“A friend of mine decided he wanted to go, and I agreed to accompany him for support, only to realise that I had more than enough qualification to attend for myself. I returned every week for 3 months.”
Thomas, a 27-year old from Melbourne, is describing the moment he attended his first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Thomas loves theatre, film and art. He describes himself as a chronic procrastinator and a dreamer. He’s fallen in love many times, but has never had a boyfriend. He’s also very good at drinking.
“On reflection I see I was a problematic drinker; for so long I considered my drinking normal,” he recalls. “But I have lost jobs and friends, been kicked off flights, felt very worthless and have contemplated suicide because of drinking. There have been so many nights and mornings where I have woken up with the promise that I must change; the pain and hurt that followed momentary pleasure was not worth it.”
Thomas talks about the relationship between alcoholism and his gay identity. “I have always had an ingrained fear of missing out, and alcohol gave me confidence,” he says. “All our ‘safe places’ have historically been bars and clubs where drinks are on tap—it’s encouraged and normal. I never stopped to question my drinking and the affect it had on my life and those around me.”
Thomas’ story is far from uncommon in the community, a place where rates of substance abuse, as well as drug and alcohol dependence, remain prevalent issues. “There are a number of potential factors as to why this is the case,” says Nicky Bath, Associate Director of LGBTI Health Programming and Development at ACON, “and this includes, for example: victimisation, homophobic abuse, coming out, stigma, and minority stress. Many researchers have also suggested that a history of exclusion from a range of social settings has led LGB people to make bars and clubs an important social focus.”
It almost begins a cyclical nature, in which alcohol - initially used in order to numb - only exemplifies these feelings of uncertainty.
It is also important to mention, Bath notes, that there are significantly higher rates of alcohol use amongst lesbian and bisexual women than gay and bisexual men. “The 2014 Sydney Women and Sexual Health (SWASH) Survey of women in the Sydney gay and lesbian community found that 82% of same sex attracted young women drinkers drank alcohol at a level that put them at risk of alcohol related disease or injury over their lifetime.”
However, according to Bath, there is still a need for greater research regarding alcohol consumption within LGBTI communities. “Alcohol use continues to be an issue that often goes unrecognised within the LGBTI communities, despite the health and psychosocial issues that are known to be associated with problematic alcohol use.”
I, too, have had a turbulent relationship with alcohol.
I was unknowingly dependent on it for a long time, since I was about 16. Alcohol was a safeguard for me throughout adolescence when I was insecure about my sexuality. Drinking was also a form of escapism for me; I could hide behind it.
At 19, I realised that nightlife and drinking were huge parts of the gay community.If socialising in the gay community equalled nightlife, I thought, then I’d need to drink. I subsequently went out a lot, I met amazing people, and I was drunk the entire time.
I stopped drinking a year ago, and was dry for about six months, but during that time I lost a lot of these friends; I realised that my relationships with these people had only been bound together by alcohol.
Then, I relapsed.
Two months ago, after a night of heavy drinking, I tried to throw myself off a balcony. I’d been to a couple of clubs that night, drinking shot after shot, and had ended up at a random person’s apartment. I don’t remember much after that, but I do recall being restrained, an ambulance ride and waking up on a white bed. I had a blood alcohol reading of 0.264.
It was about 8AM when my family arrived at the hospital. We all cried a lot.
I thought I’d hit rock bottom before, but I was wrong; this was it. I mean, how could I have really let myself get to the point of wanting to jump off a balcony? How did I literally feel compelled not to live anymore? I should’ve been smarter, but how smart can you really be with a reading of 0.264?
“You played Russian roulette,” my psychiatrist later told me.
I guess he was right. I did play a game of Russian Roulette, a Russian Roulette full of shots and mixers and life and sadness and the pressure to have fun. I’d been under the guise that I wanted to socialise and make new memories and, for me, that insinuated cigarettes and alcohol and flashing lights.
I was embarrassed after that night. I hadn’t anticipated a relapse. I thought I could only grow, and move onwards and upwards from my past, and I felt pressure to continue this progression.
Over the summer, Thomas returned home and also relapsed.
“I'm not sure why,” he recalls. “It was a combination of overwhelming nostalgia and almost, although it makes no sense, a reward for my sobriety.” For the past few months, he’s struggled to return to a state of sobriety.
To Bath, though, relapsing isn’t an uncommon, nor should it be a shameful, experience. “Many people who have chosen not to drink anymore or reduce their drinking can cycle between drinking, reducing or stopping, and drinking again.”
“Whatever the goal that is set,” she continues, “it is really important that when things do not go to plan that the person does not beat themselves up and instead accepts that glitch, reassesses and continues on their journey to achieve their goals.”
According to Bath, shame and stigma can be common barriers in stopping individuals from accessing support. “Deciding to seek support can feel really overwhelming. It can also be scary to look at your alcohol use and it is natural to feel uncomfortable or even daunted in seeking help.”
“[But] remember,” she concludes, “that you are not alone and that there are services and online support out there to help you.”
I’ve since learnt that life isn’t always a continuous, upward progression. Like Thomas and I, we all have our moments of defeat. It’s common for the silent rage to turn to alcohol, but it’s also important to talk about these moments.
You’re not alone.
If this article has touched on issues for you, please don’t hesitate to contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Alcoholics Anonymous Australia’s 24 hour phone line on 1300 222 222. A special thanks to ACON for their contribution to this article. ACON’s Substance Support service provides free counselling which can be accessed in or by calling 1800 063 060.
Louis Hanson has also written for the Guardian, the Huffington Post, the Australia Times, Archer and Acclaim magazine, is a student at the University of Melbourne, and an LGBTQ mental health advocate.Website: louishanson.com & Instagram: @louishanson.