I am a queer Chican@ Immigrant and a chronically ill person with able bodied privilege.
Being sober means that I rarely ever go out to clubs or events unless I can drag along a sober friend. I have gone out before without that support and I end up feeling overwhelmed and panicky. I need at least a friend with me that will agree to not drink or use substances while we spend time together. In the past this has saved me by knowing that I have someone to be accountable to (I will stay sober) and that I have someone that understands when I feel tempted or miss drinking and using.
Tonight I went dancing. My body missed it so much. I did my awkward shuffle, my cumbia inspired body movements and let my arms relax into the music. It was 90’s dance night at a small club. On the dance floor were awkward people trying to dance while balancing drinks on their hands, bad lip synching, or standing in the middle of the dance floor and talking loudly over the music. It was refreshing to see so many people dancing. We left right as it got crowded, our strategy for limiting time around drunk people.
I went with my sober white friend, I joke that she is the only person in the world that wears crocs but she isn’t. She is however one of the few people I really spend time with in Seattle. Seattle is very white and although the people of color community here is tight, most of us are introverts spend a lot of time alone and only hang when at events centered around alcohol or drugs.
I am shy and I am sick off and on due to multiple serious allergies although when I am not I still often times stay in. It is heartbreaking how little I go out. But I know that sober spaces are often not considered or mentioned as an accessibility issue. I have to decide before any event whether or not I have enough energy to deal with the pot or alcohol smell (if I am not doing well it is triggering), the offerings (it is so uncomfortable), the glorification of drug and alcohol use and the drunk or high people. Most of the time I opt out. I find it easier to spend time alone then have to spend my energy trying to navigate nights of sober inaccessibility; and I am bad at navigation. I am still building skills to function as a sober person in this world and I have been sober for 4 years.
But really though, who has the skills to navigate the drunk culture that queers live in all the time? Like myself most sober queers that I know choose to opt out of going out even when they want to. It’s sad to feel that the connections I make with other queers of color are often blocked off by this unnecessary barrier or occasionally tolerated without trying to understand it. Often times I am asked to accommodate drinking or drug use and I have become used to it; but I still wonder why is it that a recovering addict and alcoholic be exposed to the substances that could’ve have killed them in order to hang out with friends?
When I say that I am recovering I mean that I am one of the 45% of the LGBTQ community that has struggled or is currently struggling with alcoholism (compared to 15% of the general population) and that does not differentiate between race or gender. Studies suggest that “stress of dealing with stigma and bias also manifests in high rates of substance abuse among gay and transgender people of color” that varies with the intersections of oppressions that we face. We have a lot to de-stress from as people who face different forms of oppression daily, don’t we want to learn how to support each other in different ways of coping too?
I am often times disappointed by the lack of compassion that I get for my requests for sober space in queer communities. I am often times disappointed by the lack of support that I receive by my queer people of color when it comes to my sobriety. I do not want to have to share my sob story to receive compassion or expose my scary and vulnerable drinking past to be understood. I want my people to see this as real, as a something to consider. I want there to be communication that can lead to compromise. For example I know friends who use substances for pain management but will do it before we hang out or after, or in a different room if I am around.
Right now an uncle of mine is dying of cirrhosis of the liver in Mexico. I have lost more people than I can count to alcohol related death or overdosing, I came close to being one of them. I want to be clear that I am not a staunch abstinence-is-the-only way to recover from addiction person but I know that it is what I need and I am not alone. I know people who are not sober but limit their time around drinking or drug use as harm reduction for their use of substances. I also know children of alcoholics and addicts who are not sober but cannot be in spaces that trigger memories of their neglectful or abusive childhoods. I also know youth who have never used and don’t want to and people who just don’t like being around it.
I believe that having more consideration for sober spaces not only will nurture relationships with recovering addicts, it also will be more accessible to youth and will build more skills around de-stressing and coping with the microaggressions that we face daily; More importantly it will start conversations about the people who are not hanging out because of inaccessibility. I dream of a world where I can be with my differently abled friends more than once a year. I want to be able to talk not only about how sober spaces are not considered in queer spaces but how it is connected to the ways that ableism runs our lives and how our attitudes toward ableism keeps disabled people isolated. This is only one way that the queer community can improve, there are many ways that ableism separates us, consider learning about those too.
I write this to honor my ancestors, to honor those who struggle with addiction and alcoholism and to love all my people.
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