Leslie was a chubby kid, and the summer before eighth grade, she lost 30 pounds. Returning to school, her grades and social life were never better, but a switch in her head turned, telling her she must be thin to survive and thrive in life.
As a young adult, after long work days and harder workouts, she and her peers would end the days with drinks, and Leslie would typically default to a light meal to accompany her booze and full day of exercise. Her next job in the beer industry moved her to Colorado.
“I was so identified with my weight being thin, and then, of course, the culture was going out, having some beers. My life and my community was about beer, wine, and alcohol.”
Over time, Leslie’s peers began to show concern over her weight. She eventually sought therapy, but she said her drinking in relation to her eating disorder was often ignored.
She was eventually introduced to the 12 steps and quit drinking for two years, “not because I thought I was an alcoholic, but because, that’s what you do in treatment.” Working with a sponsor, she gained a lot more self-esteem and realized she was a lesbian. She eventually started drinking again, but she was also participating in advocacy work and embracing her identity.
“But there’s also a lot of drinking, right? You have the meeting, and then you have the ‘meeting’ after the meeting.”
She soon started attending LGBTQ+ 12-step meetings, and her last drink was in July 2006. Leslie is grateful for how far she’s come and urged queer folks in recovery, and the community in general, to listen to their LGBTQ+ elders.
“In my experience, an eating disorder doesn’t ever go away. It’s always present. When I tell my story in the rooms, in AA, I start by recognizing my eating disorder because I can’t tell my story without it.”
“I’m from an Irish Catholic family—we were drinking from birth, basically.”
Martin always thought that he had a drinking problem but convinced himself it was never actually a problem. He’d tried to quit a few times on his own with no luck. Finally, in January 2014, he decided it was time to stop drinking for good.
He approached quitting drinking in the same way he quit smoking cigarettes, thinking at the time that after three days, the addiction would begin to slip. Four days into sobriety, experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, he learned this wasn’t the case.
“I had a clarifying moment, where I basically decided I wanted to live. I went another three days, and on that seventh day, I called my friend, and she was in the program of AA, and she said to me, ‘OK. Get dressed and go to a meeting.’ And I did.”
He’s been involved in AA ever since, and he said specifically attending LGBTQ+ meetings changed his whole recovery.
“It’s an added level of comfort,” he said. “Being able to be completely comfortable with my sexuality just made a huge difference to me.”
Martin said that, while the initial work has been done, it’s now important to show up for his recovery in a different way, in a more reflective, long-term lens than before.
“I had to actually look at the reasons I wanted to live. I feel like, the gay community, gay meetings, there’s something so comforting about just being able to be with fellow queers. It’s coming home.”
Dane’s road to recovery was admittedly a rocky one. As a teen, they typically used any substances they were able to get their hands on, and navigating this didn’t get easier.
After leaving home to attend school, Dane’s boyfriend at the time committed suicide, a moment Dane said was essential to their recovery. Following periods of heavy drinking and stimulant use, Dane found a 12-step program, but their recovery wasn’t quite that cut-and-dry.
“It took me some time to kind of find my way.”
They have been sober from alcohol for more than two years and stimulants for more than one. Dane emphasized that recovery and wellness do not look any one way, and a crucial element for them was moving away from where they used.
“And, of course, I’m transgender as heck. I started heavily using substances around when I first started seriously hitting puberty, and that was to alleviate the distress caused then.”
Looking back, Dane said it’s unfortunate that so many of their formative experiences with other queer kids and young adults revolved around substance use. They admit they have some regrets and try to channel that back into the community through advocacy work.
Dane stops by meetings every once in a while, but they often caught flack in rural Texas as a gender-nonconforming person trying to become “part of the boys’ club.” They said their experience with meetings in Colorado has been better overall, but hopes these spaces, even the LBGTQ meetings, push to be more inclusive for everyone in the community.
“These are structural patterns and problems. There are risk factors that queer youth face, that we can address. These are all things we can change, and I find that really empowering.”
Gabrielle’s queer identity is a big part of her recovery story. She began to recognize her queerness at a young age, and during that same time, she also lost her uncle, with whom she was very close.
“My drinking all just kind of progressed through school and college. I don’t really talk about those years anymore; I feel like that’s all we hear about, those years we used.”
At age 21, during a trip abroad, she decided she was going to come back to the U.S. and come out. She admitted she wasn’t ready, and her mother responded negatively. Her alcoholism progressed further, and she got to a point when she stopped and said, “Well, my biggest secret is out, and I don’t know why I keep needing alcohol.”
She went to her first meeting soon after in March 2012 and didn’t look back.
“I started drinking at the age of 12, and I was 22 when I got sober, so the most formative years of my life, I kind of missed out on. Learning how to function, how to deal with emotions, and how to regulate those.”
As her sobriety has matured, she has worked to build communities around her of like-minded people.
“I kind of see it as an act of resistance. I don’t really need it anymore. In my queer identity, I want to experience it all because I had so many years of knowing that that was who I am, but unable to experience any of it.”
Gabrielle said as a queer, sober person, she is frustrated that the LGBTQ+ community is so often targeted with alcohol and drug use. Where many folks will use alcohol as a reason to explore their identities, Gabrielle saw alcohol interfering with her embracing her queerness.
“I’m a huge harm-reduction-focused person. I get it if people still want to drink, but I would really love to help my communities heal so that if they still feel the need, after they’ve healed, to use substances, then it maybe won’t have to be such an excessive, or harmful, amount.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional or mental health crisis, please contact Colorado Crisis Services by calling 844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. You can also find recovery resources at cowellnessrecovery.org.