This month is the first installment of a new series I’m doing called We’re Here, We’re Queer! The series will be a way for me to spotlight a different queer or trans member of the recovery community on the 15th of each month by giving them a space to tell their own recovery story. The stories can and will be a mix of mediums: writing, photography, visual art, poetry, etc. Some will be anonymous, some will not. Some will be a “work in progress” as people are working their way to/through recovery and some will be from people who have been in recovery for years. There will be one common thread – they are all part of the LGBTQIA+ community.
I am really excited to share this first contribution to We’re Here, We’re Queer! I feel so lucky to be able to share Shayna’s story of both her journey to sobriety and accepting her sexuality. I could probably write an entire post about how much I love her story but, I think I’ll just let you read it for yourself:
Like many, my recovery story began long before I stopped drinking. When I was 20 years old I had my first “break down” and took a leave of absence for a few months from my coffee shop job. I was always hungover (or still drunk) when I went to work, constantly late, and sometimes I just didn’t show up at all. I had just discovered cocaine, which made my depression and anxiety a million times worse. One day in January 2013 I was taken to the doctors and prescribed anti-depressant/anxiety medication and was told to take some time to focus on myself. I started seeing a counselor, reading spiritual/self-help books, doing yoga, and changing my eating habits. All these things changed my life and started me on this path, but I still continued to drink and do drugs. I didn’t even realize that they were an issue at this point because the lifestyle was so normalized.
I knew I was gay since, well forever. I’ve always just loved women. It wasn’t until around age 11 that I thought there might be something wrong with that, that people might not accept this part of me. When I realized this, I buried my heart as deep as I could in hopes that no one would ever see it. When I started drinking alcohol it allowed me to detach from myself. I could be whoever I wanted to be and keep my heart buried. With the help of alcohol, I built a new persona. One that liked to kiss boys and be loud and wild and crazy. I did it because I thought that’s what people liked, and I wanted to be liked more than anything. It got me pretty far, I must say. I had lots of friends and kissed lots of boys and I completely forgot about the heart that I had buried so deep. I didn’t remember it again until that day in 2013.
Once I remembered it, I couldn’t forget it. I got curious and I began to dig it up. But it was so neglected and scared of the big bright world that I had to use alcohol to help me coax it out. So, while I had started all this new self-care, I was also becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol and drugs. Self-care and self-harm are not very compatible, and this caused major dissonance. My heart was at the surface again, but I didn’t know how to love it. I had never learned. Instead, I found someone that I wanted to love it for me, but she didn’t. That’s when “break down” number two occurred.
I was starting to notice a pattern. Alcohol was doing me more harm than good. It was the fuel for the fire that was raging inside of me. It led me to spend a night in the psychiatric ward at the hospital in 2015. It was a harrowing experience. Part of me felt like I was exactly where I belonged, among other people that the world was too much for. In the morning when breakfast was delivered, I noticed the note stuck to the top of the tray, “plastic utensils only.” It was then I realized that I wanted to live, that I could live—a life so much greater than I had been. I didn’t know where to start, but I was referred to an addictions counselor and I went every other week for a couple of months. I told her most things, but not everything. I was drinking the whole time I was seeing her, but I was still learning and gathering up tools for my tool box.
At this point my drinking shifted ever so slightly. I became a little less reckless and stopped doing drugs. I started kissing girls but didn’t stop kissing boys. I took a break from trying to label myself. Things got better on the inside, I was happier than I was before, but I was still wasting full days in bed nursing hangovers and violating myself by sleeping with strangers that I didn’t want to sleep with. I thought it was okay. I was fine. Not great, but fine.
Then one weekend in October 2016 I attended a yoga and life coaching retreat hungover as hell. I told myself I wouldn’t drink the night before, and I couldn’t keep my promise, which led me to feeling like a major fuck up. I met the most amazing women that weekend and was guided to Gabby Bernstein’s work—and then A Course in Miracles. Gabby has been sober for over ten years and she is the first sober person I could see myself in. I wanted to do what she was doing, and she said something that suddenly made everything make sense. Alcohol has no place on a spiritual path, it is taking you away from your truth—or something like that. After this seed was planted I attempted not to drink for the month of November with a friend. I drank more than ever that month…and lied about it. I watched Gabby’s lectures on every break at work. I started meditating. I blacked out and woke up with a fractured finger…and lied about it. This was my tipping point. The people in my life didn’t know me as a party girl, it was too embarrassing to tell my coworkers that I don’t know how I hurt my hand. I finally decided didn’t want to occupy two vastly different worlds anymore.
I didn’t drink for a month, and then on St. Patrick’s Day 2017 I was invited to go out with friends. I played out the night in my head beforehand, trying to turn a vision of a night of moderation into reality. I worked the next morning, I wouldn’t drink that much. It’s a holiday. I went out that night and didn’t black out, didn’t go home with a stranger, didn’t injure myself. I went out that night and I witnessed. I witnessed what I would miss if I stopped drinking. I witnessed the previously nonexistent enthusiasm enter me only as I swallowed the wine. I witnessed the tears that bubbled up out of nowhere. This was it. I wasn’t going to miss anything.
I went to work the next day hungover and had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I felt guilty and fucked up and sad and loved and supported all at the same time. I wanted to run away, but I didn’t. On my knees, on the floor next to the public toilet, I knew this was my first day of freedom; the beginning of my life.
I had my last drink on March 17, 2017. Today I am almost one year sober, and I’ve just come out as gay to everyone I know. I always questioned my relationship with alcohol, just like I always questioned my sexuality. I didn’t want to be an alcoholic and I didn’t want to be a lesbian, but I am here and I’m so proud. I fought these things for a long, long time. Getting sober showed me that being on the outside and living your truth is worth so much more than living your life to fit in. On the outside, I live for myself. I’m happier and healthier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been, and most importantly, my heart is back where it belongs. Now, I can love harder than I’ve ever loved, platonically, romantically, and globally—with no restraints.
Shayna lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I am eternally grateful that she agreed to be the first person to share in this series. You can find her on Instagram as @spoystila to wish her a happy soberversary on March 18th!!
If you are interested in being part of We’re Here, We’re Queer, contact me at LGBTteetotaler@gmail.com