From Addiction To Acceptanceadmin
If you had told my parents when I was a kid that I would grow up to become a drug addict and alcoholic, they would have not believed it. In fact, when I called and told them at the age of 31 that I was a drug addict and alcoholic and that I was starting my journey in sobriety, they didn’t believe me. This was because I was very good at hiding my addiction.
I was a very happy child. I was raised by two loving, caring, nurturing parents that instilled in me good morals and values, taught me right from wrong, and always accepted me. My mom instilled in me a strong sense of self from an early age. I was raised not to let other people’s perceptions of me define me. This allowed me to have a high regard for myself and to love myself from an early age.
However, this started to change in middle school, when all the boys around me started to hit puberty well before me. They were starting to develop into young men and I was still a small boy with effeminate mannerism and a high pitched voice. This is when I started to be called gay and faggot. Which was true, but I just didn’t know it yet. Since these slurs came with such negativity and vitriol, I rejected it with every fiber in my being. I knew that I was a good kid and something that awful could not be attached to my identity. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but this is when I began to push those feelings down so deep inside me that I didn’t even know they were there.
I eventually hit puberty and went on to have a girlfriend in high school. Since I was fitting into the social norms, the slurs became less and less and I found a group of accepting peers in the drama club. I was a good student but I also started to drink and smoke pot. I did it mostly to fit in and out of boredom. Don’t get me wrong it was fun, I loved being drunk and having fun with my friends. But a lot of kids were doing it, so I didn’t think I had a problem.
My drinking and drug use escalated when I went to college. I was in a big city, on my own, with no parental restrictions. This led to a lot of drinking and a lot of hangovers. My girlfriend and I eventually broke up and I was single.
The idea that I was gay was still nowhere in my consciousness. It wasn’t until one night when I took ecstasy that my walls came down and I was able to identify those feelings that had been pushed down so deep inside me. It led me to kiss a guy for the first time. It was as if my entire universe shifted in that one moment. I was finally able to be myself and be accepted within my group of friends.
Since ecstasy was the gateway that opened up these emotions, I wanted to do it all the time. I wanted to tap into that part of me that I had pushed down and was now starting to blossom. That boy I kissed quickly became my boyfriend. He identified as bisexual, so I did too. I was new to this, but how he explained bisexuality made sense to me; falling in love with a person, not the gender.
That relationship quickly fizzled. This led to a deep searching within myself to see if I was attracted to other men or just my boyfriend. Turns out I was attracted to a lot of men.
Throughout college, my drinking and drug use continued to escalate. I was exploring my sexuality and my drinking and drug use allowed me to do just that. I went from just drinking, to ecstasy, to eventually cocaine. And once I found cocaine, the downward spiral was quick. I realized I could drink more and not get sloppy drunk if I paired it with cocaine. I never saw my drug use or drinking as an issue because I was still able to maintain good grades in school and my circle of friends were doing the same thing.
Even though I was only dating and sleeping with men, I held on to this idea that I would marry a woman. I wanted a family, marriage, and kids and this was not possible for me in my mind. It was 1997 and there were no gay role models, no talk of gay marriage, and I couldn’t tell you one gay couple who was married with children. This again led to this deep denial in myself that I was gay. I couldn’t be gay because that was still deemed as bad, a sin, and something that I could not attach to my identity. As long as I was bisexual there was a part of me that still conformed to the social norms and still fit in.
After several failed attempts at dating women, who would end it once they found out I was bisexual, I met a woman who accepted me completely as I was and wanted to be with me. We dated for 10 months and over those months I slowly started to realize that I was not attracted to her the way I was attracted to men. So I ended things with her during my last semester in college.
However, that summer I took an internship that led me to this tiny community in rural Nebraska for the summer. And over the course of the summer, the people in the community were so kind, welcoming, and invited me to their Bible school that was happening in the evenings. I had stopped drinking and doing drugs, and the message of love and acceptance I received from that community, led me to become a Christian. I began praying to God to reveal to me who I was supposed to become. And the message I received, which I now know was not God, told me to get back with my girlfriend and to pray away my sexual desires for men.
So, I ended up getting back with my girlfriend. However, the condition of us getting back together was that we would wait for marriage to be intimate again. I was hoping that during that time, God would remove my desire for men. We were married 2 years later, and those desires never went away. They still haven’t.
This led to a deep depression and my drinking and drug use started up again and quickly spiraled out of control. I was living a double life. All our friends and family saw us as this happily married couple. And deep inside, I knew my feelings for men would not go away. After four years of this downward spiral, I finally had the courage to end the marriage and for the first time in my life, at the age of thirty, I accepted that I was gay.
There was freedom in saying those words out loud. I finally had accepted my truth. I am a gay man. But even though I had accepted my sexuality, my addiction had taken control. It carried on for another year, until one day, I could not stand the reflection staring back at me in the mirror. I finally accepted I had a problem and I needed help. I had tried to stop doing drugs on my own and found I was unable to stop. I had known about AA but didn’t know what exactly it entailed. The first day I went to a meeting, I met a group of gay men that were happy, joyous, and free. And I wanted what they had.
I quickly found a sponsor and began working the 12 Steps with him. One day at a time, I stayed sober and continued to work all the steps through my first year. They helped me to see myself clearly, take accountability for my actions, make amends for the wrongs I had committed, and start to live a life free of guilt and shame, connected to a power greater than myself. It wasn’t until I had some time sober that I was able to recognize my drinking and using not as the problem but my temporary solution for my inability to accept myself and my sexuality. I used them to numb my pain and to escape away from the reality of my life.
The person I am today is not the same person who walked into that meeting almost 14 years ago. I love and accept myself as a gay man. I accept I am a recovered drug addict and alcoholic. I am now comfortable in my own skin. I love the person I see looking back at me in the mirror. I now have tools to deal with life on life’s terms. I am by no means perfect, and I still can cause unintentional harm to myself or others. The difference is, today, I own up to my imperfections, take accountability for my actions, and right my wrongs so that I don’t repeat them again in the future.
I am constantly growing into a better version of myself, and I am continuing to look inward to see how I can be of maximum service to my family, friends, my job, and my community. My mom used to tell me as a kid, I always loved every age I turned from year to year. Well, I recently turned forty-five, and I can honestly say I am so excited about where my life is at this present moment and for what my future holds. As long as I continue to live authentically in acceptance of myself and others, I am able to stay free of my addiction, one day at a time.
Written by: Paul W.