By Craig Sloane, LCSW, CASAC
Homophobia. Transphobia. There’s no doubt they play a role in the addiction and recovery of LGBT people. Don’t get me wrong – LGBT people don’t become addicts and alcoholics because we’re LGBT. But because we’re LGBT we are susceptible to the negative impact of homophobia and transphobia. For some, using drugs and alcohol becomes a way to cope with consequent shame and low self-esteem. This can become a perfect storm for alcoholism and addiction to flourish.
Both research and good clinical judgment have illustrated that learning alternative coping strategies to drug and alcohol use promotes recovery. For LGBT people this includes resolving internalized homo- bi- and trans-phobia and implementing new ways of being queer in a world that is hostile to queer people. It is imperative that LGBT people in early recovery empower themselves, come to terms with internalized shame and deepen their self-acceptance. We addiction professionals know that this work reaps long-term recovery.
So what’s election season got to do with it? Despite recent gains including repeal of the military’s ban on gays and Obama himself coming out in favor of gay marriage, the political environment has bred a backlash against LGBT people that includes negative and hateful messages plastered all over cable TV, talk radio, newspapers and social media. Antagonistic reactions to advances in LGBT rights have brought about a subsequent increase in bullying and other forms of anti-LGBT violence.
Currently 31 states have added constitutional amendments that ban same-sex marriage. This November, four states will put the issue of marriage equality to voters. [Minnesota is one of these states.] Some political campaigns fill the airwaves and cyberspace with anti-LGBT rhetoric. This has the capacity to remind LGBT people about all the inequities that exist against us including legalized discrimination in housing, employment, healthcare, marriage and even the use of bathrooms.
For LGBT people in recovery, these negative messages can evoke strong emotional triggers that sometimes lead to relapse if not combatted directly. In my psychotherapy practice, LGBT clients have expressed feelings of depression, hopelessness, anger, shame, and rage when election politics have incited adverse reactions against them. And yes, they have reported feeling triggered to drink and do drugs as a way to cope with these feelings.
So what’s a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person in recovery to do? The institutionalized invalidation that can trigger cravings to drink and drug must be challenged with validation, empowerment and pride. Here are a few actions LGBT people in recovery can take in order to dispute election year triggers and prevent relapse:
- Volunteer for a local candidate that supports LGBT rights. Chances are that when you do this you’ll meet other like-minded people with whom to connect. These connections will provide a validating experience that defeats the invalidating feelings connected to internalize homo- bi- and trans-phobia.
- Attend local LGBT oriented political events. Join a local political club and/or attend election related activities at your local LGBT community center. Connecting to community reverses the isolation of active addiction and helps avoid cravings.
- Write letters to your elected officials telling them how you want them to vote on LGBT related legislation. Better yet, have a letter writing fellowship party and invite everyone from your home group.
- DO read blogs that support LGBT rights and DONT go to sites that promote anti-LGBT rhetoric. This is an election year twist on the sobriety tool of staying away from “people, places and things”.
- Register to vote. Active addicts and alcoholics ignore many of life’s routines like going to the dentist, filing taxes, etc. In recovery we learn to reclaim our lives by participating fully. Registering to vote can be part of this process.
- Vote! As recovery literature tells us, “Half measures availed us nothing.”
Craig Sloane, LCSW, CASAC is in private practice in New York City. He is a 2012 recipient of the Emerging Social Work Leader Award from the National Association of Social Workers – NYC Chapter. Craig is an experienced practitioner, supervisor and workshop facilitator in the fields of mental health, substance abuse and LGBT issues and is a contributor to thefix.com.