"You should have seen me before,"a friend of mine says to me over dinner after I comment about their confidence and put together-ness. They go on to share their recovery journey from boozy, parTy weekends waking in their own soiled shorts to the kind of calm, queer authenticity they share in conversations like this. "It could have been worse," they said, "though I didn’t want to find out how."
For many of us, gay club culture centered our queer experience, creating spaces of celebration and liberation in the limelight of disco balls and dancing queens. The dusty small-town bars and dark alley enclaves gave respite from the homophobia and transphobia experienced outside (and sometimes distraction from the internal variants). Whether house party, cocktails at home, or the lounges, people who identify on the LGBTQIA+spectrum experience addiction and substance use disproportionately higher than the national average. And recovering from a reliance on substance use can bringits own challenges.
These include issues related to identity, stigma, and discrimination. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) statistics, LGBTQ people are nearly three times more likely than heterosexual people to experience a mental health condition. Our communities are also more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to family rejection or abuse, employment discrimination, economic instability, victimization or violence, and lack of legal protections or recognition.
In addition, the traditional model of recovery is often at odds with the spectrum of LGBTQ+ people, making it difficult for queer people to feel like they fit into the process.
A queer-centric approach to recovery is crucial because it focuses on this community's unique needs and experiences.This type of approach can help create a more inclusive and affirming recovery process that is better equipped to meet the needs of LGBTQ people.
Some of the critical components of a queer-centric approach to recovery include:
- Providing access to affirming and culturally competent care.
- Offering resources and support that are specific to the needs of LGBTQ people.
- Addressing the unique challenges that LGBTQ people face in accessing quality care.
- Promoting mental health and wellness for LGBTQ people.
- Working to reduce stigma and discrimination against LGBTQ people.
- Creating a more inclusive and supportive recovery process that prioritizes the needs and experiences of all people.
Solutions Out There
To queer recovery requires a shift or innovation in focus and mindset. This might include exploring new, more inclusive recovery models that recognize the unique experiences of LGBTQ people.
Professionals and communities can work to actively challenge stigma and discrimination by promoting acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. Queer healing aims to address these challenges by creating a more inclusive and affirming recovery process that can better meet the needs of LGBTQ people.
A number of programs across the country are exploring different strategies to provide affirming recovery and care support.
Gay & Sober
While it started as a Facebook group for men, Gay & Sober now sprawls across multiple countries and represents a diversity of recovery programs. Each year, they gather at NYC’s pride celebration, but programming throughout the year allows recovering community members the opportunity to connect to others with shared experience and commitment to thrive.
National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color
The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color was launched “as a call to organize mental health practitioners to establish a network where therapists can deepen their analysis of healing justice and whereQTPoC community can connect to care”. Started in 2016, this resource can provide access to support that meets many of our community members where they are on their recovery journey with experience and recognition of the impact on their full selves.
NYAPRS’ Peer Bridger Model
The Peer Bridger Model from NYAPRS is an evidence-based program that helps people of all identities connect with peer support and mental health services that are inclusive and affirming. This program provides queer people with access to trained peer bridgers who can offer support, information, and referrals to mental health and recovery resources. This model also offers workshops and training on mental health and wellness topics. This includes how to navigate the mental health system, how to find affirming resources and supports, and how to reduce stigma and discrimination.
MHA’s QTPOC Mental Health Toolkit
The QTPOC Mental Health Toolkit from Mental Health America is a resource created by and for queer and trans people of color. This toolkit provides information on various topics related to mental health and wellness, including finding culturally competent care, dealing with stress and anxiety, and coping with trauma. The toolkit also includes information on relevant laws and policies, tips for finding affirming health care providers, and strategies for navigating the mental health system as an LGBTQIA+ person of color.
Some of the Actions to Take
If you are an ally, remember that your support is crucial in promoting understanding and acceptance for queer people striving to recover. We all have a responsibility to ensure that recovery is accessible and inclusive for everyone. There are many actions you can take to be an ally for LGBTQ+ people in accessing quality care and promoting affirming recovery. Some possible options include:
- Educate yourself about the unique experiences and needs of LGBTQ people living with mental illness or addiction.This includes understanding the challenges they face in accessing quality care and how traditional recovery models may not be inclusive of their needs.
- Encourage events and gatherings to normalize sober participation by centering the celebrations around activities other than drinking. Perhaps, a bring-your-own dessert or choosing public spaces that have group games or activities that allow people in recovery access to engage without having to challenge their sobriety.
- Share accurate and positive information about queer people and mental health/addiction recovery with your friends, family, and others in your social networks. This can help to challenge myths and stereotypes and promote understanding and acceptance.
- Be an advocate for LGBTQ people living with mental illness or addiction. This can include speaking up against discrimination, promoting inclusive policies and resources, and supporting queer-specific organizations or initiatives.
- Provide emotional support to queer people in your life who are struggling with mental health or addiction issues. This can include being a listening ear, offering words of encouragement, and connecting them with helpful resources.
- Following or subscribing to blogs or social media accounts that focus on queering recovery and issues affecting LGBTQ people. This can help you stay up-to-date on the latest news and developments in this area and provide you with a sense of community.
- Advocating for legislation or policies that support queer people’s access to quality mental health care and recovery resources. This could involve writing to your representatives or testifying before legislative committees.
Queering recovery is a vital concept for addressing the unique needs of LGBTQ people living with substance use disorders or mental illness. By creating more inclusive and affirming resources and supports, we can support our community members' experience as an affirming recovery journey to thrive on their own terms.