To My Fellow LGBTQs: Let’s Have an Honest Talk

(Kyrious.co for Leafly)

I am someone who loves drinking way too much, partly because of PTSD, partly because of a genetic proclivity for addiction, and partly because of the emotional strain of being queer—particularly the social aspects of being queer. Recently I gave up booze and switched to weed as a nightcap. I’m not saying this is for everyone. But I personally can’t believe how much and how quickly my life has improved.

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A month ago I went to a 12-step meeting because various friends and family had expressed concern about my drinking. I went with my mom, who hasn’t had a drink in 23 years. I felt grateful she was with me, and a deep respect for the generous, candid people who welcomed me to the room. I was scared, of course, but generally found it to be a pleasant and comforting experience.

Afterwards, I went directly to the burger place across the street and had a blackberry cider, then three shots of Jaeger, which I don’t even drink. Then another cider and more Jaeger. I wandered outside and puked on my boots, then I guess I passed out in a vacant lot, because I woke up there an hour later. Apparently my fiancé found me lying in the hallway of our apartment, and when she asked what I was doing I said “Trying to sleep.”

I guess I passed out in a vacant lot, because I woke up there an hour later. Apparently my fiancé found me lying in the hallway of our apartment, and when she asked what I was doing I said “Trying to sleep.”

As you can imagine, I had a feeling I should go to another meeting, and another. The look on the face of the person I love most in the world the day after she found me in the hall was the worst thing I have ever seen.

You know what’s weird? I have no idea why I got fucked up after that first meeting. Many people say they entered their 12-step program thinking it was stupid, or that they’re different than everyone else in the program, that they lacked humility. I didn’t feel that way—it was as if I was watching myself walk into the bar from a great distance. I guess that’s what addiction is.

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I smoked weed for the first time at 13. I was in a “psychedelic” “band” that consisted of myself and three friends yelling into kazoos while wearing funny hats. The weed had something in it that made me hallucinate that I was a flying tongue and eyeballs and actually, in real life, barf on a playground in front of a van full of kindergarteners. That put me off drugs of any kind, even coffee, until I started drinking at 19.

I was 28 before I gave weed another go, and that time I thought cold air was coming out of the heaters and the FDA was lying about fish content in vitamins. At my then-girlfriend’s suggestion, I resolved to smoke the following three nights in hopes I might become sleepy and giggly like she did. The second night, I hallucinated that she had muttonchops (the beard, not the food) that moved all over her face like the blobs in a lava lamp, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed until I couldn’t breathe. I was tired, but every time I shut my eyes I would see the colorful, gently undulating beard and start laughing again. It was wonderful.

(The author, by Lauren Max for Leafly)

My favorite thing is to take a couple hits of some strong weed as close to pure indica as possible, have a nice hot shower, and get in bed with my fiancé, where we spend the last hour of the day exchanging jokes, eating mountains of snacks, and laughing until we lose our voices. It should be noted that weed makes all physical contact, particularly sex, absolutely transcendent.

The reasons weed is preferable to alcohol for me are innumerable. Minimal damage to my health, no hangovers. I don’t become angry or despondent, no barfing, no depression, anxiety or sense that life is impossible. I don’t do anything when I’m stoned that hurts my relationship or friendships. I remember everything that happens during sex. Did I mention stoned sex is really, really great?

The reasons weed is preferable to alcohol for me are innumerable. Minimal damage to my health, no hangovers. No barfing, no depression, anxiety or sense that life is impossible. I don’t do anything when I’m stoned that hurts my relationships. I remember everything that happens during sex.

While I can rarely be high at parties, weed facilitates the connection with others I long for because I approach social situations healthy, well-rested, and feeling good about myself. Practically all of the problems I had with my soon-to-be wife resulted from my drinking, and I feel closer to her than ever before.

● ● ●

It had been a while since I really enjoyed drinking. Post-election, drinking turned into something I did when I felt panicked, which was most of the time. The comradery I had once felt with friends at parties, the conversations that lasted late into the night, dissolved into a blur of anxiety and hangovers.

Coming home from a meeting a few nights after my shameful excess at the burger place, I heard a wild party going on in an apartment on the ground floor of my building. I felt grief, thinking of how I could never lose myself that way again. I sat on the front steps just to be near the party, though I didn’t know anyone, and remembered why I drank in the first place—it was part of a a ritual of human connection. I began to wonder what I had really been looking for at parties before I drank, when I was 19.

One of the most interesting parts of being around a group of people in recovery is listening to them navigate what addiction is. Some people (like myself) can have a little weed as a nightcap and not feel tempted to drink or experience other negative impacts on their lives, some feel they shouldn’t even have chocolate. It’s surprisingly hard to define what you are or aren’t addicted to.

Addiction is largely genetic, like most diseases, but the fact is, it gets worse/is more likely to manifest if you’re lonely or scared–which for many queer people is every day, all the time, forever.

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With freshly sober eyes, I went to see a photography show by one of my favorite living photographers, Doug Newman. He’s been photographing people in the Seattle queer punk community, which I’ve been part of since I was old enough to acquire a fake ID. He displays his photos as a slide show with music. The images are shown non-chronologically, each for less than 20 seconds. I’d seen his slide shows before, but in light of my recent history I now noticed dark undertones in these photos, parties and the home life of people I care about. There was SO MUCH drinking, several photos of people crying, and of a friend who passed away two years ago from a drug overdose.

I wondered how many people aren’t even aware they’re addicts because of the prevalence of drug use in the queer community. I didn’t know I was until something disastrous happened, and I’d love for others to be spared a disaster.

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Addiction seems to come with the territory of being queer and/or the desire to make art or have a culture outside of the automated, child-proofed strip mall America has become. I’ve had a very easy time being queer, compared to most people—being masculine-identified, I was allowed to wear boys’ clothes as soon as I started screaming like a maniac when dressed in “gender appropriate” clothing at the age of three. Because of my parents’ support I have had very little gender dysmorphia. I went to a high school I would estimate had 40% out queer students, a nurturing environment to come out in.

I didn’t realize how much social anxiety I have until I stopped drinking. I like how I look and dress, but it’s exhausting that people constantly wonder what kind of junk I have.

Yet, I completely relate to the majority of people in my 12-step program who used alcohol to be comfortable in social situations. Because I sincerely love being around people, I didn’t realize how much social anxiety I have until I stopped drinking. I like how I look and dress, but it’s exhausting that people constantly wonder what kind of junk I have. People who have sought validation from a gender binary their entire lives (most Americans) get extremely uncomfortable when somebody else doesn’t rely on that for validation, more so the less they seem to need or believe in it. I think my very existence makes a lot of cis het people feel like they’re finding out Santa isn’t real, and that’s tiring.

I can’t smoke weed socially (see: above), but I find that knowing there will be an hour at the end of the day entirely without anxiety, it’s easier to relax at a party.

I realize not everyone can have a healthy relationship with weed—you might get high all day every day and not really be present in your life. But fuck, better that than meth, or vodka. Weed won’t destroy your organs or compel you to eat a stranger’s ear.

It’s time for a conversation about how much harder daily life is for queers, and how we can implement harm reduction in queer drug use. Drug stigma gets mixed in with the stigma of being queer and contributes to the shame and social anxiety that inspired that drug use in the first place. Let’s start having a pragmatic conversation and stop being ashamed. None of us deserves it.