By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
Follow Michael on Instagram: @michaelcastcenters
I remember realizing when I was gay, and immediately feeling shame because I felt there was something wrong with that. Since its inception, my identity as a gay man has been interwoven with feelings of shame.
I carried this feeling with me most of my life, and found it was only amplified when I started struggling with my relationship to drugs and alcohol. I think the two were probably related. I don’t find it particularly useful to try to find the “answer” to why I developed addiction problems, but it is an interesting question to ask. Did me being gay mean I was more susceptible to addiction? I do not think that my being gay lead to my addiction; instead I believe the societal shame I felt about being gay was a contributing factor. I did not know how to process this feeling growing up. I had no real role models to help me walk through it growing up.
Over the course of my late teens and my 20’s I found myself increasingly dependent on alcohol, opiates and amphetamines to get me through my day-to-day life. I was openly gay to my family and friends, and had been since high school. However, I still had a very difficult time being intimate without drugs or alcohol in my system. I would get drunk and/or high alone before going on dates, etc. The shame and discomfort would be numbed out. I often would be so uncomfortable that I would way overshoot the mark and end up blacking out in the beginning of dates; waking up in strangers apartments, or with strangers in my apartment. Or waking up alone, with no recollection of what happened, and a person who would no longer answer my texts. The shame would set back in, and perpetuated a cycle that over the years became increasingly difficult to manage. I was not alone in this experience. Many of my LGBT friends used alcohol or drugs as a way to manage their anxiety, shame, and discomfort around dating and sex in our community. It was almost a foreign concept to do anything else.
When my life finally began to unravel and it came time to get help, I was confronted with the issue of finding treatment that could also address the damage done not only by addiction, but by growing up in a society that was often hostile to members of the LGBT community. There is real damage done there, whether it be conscious or subconscious, lurking unacknowledged just beneath the surface. I was at least fortunate to have some awareness that it was there, even if I wasn’t able to fully wrap my mind around what it meant.
I entered inpatient and had another uncomfortable experience. Though I knew that the place I was going to was more than just LGBT friendly, I felt that feeling of needing to hide who I was around all the straight men I was going to be spending the next 40 something days living with other guys would proclaim their acceptance of my sexuality in group in front of the staff, and then turn around and make comments like “Oh, I don’t care if you’re gay, just don’t try anything with me.” Or ask invasive and frankly awkward questions about the mechanics of how gay men have sex. And please, I know a bunch of grown men know exactly how gay sex works.
But all of this brought up those same feelings of not belonging that I had grown up with and was as desperate to shed as I was my heroin and alcohol addiction. The more sober I became, the more aware I became that I had to find outpatient care and sober living that was not just LGBT “friendly” but that was LGBT-affirmative, informed and that would protect me in a society that had failed to do so and in an industry that had so far failed to do so.
So naturally, I came all the way from Philadelphia to West Hollywood for outpatient and sober living after my stint in detox and residential back home. I landed in the perfect sober living for me, but my first outpatient was more of the same awkwardness that I had experienced in residential. They claimed to be LGBT friendly, but I found zero support around my sexuality (which was not what I was told over the phone with their admissions coordinator, nor what their website advertised). It was one of the most well-known and celebrated treatment centers in the world, a leader in addiction treatment, and yet they offered nothing to me to address my sexuality, despite saying they did. Disappointed with their lack of integrity, I decided to go somewhere else. Through my sober living, I was able to find an outpatient center in West Hollywood that finally was the right fit for me.
The staff there were not just LGBT-friendly. The place was LGBT owned and operated, and the staff were LGBT-affirmative. I found a place where I could finally process 20 something years of internalized homophobia, shame, guilt, fear, self-hate, addiction and its subsequent damage. I finally felt protected and safe enough to open up about all those nights getting drunk and high before dates, about going to school where I was physically attacked and called a faggot more times than I could even remember, and all the rest of it. But I got lucky.
As a gay man who just wanted to finally belong and be like everyone else, it was a tough pill for me to swallow that I wasn’t like everyone else and that treatment that worked for others probably wouldn’t be the best fit for me. We face unique challenges in life and in getting sober as members of the LGBT community. We exist in a society that is often hostile to our very existence, let alone to our voices, our lives, and our love. For me it was imperative to find treatment that would address me as a whole person, not just fragmented little pieces that I (or they) were comfortable addressing. I was very fortunate to have found it, and I implore anyone reading this to do their homework. And if you go somewhere where you do not feel safe, there is nothing wrong with going somewhere else. Stand up for yourself, your life and your experiences deserve to be honored in their entirety.