By Melinda Lejman
If you Google LGBT addiction statistics, you might assume that the population is disproportionately affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Delve a little deeper and the story gets more complicated. Some studies indicate that LGBT individuals suffer at a rate of 20-30%, much higher than the average rate of 9% among the general population. However, some argue that the statistics are skewed due to difficulties in identifying LGBT individuals.
To get some insider perspective, I interviewed a gay man in recovery. To respect anonymity, we’ll call him “Jay”. Each week he attends meetings for sex and love addiction, narcotics addiction, and alcohol addiction.
“I tell people I’m the worst drug addict ever, because I’ve never smoked a joint and I’ve never done a street drug of any type.” Casually, he adds with an almost laugh, “I’d always wanted to try heroin, I was just too afraid!”
Jay believes that drinking and other forms of substance abuse are normalized in the gay community to a large extent, and that the gay male experience is especially one that can include a lot of drug and alcohol use.
“It doesn’t have to,” he adds. “It can, and certainly adding those two together fueled my stuff.”
Jay admits that struggling with his sexuality was a component of his depression and addiction. “Sometimes I wondered, if I were straight would I still be going through all this?” I listened intently for an answer, but of course when it comes to addiction, there are no simple answers.
Jay’s father, an alcoholic, drug and sex addict, died in a car accident while driving under the influence just days after being discharged from a rehab program. “Part of my recovery has been going, ‘I know where this leads. It leads to a guy dying and a funeral with about 22 people in it,’” he tells me. “I knew where my life was heading. I saw it in my own father.”
In addition to meetings for substance abuse, Jay also attends suicide anonymous.
“I’ve dealt with serious recurring depression since the age of about five or six,” says Jay. He tells me about what he calls the “covert abuse” of growing up in a household with an addicted father and an enabling mother.
“A real thing that comes to mind is my mother telling me, ‘Be happy! We’re doing this for you, so you should be happy!’” As is common in many families, talking about depression or suicide wasn’t acceptable. After almost attempting suicide as a young teen, Jay made an earnest attempt in early 2008.
“I’d wake up and think, if I was just dead, I wouldn’t have to get out of bed, or take a shower, or iron my clothes.” Sitting at his office desk, he would fantasize about harming himself with a pair of scissors, wondering if anyone would be able to save him. Instead, he took an overdose of pain pills and called 911. Ironically, his biggest fear was that he would be “locked up” in a mental hospital, which is exactly where he landed.
After a 10-week inpatient program and two weeks of outpatient therapy, Jay now admits it was the best thing that could ever have happened to him. “I didn’t have to be anybody, I didn’t have to wear a (expletive) mask. I could just be me,” he explains. “It felt safe. I could stop pretending that I was ok.”
Since beginning his journey of recovery, Jay has met and married his now husband. They are hoping to adopt children in the near future. He credits recovery programs for helping him maintain his sobriety and control his depression.
“If somebody has unmanageability in their life, I’m pretty sure there’s a meeting for that.” Jay concedes that a 12-step program isn’t the only answer for someone dealing with addiction, but he believes the model saved his life.
“It’s taught me who I am, and how to let other people in and know who I am,” he explains. “That’s the gift of recovery, that we can find out who we truly are.”
If you or someone you love is dealing with addiction, depression, or suicidal thoughts, please get help.
Memphis Crisis Center
Narcotics Anonymous, West TN
Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous of Memphis