Hey I’m Darren, a drug and alcohol practitioner at the Forward Trust. I’m 43 years old and a (now) proud gay man…
It wasn’t always that way. I used to feel shame, guilt, angst… the list of negative emotions is endless. I knew from primary school age that I was different. I was born in 1978 so witnessed the AIDS crisis of the 1980s as a child. It scared the hell out of me – who can forget those horrific adverts?!
I bore the brunt of Section 28 – which banned ‘the promotion of homosexuality’, meaning if I was to go to a teacher and tell them I thought I was gay, they were not allowed to talk to me in any way about it, it could have meant them losing their job. My experience of this institutionalised homophobia is something I would later understand to have had a hugely negative impact on my life: my mental health, my sense of identity and belonging, contributing to my experience of addiction and then recovery.
On the 18 February this year I celebrated three years sober. In those three years I’ve learnt so much about myself – mainly about my sexuality and to be proud of who I am. I was lucky enough to get support with my own addiction, completing a community detox through The Forward Trust (Forward). I found out more about myself in those 13 weeks than the past 40 years.
About 18 months into my recovery I was asked to speak at an online recovery meeting. As someone who doesn’t attend Fellowship meetings, though I know this is key to many people’s recovery, I wasn’t used to speaking to a large group and I was really nervous, but I had learnt to speak my truth.
I went to the meeting and bared my soul. It was an amazing experience, I found it really 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 self-loathing, guilt, shame, the battle between my masculine and feminine sides… all these things I thought were unique to me. Within an hour, I had received messages of love and support which, in all honesty, was quite overwhelming. These people seemed to like me and understand my experience. How?! I wasn’t even sure I liked me!
One of these messages was from the meeting host who said so much of what I talked about had resonated with him and that even he felt he was alone in those thoughts. We chatted on Twitter for a bit and came up with an idea to host an LGBTQ+ recovery meeting. So we did it…
In the first meeting we had people from all corners of the globe – UK, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Ireland… Whaaaat!? It was incredibly inspiring. We shared common experiences and struggles around how a lack of acceptance in society and in ourselves was a leading cause for our addictions. I started researching the relationship between addictions and the health of the LGBTQ+ community and was shocked, yet not surprised, about what I learned.
We know that drug and alcohol use among LGBTQ+ groups is higher than among their heterosexual counterparts, irrespective of gender or age. As a community, LGBTQ+ people are at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems than the general population. I wanted to do something about it.
Read the full blog post here.
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