It’s time for another We’re Here, We’re Queer! – A monthly feature where different queer and trans people share their stories about how their recovery intersects with their sexuality and/or gender identity.
This month, we have Laura’s story. It’s relatable, educational and fantastic – PLUS! I left all of the British English in because, isn’t it amazing!?!
My problems began from my very first day of secondary school (that’s 7th grade in the UK). It seemed like any attempts to make friends were met with blank stares and stony silence. I obviously missed the memo that said ‘it’s naff to wear your school tie properly, hair mascara is the coolest, and don’t hang out with Laura ‘cause she’s rubbish!”’.
I soon learnt that my personality was not conducive to making friends, so I cast it aside and experimented with new ones. I pretended to like the popular music, covered my school books in posters from Shout magazine and I even bought hair mascara. Assimilation was my mission, yet the harder I tried, the more spectacularly I failed. One of the (many) problems was boys. Boys were a big conversation topic, and yet I couldn’t understand why. The boys were scruffy little urchins who mumbled their words and dripped apathy (and sweat) from every pore. The girls were far more interesting, and all I wanted was to be around them. Yet any burgeoning friendships were conditional at best, and abusive at worst. I went to the tuck shop for my ‘friends’ and lent my possessions (with little hope of getting them back). I even turned a blind eye when one of the girls started stealing my lunch money. All for the tiniest scraps of kindness. At one point I got on the wrong side of one of the girls and ended up the target of a relentless bullying campaign. At the age of 12 I was signed off school with severe anxiety and assigned a counselor to help me manage my ‘stressors’. I missed months of school, and the bullies were not punished.
My mum reminded me that school was temporary. She promised me that one day I would be out of there and free to live my fancy adult life, with a fab job and a shiny car. All I had to do was keep my head down, do my school work, and come home. The hard work paid off, I excelled at school and my peers grew up around me. Everyone became a little comfier in their own skin, and the atmosphere was a lot more hospitable. Even the boys had become more interesting, and I started cultivating a few gentle crushes. Phew, what a relief! My former bullies actually included me in conversations and invited me out after school and on weekends. And I barely had to do any favours in return-huzzah! Well, aside from the time when I hid alcohol in my bedroom. You see, one of the girls was tall for her 15 years, and she found a questionable off-licence that would sell her alcopops. Over a series of visits, she bought a few alcopops here and there, and I would stash them. Soon there were enough bottles to get a gang of teenagers plastered.
Up until this point I didn’t know much about alcohol and had only endured sips of the stiff. I felt ‘square’ for being one of the few girls to have never been drunk. And so as I cracked open my first bottle of sickly sweet Hooch, I did so with the intention of pushing through the discomfort until I became intoxicated. I’ve since learnt that this is what researchers call ‘determined drunkenness’. I chugged greedily, reaching for the nearest available bottle once the orange drink was finished. And soon I discovered the reason everyone loved drinking. The world lost its sharp edges, or rather I lost my sharp edges, and suddenly I could fit into spaces previously prohibited. This pleasant floaty feeling lasted approximately 2 hours until I became very sick. I learnt – between trips to the bathroom – that you’re not supposed to mix your drinks. Vodka and rum dual in your tum, and my churning stomach became an epic battlefield that night. I had never been so sick, and I remember yearning to be sober again.
I stayed away from alcohol for at least 3 months after my first experience. Yet many more incidences followed once I hit 16. This was the early 00s after all, when Brits were estimated to be drinking 9.5 litres of pure alcohol a year. Alcohol bolstered me at parties, giving me the liquid courage to snag my first boyfriend at 17. Yet outside of social situations you were more likely to find me drinking green tea.
My episodic binge drinking reached new levels when I got to uni. Cheap alcohol at the student union bar anaesthetised me enough to tolerate the horror that was clubbing. As my tolerance increased it got harder to get ‘properly’ drunk. It wasn’t unusual for me to sneakily down a few bonus shots at the bar whilst ordering my proper drink. This would sometimes cause me to tip over what I called ‘the cliff’, which I later found out has another name: blackouts. Lost lip gloss, purses and phones were par for the course during my undergrad days; a trend that was to continue into my early 30s.
It’s hard to pinpoint when drinking morphed from something I did to feel less awkward around people, to something I did to feel less awkward around myself. Yet the signs were there over a decade ago. During my second year of uni I found myself in an emotionally abusive relationship with a man who gaslighted and belittled me. On Thursday nights (one of the few nights we didn’t see each other), I would buy a bottle of rosé, which I would sink whilst watching episodes of my favourite show, ‘Sugar Rush’. Sugar Rush centred around the adventures of a teenage lesbian protagonist, and it was pretty hot. I would pre-record and watch it alone, with all the lights out, getting quietly hammered. Without realising why, I was hungry for queer content. After my Sugar Rush phase came the ‘Skins’ phase (Naomily forever!), and I continued my weekly rosé-fuelled secret queer fest well into my masters degree in 2008. At no point did I even think to shed light on these feelings and confront them sober.
When I started my PhD I ended my abusive relationship… only to jump straight into another one (good job, Laura). This relationship seemed safer to me as the guy was still hung up on his ex, so I was free to remain emotionally disconnected. Yet he must have known something about me that I didn’t. as large part of our intimate relationship centred around his fantasies of seeing me with another woman (usually his ex-girlfriend). His fixation with girl-on-girl action made me feel more like a plaything than a partner, yet I never spoke up. I had been socialised to put the needs of my partner first. Objecting to this fetishisation would make me a killjoy, or ‘vanilla’. A decade on, and I’m still unravelling the impact of these formative experiences on my burgeoning queer identity.
Anyway, that relationship ended… and then another. Finally, I decided to stay single to focus on my PhD, which in and of itself was eroding my mental health and nudging me ever closer to alcohol dependency. When my PhD programme ended in 2013 I left academia and my home town of Cardiff to start a new career as a medical writer in London. The big change was scary and overwhelming at first, but London drinking culture plus a pleasant summer heatwave carried me along on a raft of new booze-soaked experiences.
I went on a few underwhelming dates, envious of my friends who seemed to have a lot more luck in that department. Until one night I went out drinking with work colleagues, and stumbled home to my shared house to find a man in the living room. His name was Simon. He was the cousin of one of my housemates and proclaimed himself psychic. As we worked our way through a bottle of Jack Daniels he put his hand in my palm. He told me I could say something to him, and he would confirm its truth. I told him I wasn’t straight. The words slipped out, as if from nowhere. He simply smirked and said he knew. I still took him up to my room; I always did have such poor impulse control. The next day I felt horrific, and as I relayed the story of my bizarre one-night stand to my friends, I omitted the fake-palm-reading-sexuality-reveal part. It would be a while yet before I was ready to open up to my friends.
By 2015, my drinking had become truly problematic. My line manager informed me my standards were slipping, and soon the Human Resources Director got involved. In a frantic attempt to turn things around I started antidepressants and went on the waiting list for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Yet I was still drinking several times a week. In addition to boozy nights with friends, I also drank alone; a practice that escalated when my usual drinking buddies got boyfriends. It was always the same pattern: do badly at work, buy wine, lock self in bedroom, wake up feeling wretched, repeat. I was a disaster with money, perpetually overdrawn and often subsisting on noodles and popcorn because most of my spare money went on alcohol. My employers were frustrated with my inability to get my shit together, and I was issued with a written warning.
The night I was given the warning at work I drank my wine (as usual) and woke up at 6am with a dry mouth (as usual). I planned to call in sick and get a sick note from the doctor to tide me over whilst I searched for a new job. My landlord kindly offered to cover my rent for a month. Yet a chance message from an online friend changed everything. I shared my plans with her, expecting a shower of sympathy. What she gave me instead was a dose of tough love. She told me to put on some lipstick and not only go to work, but show up. For too long I had let alcohol shelter me from the hard and uncomfortable parts of life. It was no longer serving me, and to be honest, it never had.
I located my only lipstick (MAC Rebel, nonetheless!) and I showed up to work. And somehow, things started to shift. My work improved exponentially, and disciplinary proceedings were dropped. I stopped drinking alone and fully committed to CBT. One of my weekly therapy assignments was to join Meetup.com and attend at least one session a week to help combat my social anxiety. I slowly started gravitating towards LGBT meetup events. The first few nights out were so daunting, and I drank a lot. I worried that I would be deemed ‘not gay enough’ and kicked out of the group. Yet I was only met with kindness and acceptance; even when I got drunk and acted like a total spanner. I eventually braved a few same-sex dates, but again relied far too much on alcohol to ease my nerves. My CBT counselor would not have been impressed!
I finally came out as bisexual at the age of 30; a full 15 years after getting drunk for the first time. I grew up in a society where alcohol was far more accessible and acceptable than exploration of my own sexuality. I met my girlfriend that same year, and I am proud of all the ways I have grown with her support and unwavering patience. The decision to stop drinking has been a long time coming, to say the least. I started journaling about my drinking problem in 2015, and I first contemplated sobriety late 2016, right after blacking out in Soho and losing my phone yet again. When I moved in with my girlfriend in 2017 my drinking went underground. I chugged cans of premixed gin and tonic on the train home from work, and hid alcohol in my backpack. Despite drinking relatively little, alcohol still had a hold on me.
By April this year, I was sick of alcohol and the mental bandwidth it occupied. I downloaded a sobriety counter and challenged myself to abstain. And I’m still challenging myself every day. At the time of writing I am 4 months alcohol free. I’m seeing a wonderful therapist who is helping me meet my own needs and establish boundaries. Vital, necessary stuff I once neglected in favour of wine.
My story is not unique. Studies suggest that bisexuality is related to more problematic substance use than exclusive heterosexuality and homosexuality. Researchers have lots of theories about why this might be the case, ranging from prejudice and discrimination from both heterosexual and gay/lesbian communities to the impact of incongruence between sexual identity and sexual behavior.1
So, to all my fellow bisexuals, remember this: the world needs more of you, so don’t diminish yourself for anything, or anyone. After all, you have a heart that can love multiple genders. With such a capacity for love, you have no business hating yourself.
- Green KE and Feinstein BA. Psychol Addict Behav 2012; 26(2): 265-278.
Laura is a bisexual woman, currently living in Surrey, England, working as a Healthcare copywriter. If you’re interested in seeing what she’s up to, check her out on Instagram or Twitter