This month we celebrate Pride. We celebrate the strength in diversity and the joy and mental wellbeing that come from connecting with our authentic selves. Unfortunately, too many cities and states across our nation create less than welcoming and affirming environments for the LGBTQ+ community. We know that discrimination against LGTBQ+ youth leads to higher-than-average rates of homelessness and suicide. But what about substance use? Well, members of the LGBTQ+ community are nearly twice as likely to experience substance use disorders than their heterosexual counterparts (SAMHSA, 2015). And individuals who are unsure about their sexual identity are five times as likely to have a substance use disorder.
While these statistics are bleak, the help for the LGBTQ+ community is bold. The LGBT community and its healers have long paired self-help with community-based organizing and advocacy. We help each other connect to needed recovery and healing resources, while also working to create communities where future members of the LGBTQ community will be embraced and able to grow into healthy, whole humans whose authentic selves are recognized as valuable and worthy. National Organizations like the Trevor Project, which connect queer youth aged 13-24 with trained counselors; the LGBT Hotline, where local resources can quickly be searched; SAGE Elder Hotline, and TransLife Line all deal with behavioral health crises for members of our LGBTQ+ community. And, with national no wrong door policies, anyone can phone without fear.
LGBTQ+ community members do recover and create lives for themselves that are second to none. I know I have. Here is my story of my own recovery:
Like so many other queer teens in the 1990s, I carried a ton of shame with me about who I was. I come from a huge, devout family and was certain that it was better for me to be dead than gay. But after a failed suicide attempt at 14, my little brother begged me not to leave him in this world alone. But the pain of shame and confusion was more than my young teenaged-self could handle, so I turned to substances to make it okay to stay alive. Throughout my teens I drank and used illicit substances to make it through hard days. I was lucky because I had friends, dancing, track and field, and academics. But I still had serious trouble connecting to my life and no trouble turning to substances almost daily. By the time I turned 18 years old, I had a full blown substance use disorder. Six months later I dropped out of the university, to which I had an academic scholarship, and became a homeless teen living with other gay homeless teens on the streets of New Orleans.
Thank God my grandmother found me, scooped me up, and reminded of how precious I was to her. In that moment of her running toward me, I was reconnected with who I really was , and my life began changing for the better — and quickly. I got back into college, but in order to regain my scholarship, I had to attend recovery meetings daily. I found a group that advertised itself as friendly to LGBTQ+ people, and this group became my family by providing me with the love, support and community that I needed to build a foundation from which I could begin to grow and construct a life of service, gratitude, and courage. Today I have over 23 years of recovery and have made a life for myself that I would not trade with anyone. More important and indicative of my recovery than a loving spouse, notable achievements, and material possessions is the singular fact that I am not only solidly connected to my authentic self, but I also get to celebrate my authentic self with others during Pride every year.
May we all help others connect and celebrate their authentic selves in June and beyond.
Executive Director, Live Tampa Bay