DDN Sept_2022 September 2022 - Page 7

‘ My experience of institutionalised homophobia is something I would later realise had a hugely negative impact on so many elements in my life – from my mental health to my sense of identity and belonging ... ’
SHOCKINGLY one in seven LGBTQ + people do not access healthcare due to fear of judgement , lack of understanding and the stigma that still surrounds our community . During a very low point in my life , I was in the hospital and the nurse found out I was gay – she told me to ‘ go to the chapel and pray ’. This is the kind of scenario that stops LGBTQ + people from accessing help and I wanted to do something about it . I wanted to do something to help people like me .
people for whom meetings are key to their recovery ) so I wasn ’ t used to speaking to a large group and I found that I was really nervous . I called on something within myself and went to the meeting and bared my soul , spoke my truth and told all . It was an amazing experience . I found it cathartic . I spoke about things I struggled with as a kid and things I was still trying to work on . I spoke about what I later learned to describe as my ‘ internalised homophobia ’.
I spoke about the self-loathing I felt , the guilt , shame , the battle between my masculine and feminine sides – all these things I thought were unique to me . I was blown away at the response to my openness . Within an hour , I had received messages of love and support which was incredible , but also incredibly overwhelming . These people seemed to like me and understand my experience , and I couldn ’ t understand why – I wasn ’ t even sure I liked myself !
One of these messages was from the meeting host who said so much of what I talked about had resonated with him . He told me that he too had felt he was alone in having those thoughts . We chatted on Twitter for a bit and came up with an idea to host an LGBTQ + recovery meeting . So , we set one up . It is one of my proudest achievements . In the first meeting , we had people from all corners of the globe – the UK , Canada , the USA , New Zealand , and Ireland . It was incredibly inspiring .
We shared common experiences and struggles around how a lack of acceptance in society and ourselves was a leading cause of our addictions . I started researching the relationship between addictions and the LGBTQ + community and was shocked , yet not surprised , by what I learned . We know that drug and alcohol use among LGBTQ + groups is much higher than among their heterosexual counterparts , irrespective of gender or age , and can be a significant problem .
Statistics show that LGBTQ + adults are more than twice as likely to have substance misuse issues as heterosexual people . As a community , LGBTQ + people are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than the general population and , to top it off , the LGBTQ + community has some of the highest addiction rates in the UK but the lowest rates of presentation to healthcare or support providers . In February 2020 , I started working for The Forward Trust . Soon after , I decided to start a regular LGBTQ + group and also suggested that Forward attend Canterbury Pride as an organisation for the first time . Canterbury Pride is the largest in the South East , outside London and Brighton , and we managed to get the newly formed LGBTQ + recovery group up and running in time for Pride Month that June .
We came together to create a wonderful crew of staff and volunteers and we walked the parade together , singing , dancing , whistling loud and proud . We also had the chance to run a stall to raise awareness of the work that Forward is doing . We met so many lovely and inquisitive people – of all ages , sexualities , genders and pronouns . In developing this group , I was determined not to make it a ‘ structured ’ meeting . I wanted it to be informal and relaxed to give everyone the chance to speak about whatever was on their mind . We have a real mix of attendees . The group is a safe space – warm and welcoming to new members and regular attendees alike , as we all know what it feels like to attend something for the first time . This group is open to anyone working with or for Forward and we have people who are at various stages of their journey : some who are still trying to manage their substance misuse and others who have been sober for longer .
There are recurring themes that crop up – guilt , shame and a lack of belonging , as well as the challenges of trying to explain things to family and friends , talking about pronouns with parents or trying to date whilst in recovery . We talk about the challenges of being part of the LGBTQ + community , chemsex , the preconceptions that exist around our identities and the ‘ gay scene ’ having such a reputation for drink and drugs .
Staying safe and sober in those environments is an especially prevalent issue in our community . The positive impact of these discussions is huge – the openness of our group has allowed members of our community to speak openly and freely about day-to-day concerns and challenges as well as to celebrate our successes . Knowing you are not alone is empowering . Knowing that other people understand you is reassuring and coming together as a community celebrates the positive changes we have made in our own lives .
One of the most inspiring parts of this support network is how we work as a team when someone is struggling . The group rallies around and offers support , advice or a listening ear and it is always a two-way street . Above all , the group is about acceptance and support – not only accepting others as they are but learning to accept ourselves .
I can now say it without hesitation , I am a proud gay man . I can join my community in celebrating our successes and coping with life ’ s challenges every week . As a group , we highlight our LGBTQ + support network and show people that Forward Trust is truly and fully inclusive , that addiction doesn ’ t discriminate and that recovery is possible .
Darren Lacey is a drug and alcohol practitioner at The Forward Trust . If you would like more LGBTQ + information or support please contact Darren . Lacey @ forwardtrust . org . uk