By Jake Myers, LMFT
Jake is a therapist at the Gay Therapy Center. He sees clients at the West Hollywood Center in Los Angeles, and worldwide by phone and Skype.
Gay men and women experience addiction at a higher rate than the rest of the population. Growing up LGBT, we can’t help but develop a sense that we are not acceptable for who we are. This feeling of shame can create anxiety about being in the world, and feelings of isolation and despair. It’s no wonder many of us want to escape these feelings, and that allure of escape sometimes becomes too hard to resist.
Nature and Nurture
I believe that addiction is a combination of “nature” and “nurture”. If we have some pre-disposition for addiction, and then have a difficult time growing up gay, we can experience the perfect storm for addiction. I know from my own personal experience, when I took that first hit of ecstasy on the dance floor of a gay club, it was like I had been finally transported to a place of happiness, love, acceptance, and freedom that I had experienced never before. That was just one moment in many that started off my journey of constantly seeking that escape and never wanting to let it go. I would do anything to maintain it, most notably lying to myself about the effects of my drinking or using, telling myself I really wasn’t “that bad”.
The good news is that many gay people, including myself, can finally come to a place of surrender, and have just enough desire or self-love to tip the scale in the other direction. You’ve probably heard the term “hitting bottom” in regards to addiction and recovery. This term usually refers to the idea that an addict has to reach their ultimate lowest point, and once that happens, he or she will finally realize they have no other choice but to go up from there, and embrace a new life of sobriety. While I understand this idea conceptually, I actually think it can be dangerous. For me, I always felt like I could go “lower”, so I thought maybe it wasn’t time to stop. For years I was a “functional” addict and alcoholic. I wasn’t homeless and I was able to support myself. It was very difficult for me to come to that place of surrender, because I always felt like it could be worse. I had an excuse to keep on drinking and using, since obviously I hadn’t “hit bottom” yet.
I once heard someone say, “you don’t have to take the elevator all the way to the ground floor. You can get off at any floor above that.” This is a great analogy for the fact that you can recover from addiction without having to go all the way to “the bottom”. In some cases, including mine, “the bottom” might have been death. With the right help and support, whether therapy, a support group, or a twelve-step program, a person struggling with addiction may decide to take the leap to a new life of sobriety, even when they know they could probably continue even further with their using.
When I ultimately got sober the last time, I made the decision to go back to a twelve-step group, even when my “bottom” could have even been worse. I decided I cared about myself too much to find out what that “bottom” would have looked like. I had a lot of wreckage from my drinking and using, but the way I saw it, things could always get worse. Did I really want to find out what that looked like? I might have kept going for many more years.
The Next Step
The important thing to note is that anyone can create their own “bottom” at any point, taking the scary but exciting leap into a new life, without having to go all the way down to the basement. I strongly encourage talking to a friend, therapist, or someone who has struggled with addiction if you are concerned about your using. You deserve a life of happiness, free of shame and guilt. You can start that journey at any point, without first seeing how much worse it could get.