Sugar and Spice

I'm Lannie and I'm an alcoholic.

Does everybody know what little girls are made of? Sugar and spice, and everything nice. That's what little girls are made of.

And do you know what little boys are made of? Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails. That's what little boys are made of.

When I was born, 50 years ago, in Teaneck, New Jersey, the doctor took one look at my little penis and declared, "It's a boy!" I don't know why he couldn't see that I was made of sugar and spice, and everything nice.

My parents believed the doctor. They gave me a boy's name and raised me as a boy. I believed them, and tried to be the best little boy I could be. I'm a very cooperative person. But it was pretty obvious that I wasn't like my big brother Bob. He was the all-American boy, into sports, and cars, mischief of all kinds, and beating me up a lot. I was the bookish, stay-at-home type. I thought, OK, this what smart, nerdy little boys must be like.

My parents didn't drink, but my dad certainly had some alcoholic behaviors. When I was three years old, he packed everything we owned into a U-Haul trailer which he hitched to our '56 Chevy sedan. He loaded my mother into the front seat and me, my older brother, and my younger sister into the back seat, and drove us all the way across the country. I never saw any of my many cousins, aunts, uncles, or grandparents ever again. Much later my dad confided in me that his main reason for moving was to get away from the families. And so I learned early on to isolate and run away from problems. This behavior served me well during my drinking days.

My dad's other alcoholic trait was suppressing his emotions. We had no emotions in our household. I can't remember even once seeing my mother and father being physically affectionate with each other, although they loved each other very much. They're still married today. And I can still hear this tape playing over and over inside my head: "Stop crying, or I'll give you something to cry about."

Other than those two things, I was a happy little kid. I grew up in Southern California, in the San Fernando Valley. Gag me with a spoon, you know?

I was a straight-A student, my high school class valedictorian. I had twelve years of Catholic education. I was even an altar boy. Now, I'm an altered boy.

When I reached puberty, my life stopped working. I never had any girlfriends, although I liked girls. And I never really made any guy friends once I got out of high school. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. I was lonely and miserable.

I had my first few opportunities to drink in high school. I remember one time in particular. For some reason or another, I was invited to a party at my brother's friend's house. Somebody-maybe it was my brother, I'm not really sure-bought me my own bottle of Slo Gin, or some horrible sweet drink like that. I drank the whole thing. I am told that I would have died that night choking on my own vomit, if a Good Samaritan hadn't kicked me over onto my stomach. That was the first time alcohol nearly killed me.

Funny thing. I had a terrible hangover the next day, of course. My parents were quite sympathetic. They did not give me a lecture about the dangers of alcohol, even though I understand at least one of my grandfathers and a few of my uncles had drinking problems.

I went away to college to Cal Tech, the brainiac school in Pasadena. Their student housing is like a cross between dormitories and fraternities. Each house had a unique personality. There was the Christian house. The nerd house. The druggie house. Two jock houses, which was funny because our varsity team played other schools' junior varsity teams, and we always lost. Anyway, you won't be surprised to hear that I landed in Rickett's house, which was the alcoholic house. Still, I didn't drink all that much in college because I was very busy with my studies, in electrical engineering.

In the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I lost my virginity. What happened was, I got very, very drunk one night and accidentally slept with my roommate's girlfriend. He told me that when he came home that morning and found us passed out in bed together, it was all he could do to keep from picking up the biggest butcher knife in our kitchen, and stabbing the two of us to death. So I guess that's the second time alcohol nearly killed me.

I transferred up to U.C. Berkeley in my junior year. After I graduated I came down to San Jose where I worked at Intel, Tandem Computers, and a string of loser start-up companies.

Once I was out of school, I became a daily drinker. I drank myself to sleep every night of my adult life.

Around my thirtieth birthday, I met a Modesto farm girl who liked me. The first day we met, we got very, very drunk together. In the morning when I awoke, I was surprised to find myself in bed with her. We dated for about four months and then got married. She was into methamphetamine. I was into booze. We partied for a few years and then got divorced.

I was devastated. At age 35, my life was so empty. Work and booze were all I had going on. To give you an idea of my mental state, I had two favorite movies at the time. One was Edward Scissorshands, the story of a beautiful, innocent boy who was too freaky to live in society. He had to spend his life alone in a deserted castle on a hill. He was actually a constructed being, a sort of robot, which is why he had scissors for hands. He didn't even have the ability to shed tears. My emotions were so shut down, I could not cry, either. And to make it all just a little more poignant, the boy name my parents had given me long before in New Jersey was Edward.

My other favorite movie was Leaving Las Vegas, where Nick Cage goes to Vegas and drinks himself to death. That just seemed like a reasonable exit plan to me.

In my desperation to find something that could bring a little joy into my life, I discovered that women's clothing turned me on. I started cross-dressing. Well, let me tell you, that is a progressive disease! Pretty soon I had wigs and makeup, and I was shaving my arms and legs, the whole deal. I thought I could go out in public and pass as a woman, which I could not at all, at first. But gradually I got better and better at my appearance, until I could pass most of the time. Besides, people don't pay any attention; they're in their own worlds. I would go out to the shopping malls, or to the movies, and it was thrilling. I thought I was your typical heterosexual cross-dresser. (By the way, almost every cross-dresser I've ever met has been straight, not gay.)

This went on for quite a long, long time. Then Al Gore invented the Internet, and I was used it to find the transgender community. I found out there were bars and clubs where people like me hang out. I became a middle-aged, cross-dressing club kiddie, and I had a ball!

I began meeting transsexual women, and transsexual men, too. I found out that people really do get sex changes, and they really do work. The first time it occurred to me-seriously-that I might in fact be a woman, even though I had a male body, it was a total shock. It seemed impossible! But it only took about four months of therapy for me to see that my life worked better when I lived as a woman, and that was OK.

You can imagine all the emotions that were coming up in me. And you know how I dealt with them. My drinking accelerated.

Right about this time, I had a spiritual awakening about my drinking. It came in the form of an automobile accident. I had been drinking all day and all evening, alone, determined to have a good time-which I did. As I was driving home, extremely drunk, I got lost in an unfamiliar part of town. I came to a Y-intersection, and I couldn't decide whether to go left or to go right, so I went down the middle. Unfortunately, there was a signpost here. I plowed right through it. It crumpled the front end of my Buick, and I must have knocked it into the air, because it also smashed out my rear window and creased my trunk. But my higher power let me off light on this one. There was no one else involved. I wasn't injured. There were no cops around, so I didn't get arrested. And believe me, getting thrown in the drunk tank when you're a dude in a dress is not a good thing. My car was even drivable, barely. I never even stopped. I bullied the car back home and got on the phone and blubbered to my friends.

I took my warning very seriously, and I determined to quit drinking. But it didn't last. I couldn't do it. Within a couple weeks, I was making excuses like, "I can drink because I'm out of town and not driving." And "I can just have one." I could see that I was headed right back to my old drinking habits. Fortunately, my higher power sent me a second moment of spiritual enlightenment.

I was getting a bunch of blood tests in preparation for going on hormones-estrogen, you know? My doctor took one look at my test results and asked me, "Do you drink?"

"Huh, yeah!" I told her.

"Well you'd better stop, or you'll be needing a new liver within five years," she said.

That was good enough for me. On Thanksgiving Day, 2001, I had my last blow-out. I spent the day by myself, drinking, like I usually spent holidays. The next day I had my last hangover, and that's my sobriety birthday.

At Thanksgiving, I stopped drinking. At Christmas, I began living full time as a woman.

People ask me, "How were you able to stop drinking without a recovery program?"

I believe I wouldn't have been able to do it if I hadn't changed my sex. You see, this gal is an alcoholic, but she's never been a drinker. Oh, that cross-dressing guy sure was, but not Lannie.

You know how we tell newcomers, "If you want to get sober, you only have to change one thing? And that's everything!" Well, I changed everything!

Of course, we also tell newcomers they shouldn't make any big decisions or changes in their first year of sobriety. Oops. Fortunately, it's worked out well for me.

That first year was exciting. I was changing my name, getting a wardrobe together, growing my hair, having hundreds of hours of electrolysis, and generally adjusting to life as a woman. It very quickly became dead obvious to me that I actually was a woman, in every sense of the word. Well, in every sense except one. So, when I became eligible after living as a woman for a year, I had my surgery and fixed that one last thing, so I could be more comfortable in my body.

I took a couple of months to recover from my surgery. Then I got out of my sick bed and walked out the front door, ready to reclaim my life. Much to my surprise, it was no longer there. I didn't have a job to go back to, because I had been laid off just before my surgery. (Maybe it was just a coincidence; I'll never know.) My boyfriend dumped me because I guess the part of me he liked the most was sitting in a bio-waste container at the Surgical Center of Palo Alto. My best friend had moved to San Francisco. My other friends were cross-dressers and I spent time with them in clubs. But I was clean and sober, so I didn't want to hang around clubs. And I really didn't have anything in common with cross-dressers anymore. And my family did not care to see me. So once again, my life was empty. I had nothing.

I fell into a terrible depression. I white-knuckled life for a while, but it was horrible. The end of the year came and I had the worst holidays of my entire life. I didn't even have a bottle to dull the pain. I thought it might just be seasonal affective disorder, but January came and I was still in the dumper.

I went back to my therapist and asked her, "What else can I change? I stopped drinking. I gave up caffeine. I'm eating healthy. I even changed my sex. What else can I do?"

She had two suggestions for me. One was to go on anti-depressants, which I resisted for some reason. The other was to go to an meeting of an alcoholilc recovery group.

"A recovery group?" I exclaimed, "What would I want to do that for? I haven't had a drink in two years!"

"Listen," she told me. "I hear you saying that you can't make connections with people, you just don't seem to be able to find people you click with. Why don't you just locate a women's meeting and give it a try. Some of the smartest, strongest, most interesting women I know are in recovery." (Now I wonder if she's one of us, too, because that's how we like to talk about ourselves, isn't it?)

Anyway, I took her suggestion. I found an recovery group meeting, and it was just what I needed. The people I met understood me. They had the same feelings and experiences as I'd had. If that's what it meant to be an alcoholic, then I was one. It was easy for me to stand up at that first meeting and say, "I'm an alcoholic."

I'm a very co-operative person. Didn't I go along with that being-a-boy thing for 45 years? I got with the program. I went to 90 meetings in 90 days. I read the books. I got into service. I learned it was OK to use outside help when I need it, and I went on anti-depressants. I got a sponsor. I did the steps. I did the deal.

It didn't work. For over a year, the best I could ever say at a meeting was that I had a glimmer of hope that the program would work for me. I saw signs of progress, but they were so gradual, so slow.

I kept working the program. I went back to De Anza College and got a certificate in technical writing. I found a wonderful job working for a small marketing firm in Redwood City. And my life got better. The program really did work for me. Not only did the program teach me how to live, but the women of my recovery group embraced me and taught me what it really means to be a woman. By the time another year had passed, I was actually happy most of the time. And when things didn't go my way, I had tools to deal with it. I had people to call. People who love me. People who care about me. People who understand me.

And that's what it's like now for me. But there's one more thing I want to tell you about. In that tough first year of the program, I had a worry. It was that damn serenity prayer. My mother sent me a bible with a bookmark that had the serenity prayer printed on one side. I called her up and asked her, "Mom, does this mean you've accepted my sex change?"

"What do you man?" she asked.

"The serenity prayer. You know, the courage to change."

"That's not what it means!" she snapped at me. "You should have paid more attention to the part about the wisdom to know the difference!"

She had a point, and it really bothered me. If I had come into the program sooner, might I have found the serenity to accept my life as a man? Did I really need my sex change at all?

You know where I found the answer to my dilemma, don't you? It was right there in the Big Book. I'll be you didn't know the Big Book talked about sex changes, did you? Here, let me read it for you. It's on page 426 in the new edition.

"The discussion meeting was followed by a speaker meeting where I had my first awakening in A.A. The speaker said, 'If you're an apple, you can be the best apple you can be, but you can never be an orange.' I was an apple all right, and for the first time I understood that I had spent my life trying to be an orange."

So you see, it was about serenity after all. The serenity to accept life as it actually is. To accept the fact that I am made of sugar and spice and everything nice, and that is something I can never change.

Topic: You can talk about your sex change. But if you want to keep that private, I understand. Maybe you'd like to talk about something you had the courage to change, or the serenity to accept.

—Lannie R, 6/2006

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