When You Come Out of the Closet, You Don’t Want to Go Back into It

I’m Alex, and I’m a (deep breath) queer, non-binary, alcoholic/addict in long-term recovery (just to name a few labels). And I’m a Recovery Coach at Mountainside. My pronouns are she/they, and throughout my recovery, I’ve discovered new parts of who I truly am. The journey of our development as people really kicks into high gear once you find ways to maintain your sobriety. For many years, I grappled with various substances to cope with all sorts of feelings – many of which stemmed from being afraid to be myself. Luckily, my friends and family stuck with me and gave me the gift of an intervention. I knew I needed help, but I was simultaneously proud and ashamed and did not know how to ask for it. That fateful August afternoon, when several of my closest friends joined with my mother to express their deep concern for my welfare, was the beginning of my return to life. And myself.

After five weeks of treatment, I came back with a determined resolve – I made my recovery my biggest priority and knew I couldn’t go back to how things were. I opened up not just by sharing about my past but by being open to the possibility that I didn’t know everything. I began looking at other career paths I could take. I got rid of my mattress and purged my apartment several times to feel an environmental change. I chopped off my long mane of hair. While that may sound like a symbolic gesture, it was a revelation. I looked like me for the first time since I was 11.

That 11-year-old kid knew who they were. Growing up and wanting to “fit in” meant letting go of that core Alex. I recall my mother saying it was time to try longer hair – well-intentioned, but still a rejection of the expression of my true self. Even with long hair, society can be cruel if you don’t fit the binary mold. With my ponytail in full effect, I still could hear other kids say, “what is that? A boy or a girl?” or being told in a women’s restroom, “you don’t belong in here.” Long hair, full chest, can’t win. So you hide.

The illusion that drugs or alcohol make you feel better is potent; for the exorbitant price of your health and relationships, you too can temporarily forego feeling a certain way! The LGBTQIA+ community is rife with people who had to hide, so it’s no wonder that 20-40 percent of our community struggles with substance abuse (while the general population is roughly 9 percent).

Coming out as LGBTQIA+ can be scary while also feeling like pure liberation. The same can be said for coming out as sober. The moment I started to be honest with everyone around me, a weight lifted. Once you’re living your true self, with the mental clarity that only recovery brings, it is very hard to return to your previous state. I’m proud of who I am, and two of the biggest parts of me are my sobriety and my identity. Recovery doesn’t have to be an identity, just like being gay or queer or trans doesn’t have to be the one defining part of your identity. It is, however, a part of you that will flourish and find happiness when you let the light shine on it.

When you come out of the closet, you don’t want to go back into it, and I think there’s a very similar sensation to coming out as there is to being honest and forthright and being open about recovery.

I am very outspoken about my sobriety. I don’t have a problem talking to people about it. I feel empowered, and I want to tell people about it.

Being able to say, “I’m queer.” “I’m gay.” “I’m a lesbian.” “I’m trans.”  out loud is powerful. Being open about recovery is similar. You don’t necessarily have to tell everybody about your journey to sobriety, and also be confident in saying, “I don’t drink” or “I don’t use, and that’s great because I had a terrible time of it when I did!” When you hold those things back, it can be really toxic.

Embracing your authentic self is what recovery enables you to do. It allows you to explore who you really are and what your values are and start tapping into that. And that’s difficult because you will lose people in your life because of that, but then you find new people who align with those values and make you a happier person. That’s not to say that you now hate those people who are no longer in your life; it just means that the life you want doesn’t align with what they’re about. So, I think being in recovery and having the clarity that comes with sobriety and working on yourself and feeling better about yourself – that’s the best way to become authentic to yourself.

Recovery is hard. There’s no question. That being said, it is so, SO worth it, and you can do it.

Recovery looks different for everyone – rehab, AA, counseling. No matter what your path is, there are places you can turn to. There’s the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, Mountainside, Callen-Lorde, and other organizations that are there to help.

I’ll take this moment to plug the Monday night LGBTQ group, which is free and not AA-based. It’s not based on any modality. It’s not SMART Recovery or Refuge Recovery – it’s not any of those things. It’s for those who just want to be able to talk and get support for being a queer person who is either already in their recovery or trying to get there.

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