The continued use of drugs and alcohol are often a means of self-destruction. This may be particularly true for those who are gay or who suspect they might be gay. Substance abuse can be means for hiding or attempting to change who they are in order to fit within a heterosexual society. For instance, Joseph dislike of himself began as a young teen when he admitted to his parents that he was gay. In response, his parents couldn’t bear the thought of having a gay child and sent him to a boy’s military school in order to “make him a man”.
The years in military school helped to erase what Joseph believed to be the authentic version of himself. His parents seemed to be communicating that they wanted to kill the true Joseph in order to create a Joseph they could accept. That unspoken communication from his parents and the drilling of the military mind into him slowly fed a deep-seated belief of being unworthy, unlovable, and worthy of rejection. Those three deep-seated beliefs and the continued pattern of rejecting himself eventually led to using drugs and drinking. Joseph was an addict to alcohol and heroin for 13 years.
Eventually Joseph began substance abuse treatment, attended 12-step meetings, and lived at a sober living home for six months. During his treatment and early recovery, he was obligated to attend therapy, which slowly began to help him look at his life. Joseph realized that if he was examining his life, he could also really look at his early life and the homosexuality that he needed to keep hidden. Although he was deathly afraid of doing anything about it, he began to talk about his sexual orientation in therapy.
He found that therapy was supporting him in the process of accepting himself. In fact, according to Christopher Heffner, Psy.D, author of Counseling the Gay and Lesbian Client: Treatment Issues and Conversion Therapy, there are six stages one might go through in finally accepting themselves and their homosexuality:
- Identity Awareness – An individual begins to realize that he or she has feelings for the opposite sex and that these feelings are different than what he or she has been taught by his or her society and family.
- Identity Comparison – An individual may explore his or her feelings inwardly and compare them to the beliefs of society, parents, and peers.
- Identity Tolerance – An individual might rebel against his feelings or attempt to deny them. He or she is feeling the loneliness of being a gay or lesbian individual in a straight world.
- Identity Acceptance – An individual realizes that homosexuality is a part of who they are. They begin to embrace it and explore their feelings around it. They begin to find places in the world where they can feel accepted and welcomed.
- Identity Pride – An individual might feel anger towards society, parents, or religion for having told them they are wrong for being who they are. With this anger, they embrace their gay lifestyle and their sexual expression.
- Identity Synthesis – Finally, this stage is an integration of homosexuality into the full array of who one is. A gay person isn’t only homosexual and being gay isn’t the only thing that defines them. A gay individual might also be a sister, brother, son, daughter, student, aspiring writer, and so on. In this stage, a person accepts themselves for who they are.
Of course, recovery is about focusing on staying sober. However, it’s also about healing and restoring a sense of well being in one’s life. Being gay is part of who one is and restoring health needs to include accepting all parts of oneself. Sober living can be an experience of finally returning to living with authenticity and health.
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