As I crouched in a corner of my apartment, alone and in the dark, waiting for the police to ram down my main door and arrest me, I was fully aware that I was paranoid, but completely unable to snap out of it.
I could not remember the last time I had eaten or slept, nor how much drugs I had consumed in the past week. My mind and body had caved in to the stress. All of my senses were terrifyingly amplified – every tiny sound made me jump, every movement was a strain. I was severely dehydrated from sweating too much, but completely incapable of the simple act of turning on the tap and taking a drink.
I had spent 8 of the past 16 years trying really hard to get better. I was fortunate enough to be able to see the best doctors. But even though I tried everything, nothing seemed to work.
My life had become a nightmare from which I could not wake. My friends and family did not know what to do with me anymore. And even my boyfriend of 14 years had given up in frustration. He said to me one day:
I don’t believe that you really want to stop using drugs. I think you say that just to make yourself feel better so you can continue using.
Dear Straight People,
As I sit here writing this today, I can’t help but be deeply grateful that so much has changed.
Against all odds, I eventually managed to overcome my drug addiction. My recovery was so hard-won that I knew what I had to do. I knew there were others like me out there who wanted to get better. I stopped driving, moved back in with my mother and rented out my apartment to secure the funds I needed to set up a substance addiction recovery centre for marginalised communities named The Greenhouse.
As founder of The Greenhouse, I meet people like me everyday. People whose parents were seldom around or who were fighting all the time. People who were physically, verbally or emotionally abused or sexually assaulted. People who were bullied, discriminated against or rejected, often by their own parents. People who feel ashamed of their sexual orientation because they were told that it is bad and can be changed.
Even though we come from different families, different schools, different races, our experiences are all the same – we’ve all been through some form of trauma; we drink and use to numb the pain. Addiction has little to do with drugs or alcohol – addiction is about pain from shame, abuse and rejection.
The Greenhouse has been operating for 2 years now. There has been a 10-fold increase in demand for our services since we first started. We believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. As we mark the first 100 people who have come through our doors seeking help, there are things I feel a need to say.
I’ve been deeply dismayed by some of the remarks that have been made about LGBT people who struggle with substance addiction, often by other LGBT people.
‘Addiction is a choice’
‘We are a disgrace to our community’
We deserve to just overdose and die.
It isn’t the lack of understanding that disturbs me, but the lack of willingness to understand. Having been judged and discriminated against all our lives as marginalised people, haven’t we learnt the need to be patient and compassionate toward people whose struggles we don’t always get?
The struggle with pain, with shame, with rejection is a human struggle that we of all people should understand. If we can’t even love and accept each other, how can we possibly expect love and acceptance from others?
I remember the day that everything changed for me so clearly. The day I finally understood the power of peer support.
I turned up for an LGBT addiction recovery meeting after using. There was simply no way to hide the awful state that I was in. I had not eaten or slept for a week again. I sat there sweating and paranoid, completely ashamed of myself. Yet not a single person at that meeting judged me – there was only care and concern in their eyes. For the first time in my life, I felt loved and accepted. For the first time in my life, I no longer felt alone. If this room of strangers could love and accept me at my worst, there was no reason for me not to love and accept myself.
The desire to use drugs was completely lifted from that moment onwards. There was simply no pain to numb anymore. These people believed me when I said that I wanted to stop using drugs. These people believed me when I said that I wanted to get better. This was the seed that bore The Greenhouse – we are a safe space, free from judgement and discrimination, where we will love, accept and believe in each other until we learn to love, accept and believe in ourselves.
I believe that the love, acceptance and support we offer each other is life-giving and can bring real healing and change to our LGBT community, and not just to those who struggle with addiction. I believe that it will make us freer, happier and more resilient.
The Greenhouse has faced many challenges over the years. It has taken the tireless contribution of many volunteers to maintain operations. We run 6 meetings a week and provide assessment, counselling, case management and referral services. We get better at what we do with every case that we handle. Against all odds, our centre is surviving. Against all odds, more and more of us are recovering from our addictions and thriving. Yet the biggest challenge that we face remains. It is very hard for us to secure financial support.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was come out publicly as a recovering drug addict. But my mother and I have already spent $100k of our personal savings setting up and maintaining The Greenhouse – we know that we cannot continue the work that we’re doing without asking for help. It is for this reason that we recently launched our first fundraising campaign. We believe in the value of the work that we’re doing and hope that you will too.
Almost all of us at The Greenhouse are LGBT, with about half of us also HIV+. I’ve lost count of the number of people who broke down in relief when I explained that addiction is not a moral failing and that recovery is possible. It’s so hard to describe what it’s like to see those who come to us broken and ashamed heal from their pain. To see them slowly let down their guard and learn to trust and love again.
People who overcome addiction are some of the most humble, patient, loving and grateful people you’ll ever meet. Many of us go on to be of service to others. We help others recover from addiction as a way of paying it forward. We are good people who want to get better. And we need your love, acceptance and support as much as anyone else.
Please help us take care of our own.
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