Addict Is the New Gay

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Addict Is the New Gay

By Christopher Dale 09/27/15

Recovering addicts could be the next once-maligned group to gain true mainstream acceptance… if they want it.

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It gets better.

I won’t lie: it’s tough and it’s perfectly normal to feel… well… abnormal. “Why am I different?” you’ll ask yourself. “I didn’t choose this. And many people think that, simply by trying hard enough, I can be 'normal’ like everyone else.”

Others won’t always accept you. You’ll be mocked, chided, and chastised. You’ll be labeled defective, immoral, perhaps even an abomination. You may be goaded and shamed by misguided authority figures into unrealistic abstinence pledges or demeaning behavioral therapy, all aimed toward “curing” you. Hell, in many countries aspects of our lifestyle still carry lengthy jail sentences or even capital punishment.

But I promise: it gets better.

As you accept this new aspect of yourself, you’ll learn not only to be comfortable with it but also thankful for the gift of self-awareness. Moreover, your struggles up to this point—with society, with personal relationships, with yourself—will serve to benefit others who share your different, but by no means unique, identity. What you once perceived as a weakness will become an invaluable strength.

I speak from experience.

Gay? No, I’m straight actually.

But I am an addict.

My name is Chris, and I’m an alcoholic. And since you’re reading this, I’m completely OK with anyone and everyone knowing this—even though the Fellowship that saved my life has the word “anonymous” in its title. I haven’t had a drink or drug in four years, and have been “out” for about two.

My non-anonymity is not about bragging rights. I don't want a pat on the back for combating addiction. Self-preservation is not heroism.

This is about helping as many other addicts as possible, in the same fashion that the gay pride movement helped so many closeted men and women: through healthy identification and the setting aside of shame.

Wonderfully, we've seen homosexuality go mainstream. Marriage equality aside, perhaps the best gauge of this acceptance is that being gay no longer breeds controversy in public, in the workplace, in the community. As society continues to become more socially sophisticated, perhaps addict can be the new gay.

Feelings, Fair and Unfair

Of course, comparing addiction with homosexuality is a far from perfect parallel. After all, addiction is a disease that must be treated, whereas homosexuality needs no corrective measures. Let me be clear: addicts need to change—to treat their incurable powerlessness over mood-altering substances with personal growth and perpetual vigilance—while gay people are perfect exactly as they are. Addiction is a life-threatening disease; homosexuality exemplifies a life-affirming human diversity. One is “different bad,” the other “different good.”

There are, however, plenty of commonalities between addiction and homosexuality. Both occur naturally in a small but significant percentage of the population. Gay people are born with their sexual preference, while addicts have a predilection that virtually ensures they will become, for example, alcoholic should they start drinking even semi-regularly (one of AA’s many truisms: "Alcoholics are not responsible for their disease—only for their recovery.”)

Another similarity is the mainstream reaction to both groups. Misunderstanding, shunning, paranoia and disgust are just a few of the negative attitudes historically directed at homosexuals and addicts alike. We’ve been disowned by parents, dismissed by employers, and, until fairly recently, largely discounted by society.

This mass disapproval leads to another commonality: shared feelings of shame, fear, alienation, self-loathing. Of course, only one group—addicts—"earns” the shattered self-esteem that harbor these emotions; besides nearly drinking myself to death, I lied to, stole from, and abused everyone in my alcoholism’s path. My desperation was both deserved and necessary for recovery to take root.

However, unwarranted feelings are no less real than earned ones. My gay, non-addict friends didn’t deserve the same demeaning shame as innocent teenagers that I felt as a guilty-as-sin 30-year-old addict, but most suffered similar trauma nonetheless.

This leads to what I see as the key similarity binding addicts and homosexuals: Both groups have bore the burden of keeping their identities secret. Here, addicts and homosexuals differ from other minority groups, as neither is readily apparent to “normies” (that’s what we addicts call you non-addicts) or even to fellow addicts or homosexuals. No common skin color or garb identifies us to the general public or each other. We can hide in plain sight.

So here we have two groups historically swept into society’s closet—a secrecy made possible by a lack of telltale giveaways—for fear of judgment and persecution.

Of course, it is wholly unfair that any gay person feels (or, increasingly, felt—more on that shortly) it necessary to hide their identities; while addicts, especially still-active ones, should feel at least some of the guilt and fear that breeds such secrecy. Even Charlie Sheen did his cocaine off-camera.

But again, deserved or not, this fear-inspired, tightly-held silence is real for both groups. And secrets—especially such huge, consequential ones—carry tremendous fear, guilt and stress.

It Got Better

As the gay pride movement blossomed, we were privileged to witness the beauty of a marginalized minority declaring that enough is enough. It was like a rainbow-colored snowball rolling downhill, steamrolling ignorance as it gained exponential momentum.

Consider the last decade. Since 2004, we’ve gone from the brink of a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to full marriage equality nationwide. During that timeframe, public support for same-sex marriage has risen from 42% to a whopping 60%—an almost unbelievably quick evolution involving tens of millions of Americans.

Along the way, gays from all walks of life have traded in secrecy for sunlight, joyously coming out of the closet in waves. Old and young, black and white… even in ever-conservative institutions like the military and NFL.

As the gay pride movement showed, anonymity is overrated. Coming out of the closet provides self-esteem for the individual, identification for the otherwise isolated and—through simply announcing one's presence—a necessary step toward mainstream acceptance.

Coming Clean

This is not, let me state clearly, a call for all addicts to suddenly reveal themselves. For those still suffering or new to recovery, this would be at best irresponsible, at worst ruinous. For several reasons—legal and employment issues most prominent—addiction is best revealed only once significant recovery has been achieved.

Rather, this is intended for recovered addicts who, like myself, have little to gain from guarding their anonymity so fiercely.

This isn't 1950. Your boss isn't going to fire you because you're a recovering alcoholic (no need to discuss drugs... all drug addicts are, by definition, also alcoholics). Any friends worth keeping won't condemn you. Social media forums won't excoriate you.

Besides, this isn't about you. It's about the addict who still suffers—not only from his own demons but society's demonization of his disease. There's no telling where that addict is right now and, with the proliferation of new mediums like social media, there are more potential touchpoints to carry the message of recovery to him than ever before.

For most recovering alcoholics, the rewards of forfeiting anonymity far outweigh the risks. For example, discussing my struggles on Facebook has not only helped fellow alcoholics on my own friends list, but also led to my becoming a sort of “sober referral”: I've had opportunities to help several friend-of-a-friend problem drinkers, including spouses of friends and even a family member of a colleague.

And in terms of "going mainstream," addicts can't be widely accepted en masse until they are widely understood. A byproduct of my openness is that my non-addict friends, colleagues and cyber-pals are more informed than most normies about the disease of addiction, and what it takes to achieve and maintain sobriety.

Only good could result from this scenario playing out hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of times... until addict is in. Until it is understood, accepted…

Until addict is the new gay.

Because as much as I love AA meetings, a parade might do more good.

Christopher Dale is a freelance writer who frequently covers recovery-based issues. He is the founder and sole contributor to www.ImperfectMessenger.us, a blog which, in addition to topics surrounding sobriety, also discusses politics and social issues.

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