LGBTQ+ and Substance Use Disorders

LGBTQ+ and Substance Use Disorders

Why this is personal.
By Tony Gomez CADC-II, ICADC, SAP

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My name is Tony Gomez, I am a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor (CADC-II, ICADC), and a Certified Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). I have worked in both the SUD and MH fields for over 10years.

I live in the Central Valley, Tulare County area, and started working for a family-owned and run, treatment program called Recovery Resources. This is an Intensive Outpatient Program that provides a wide range of services.

  • Family group
  • Women's support group
  • LGBTQ+ SUD group
  • Adult IOP and DOT services

As well as prevention services for many of the school districts in the area.

Some of my duties include facilitating two of the adult IOP groups, assessments, intake, and one on one counseling, as well as working as a Prevention Counselor with at-risk youth in the Dinuba School District. This is a complete 180 for me because I needed these types of services and many others while growing up.

I have also been tasked with facilitating education and support to the LGBTQ+ group, which in many ways is a very personal and endearing thing for me to do. And the reason behind that is what drove me to share my story with you.

Something Was Different About Me

I was born in the mid-'70s in a small little town in central Mexico called San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato. I have two older siblings and a younger sister all of whom I have an amazing relationship with!... although it was not always this way.

By the time I was born, my father had already made the trip to the U.S. to start a new life for his young wife and children. When I was six months old, my mother joined him, leaving me and my older siblings under our grandparents caring.

At age five my older sister and brother were picked up and brought to my parent’s side. But I was left there for another three years. At that time I grew accustomed to being an only child to my grandparents. I mean, who would not like all the attention, right?

As far back as I can remember I always felt different and I did not know why, I was too young to understand. Having my grandparents’ round o’clock protection, and the ability to do what I pleased, I did not give much thought to it. So I carried on as if everything were “normal”.

At age eight I received a visitor. It was my father whose intention was to bring me to the U.S. so that the family can all finally be together. When he arrived, I was excited to see him, but he was not alone, he brought my younger sister with him, which was a total shock for me because up to that point I had never met her! She was born in the U.S. a couple of years after me. I resented her because up to that moment, I didn’t even know about her! That would later manifest itself in my active addiction.

As I got older, I noticed that my interests were not the same as my friends’. Sports and girls were not my focus, and being around my parents and siblings was no fun either. By the age of seven, I had already been called names like “sissy” “fag” and “gay” but what those words meant to me was much more perverse because of all the things I was told about them. I came from a very religious family and a macho father, so I was lead to believe that being gay was a sin. I became quieter and more reserved, because of the constant fear of getting “figured out”. I felt I just couldn't be myself.

Once, a friend from school invited me over for the weekend to a family picnic, There I met his parents, his siblings, and his uncle who was gay. For the first time, I was able to identify with someone else! This man turned out to be a kind, loving, and respectful person. All the opposite of what I was told gay people was. This confused me even more as I continued to suppress and hide my homosexuality, but every day my true self wanted to be out in the open, exposed for the world to see and hopefully accept!

Alcohol Vs High School

Uncontrolled consumption of alcohol - alcoholizm disease

At age nine, I began to drink alcohol. In my family alcohol was part of life, so it was available and easy to get. When that first drink began to take effect, I exhaled for the first time as if I had held my breath for most of my life!

I felt free, I did not care what others thought, I was me... and I was hooked!

It did not take long before I began to heavily depend on alcohol, using it as a tool to liberate me from the fear of being my authentic self.

I eventually began to use other drugs, and soon became dependent on them too. By the age of thirteen, I was a full-blown addict using everything and everyone I could get my hands on, I became a monster!

As time went on, I began to fall deeper and deeper into a dark hole of addiction that almost took me to the grave since this went on for years before I was able to stop.

Data presented by the National Survey on Drug and Health. (NSDUH)

  • In 2018 37.8% of sexual minority adults, 18 and older reported marijuana use in that year, compared to 16.2% reported by the overall adult population.1
  • Opioid use (including misuse of prescription opioids or heroin use) was also higher with 9% of sexual minority adults aged 26 or older, an increase from 6.4% since 2017.
  • Research shows that alcohol and tobacco product use has skyrocketed in the past 10 years from 2010 to 2020 in the LGBTQ+ community.

I Have experienced violence in the form of several hate crimes. I felt firsthand what it is like to want acceptance so badly, as to be willing to put myself in dangerous and terrible situations, like picking up on straight men, or making passes at strangers while under the influence.

Of course, drugs and alcohol only clouded my judgment, but they also numbed the pain of the beatings, and the bruising that came along with them. As a survivor, I know now how close I was to become another statistic.

Depositphotos_156330842_xl-2015

Research has shown that people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) often face social stigma, discrimination, and other challenges not encountered by people who identify as heterosexual.

They also face a higher risk of harassment and violence. As a result of these and other stressors, sexual minorities are at a higher risk for various behavioral health issues.1

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation hate crimes rose from 2.2% in 2018 to 2.7%.

In 2019, crimes based on sexual orientation represent 16.7% of hate crimes, the third-largest category after race and religion2. 

By age 33 I was a constant fixture in an alley right of the Van Nuys and Victory intersection, in Van Nuys. When I was under the influence of methamphetamine, that would always be the one place I would end up. It was rare to see people or traffic in that alley unless it was during the night or just another trick in need of turning.

I was so secluded from everything and everyone else that it was the perfect place to isolate myself. This went on and on for me, it was my “normal” I truly felt my life would end in that alley, and that someday my family would read in the newspaper that my body was found thereafter dying a tragic and violent death, but preferably just from an overdose.

 

The Last Man That Picked Me Up

Atlanta street, Georgia, USA

On July 21, 2008, that all changed when a man in a pickup truck drove past me a couple of times, I figured it would just be another trick looking for some interaction with another person. Either way, all I wanted was to score some dope or at least make the money to buy by selling myself, but it turned out to be much more than that.

He introduced himself as Mike. All I remember is that he was approximately in his early to mid 30’s clean-cut, white with green eyes, this conversation was different because it started with him asking me how I was doing and if I needed any help... no one had asked me that in a very long time.

Mike brought up how there were places where I could get the help I needed, such as rehab or sober living. I did not have the means so this seemed like something that would not be possible; however, he was not about to give up.

After a couple of hours into our conversation, I was convinced that there was maybe a small possibility that my life could be different, so I told him that I was ready and willing to go into “rehab”. He jumped on it so quickly as if he knew exactly what to do. Mike drove me to CRI-Help in North Hollywood CA. Once there I found out that luckily, I still had some insurance coverage which afforded me a 30-day stay.

I was so nervous and high during my intake that I had a hard time writing, so he did most of the writing for me, and then he stayed with me until my intake was complete. As he left, I asked him why he took it upon himself to help me, he gave me the warmest embrace and said he had a brother and sister both heavily addicted and not wanting to have anything to do with him so he was grateful to have been able to help someone. I have never seen Mike since, or even remember exactly what he looked like.

I Did Surrender To One Idea: My Life Can Improve

I completed the 30-day program at CRI-Help, managed to remain clean and sober, and gained a support group of other people in recovery.

I started working on my 12-steps with a sponsor but most importantly I continued to surrender to the possibility of my life being different, one day at a time.

The professional staff at CRI-Help introduced me to my authentic self, and along with the programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, I began my path of self-discovery.

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A year and a half after completing treatment I was offered a temporary position as a per diem driver, at the very facility which had seen me come in broken and empty. They took a chance on me!

Shortly after starting my new job, I became a support technician, this only lasted for about eight months since my sights were set on bigger and better things. At the suggestion of many of my coworkers, I enrolled back into school and started my courses in Addiction Studies, which would eventually open the door for me to begin my counseling career.

When the position of Criminal Justice Caseworker opened, I jumped on it getting the first of several promotions within the organization. Working as a liaison between our clients and the judicial system gave me a sense of purpose, but apparently, I was just beginning.

Throughout my career, I have taken many roles and have gained so much knowledge. I have done everything from counseling, program management, staff supervision, coordination, and outreach even harm reduction. And now youth prevention services. Yay me!

Step By Step, And Never Stop

Soon I will be celebrating 13 years of sobriety. I have full understanding this is primarily because I became willing to surrender, and accept the fact that I had forgotten how to live. I was just existing under a constant drug-induced haze that only helped to numb me because of my ability to cope with life.

I want to give credit where it’s due, starting with a stranger by the name of Mike who took it upon himself to help me when I couldn't help myself. And all of the professionals who have educated and encouraged me to become the best version of myself, and of course the many I have met in recovery.

Gay Couple Love Outdoors Concept

In 2016 I met this amazing man who immediately became a constant in my life. At that time he was living in Arizona and I was living in California, so we had a long-distance relationship for the first year. Not a single day went by that we did not communicate with each other in one form or another.

We took the plunge and moved in together. In mid-2017 he proposed, and we got married in September of 2019. He is in so many ways my biggest supporter and the person I feel the safest next to.

He has had some experience with substances but never became addicted as I did; however, he fully understands where my disease took me, and on many occasions has accompanied me to 12-step meetings where he seems to be very popular! almost an oddity amongst my fellow addicts, mainly because of his level of empathy and how well he fits in.

We have two beautiful dogs, one Golden Retriever (Bailey) and one German Shepherd (Mackenzie). We also have a 16-year-old Tabby who thinks he runs the household.

The Most Valuable Lesson: Goals And Dreams Come True

Dreams of travel! Child flying on a suitcase against the backdrop of sunset.

One of the most amazing things my journey of recovery has allowed me to do is to pursue my dreams and goals. One of them was to run a full marathon of 26.2 miles, and in 2016 I achieved this monumental feat by finishing the San Francisco full marathon in about four and a half hours!

I have completed several more of them in the state of California since. My goal now is to one day compete in the Boston marathon.

As time goes on, I can look back and see how my life has progressed and how much I have grown. I now have a clear understanding of my life purpose but most importantly of how to achieve serenity and peace from within myself to serve that purpose with grace and humility.

In Closing

On December 4th of 2020, I lost a good friend, mentor, and father figure who sponsored me at the beginning of my recovery, and walked me through my 12-steps. Without any judgment, he helped me face my deepest fears and overcome all those demons that still resided within me. He helped me understand that my recovery was going to be a lifelong process and that along the way, I would find ways to give back what was once freely given to me. He did not have anyone left in his life, and I am grateful to have been a constant presence in his. His remains now lay in the mantle of our fireplace, constantly looking over me, proud of who I was, who I am, and who I will become, his name was William and I dedicate this article to him.