcohol, this simple statement continues to remind me that I made the right decision.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
The biggest lesson that I have learnt so far is that the only person that I am in competition with is myself, and that everything I need to live a life of happiness is within me.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to give up?
Do not be hard on yourself. Give yourself targets but make them achievable ones. It is not a race. You are not in competition with anyone but yourself, so take your time, do not rush, and listen to yourself when you need to be heard. Do not hate yourself. You are an amazing person, believe that. You need to believe that before you can go on this journey. You are not alone; reach out to others, read, talk, listen, cry, laugh, FEEL. If you need someone to talk to, you can reach out to me too, we are all in this together. You have got this. Be prepared to witness some amazing things.