The notion of being “abnormal” through addiction and mental illness (what professionals call “dual-diagnosis”) can arouse a false sense of being broken.
BY JOEL EDWARDS
The word “recovery” can sound threatening to members of the LGBTQ community, as many often experience discrimination and shame for their identities. Even for LGBTQ individuals who have found peace and happiness in their gender and sexuality, the notion of being “abnormal” through addiction and mental illness (what professionals call “dual-diagnosis”) can arouse a false sense of being broken.
In the LGBTQ community experiences of neglect, misunderstanding, and abuse are common sources of trauma, poor self-esteem, and certain mental health issues.
There is also a heritable component to mental health, meaning diseases like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia can run in families. In other words, many people—LGBTQ or otherwise—are born with it.
That being said, not every child of a schizophrenic mother can or will develop schizophrenia themselves.
Drugs and alcohol can play a role in triggering mental health issues, whether their use is healthy or abusive. The same is true in the opposite direction; people with mental health issues often become chemically addicted in an effort to self-treat their symptoms. This can happen with street drugs or medications prescribed by a doctor. Thus, LGBTQ individuals who leave their addiction or mental health issues unaddressed (or are simply unaware) easily fall down a path of dangerous and unhealthy behavior. Excessive partying, shopping, organizing, or any other behavior can become an addiction as you attempt to soothe old wounds through a high or distorted sense of control.
At the center of mental health and addiction are powerful emotions that require unpacking. Real control, real courage, is being both self-aware and proactive enough to make a change for the better.
So now what? The good news is that there are treatment programs across the country that not only cater to the needs of people with dual-diagnosis, but are LGBTQ friendly. There are some that even let you bring your pet with you to treatment.
Do your research and educate yourself as much as possible so you find high quality care that fits you and your personal needs.
There are other issues to address too, like choosing good doctors, therapists, or support groups to work with after treatment. The thing about recovery is it’s a lifelong process. With the help of experts, you can improve your life in so many more ways than just getting sober or a proper mental health diagnosis.
The transition to a new, happier life will be much easier with professional guidance. A major social adjustment necessary for recovery is learning to ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in having dual-diagnosis the same way there is absolutely no shame in being LGBTQ.
Accepting yourself is critical to health—no matter who you are. Being gay, transgender, or unsure of your sexual or personal identity does not make you broken. Nor does having addiction or mental health issues, or both. One in five American adults has a diagnosable mental health issue and 13.6 million have a serious mood disorder. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and Center for Disease Control, approximately 22.5 million people are current illicit drug users, 1 in 12 adults in the United States abuse alcohol, and there are over 79,000 alcohol related deaths per year. In other words, you’re not alone.
The recovery community—much like the LGBTQ community—is vast and active. September (National Recovery Month) is a beautiful month to join it, as is every other month. The lesson here is to not stay in the closet—for any reason. You’ll be happier and healthier for it. Guaranteed.
Joel Edwards is the Executive Director of Morningside Recovery, an addiction and mental health treatment center in Orange County, CA, that specializes in dual-diagnosis and individualized care. For more information about Morningside Recovery and their LGBTQ-friendly programming, call (866) 384-5444 or visit www.MorningsideRecovery.com