We’ll Love You, Until You Learn to Love Yourself

The topic of family has always been a sore subject. It was an especially difficult one to discuss early on in recovery. There are a lot of deeply rooted issues stemming from my childhood and young adulthood that led me onto the road of my addiction.

I’m the youngest of three boys, the baby of the family, and my parents often treated me as such. They did many things for me which made me rely on other people, to the point where I couldn’t do many things for myself. This was the beginning of the shame game. I often felt useless and defective, a mentality that I carried with me into adulthood. To add to my feeling of defectiveness, when I hit puberty I began to realize my desires for other boys, and that didn’t sit well with me. I felt this was another thing that was wrong with me. I was also terrified that my family would find out. So, I concealed my desires, only allowing their release during my masturbation fantasies.

My family did not show physical affection nor did they discuss emotional matters. I had no one to confide in about my struggles with sexual identity. The fear of rejection was intense and was later on validated when my mom found love letters from my first boyfriend. She voiced her discomfort. She didn’t want to “deal with it.” My oldest brother expressed his “concerns” when I changed my My Space status to bisexual, projecting his discomfort onto my parents. A few years later, my mom told me she didn’t approve of my lifestyle. These traumatic experiences fortified an impenetrable wall between myself and my family, a barrier that had to be built for my own emotional survival. My family’s rejection, combined with my own deep shame and self-hatred, led me down the road to constant validation-seeking, especially from men. Men seemed to accept me for who I was, so I thought, whether they were sexual encounters or romantic entanglements. It also led to meth.

What kept me from totally falling apart at the seams during my identity struggles was my friends. They loved me unconditionally, always had my back, and accepted me for who I was. I consider them an extension of my family. They made my “coming out” process so much easier; this was a sharp contrast to my biological family finding out. I came out to my friends one by one, and they were totally cool with it—imagine that! I could be authentic with them without any fear of judgment or rejection. Plus, I enjoyed their company; we shared similar interests and at a similar stage in life. My biological family may have ensured my physical survival, but my family of friends ensured my emotional and mental survival. I honestly believe that without my friends’ love and support, I would not be alive today. The loneliness, despair, and just complete brokenness would have landed me deeper and faster into the hole of addiction, killing me, or I simply would have ended my life.

As my sex and meth addiction peaked and my attempts to control my drug use were failing, I needed to talk to someone. I wasn’t ready to take any action, but I needed desperately to get my struggles off my chest and out in the universe. My friends lended me their ears and gave no judgment, just sympathy and understanding. A couple of my friends took it a step further and staged an intervention. While we were having a meal at a restaurant on South Street, one friend just bluntly expressed his concern about my drug problem and gave me an ultimatum: if I didn’t seek help or treatment in some capacity, he would inform my parents. A true family knows when to console me and when to give me some tough love when I need it the most. I hated him at first and was willing to throw away our friendship forever. I thought to myself, How dare he threaten me like this and tell my parents; they don’t deserve to know about my conflicts. I don’t want them involved in any way. Of course I tried to find ways around the ultimatum and get him off my back, but the seed was planted. After a couple more months of self- destruction, I finally agreed and went into rehab. I eventually made amends to my friend for the harsh things I’d said and expressed to him my much-needed gratitude for playing such an important role in saving my life–another example of what family does for each other.

After 28 days of treatment, I entered the rooms of CMA. I knew that was where I belonged. Philly CMA quickly became my recovery family. My recovery fellows shared a valuable bond with me. I no longer felt that I was alone in this battle. My non-addict friends helped me a lot, but they could not relate to my struggle as a gay crystal meth addict–they were mostly straight and did not suffer from drug addiction or alcoholism. My CMA brothers and sisters helped me carry this burden, and I let them love me until I learned to love myself. That is what family is all about.
My CMA friends give me consolation when needed but do not cosign my BS. They know exactly what I’m thinking and feeling and can thoroughly relate. I don’t sugarcoat anything, nor do I feel ashamed of my past. They helped pick me back up when I fell, and I fell a lot during my recovery journey. And, like true siblings, there are times when we may not get along, but when push comes to shove, they will always be there for me, and I for them. This was particularly important when I started dealing with the resentments I had toward some members of my nuclear family, particularly my mother and oldest brother.

The strangest thing happened from hearing others’ similar experiences with their family, I began to have empathy for them! My parents are human and did the best they could. Perhaps they just didn’t know how to handle their son as a gay man and were afraid for my safety. They belong to a generation who grew up during a time when being gay meant oppression and death. Who would want their youngest child to possibly experience any of that? These were the thoughts I had that helped diffuse that animosity I was hanging on to. My resentments still exist but not at the same level. I started to not only forgive my family but also be grateful for everything they had sacrificed to give my brothers and me a good life. I actually enjoy spending time with them and don’t dread it like before. They showed how proud they are for the man I’ve become and actually made some progress in accepting my sexual identity.

There was a monumental event that occurred recently in regards to my mother and me. Over the last few years, therapists have encouraged me to have a discussion with my mother regarding my sexuality, or at the very least write a letter expressing my feelings. Fear prevented me from taking this action. I was terrified that I would be rejected again, that I would have to relive that moment years ago when she voiced her disapproval. I couldn’t handle writing a letter even if I had no intention to deliver it. I finally found the courage at an unlikely time–during my last relapse–a low bottom. As I was coming to and feeling completely broken with eyes like leaking faucets, I had a revelation. I spent my life sugar coating who I truly am when I’m around my family. I wasn’t being authentic. I made myself believe it didn’t bother me, but it was actually eating me alive. In recovery, I am taught to work an honesty program, but I wasn’t being completely honest. I was keeping my sexual identity a secret, and secrets keep me sick. Something had to change or else I would never be able to attain sobriety.

I told my therapist I was ready to have a session with my mother. It was time to address the elephant in the room. Of course we planned it in advance to give me time to sober up and get back on track with my recovery, but I couldn’t wait too long or else I’d lose my nerve.

It took some courage for me to take that initial step and invite my mom to a virtual therapy session. But I did it, and she accepted. She was actually very willing to do this for me which lessened my anxiety over the whole process. Two tools helped with the anxiety over this upcoming session: keeping the faith that my Higher Power will not give me anything that I can’t handle, and being clear with the goal of the session. The focus wasn’t to gain acceptance from my mom, it was to gain acceptance for myself, giving me the freedom to be open and honest about the person I am to everyone, not just some people.

The time came, and the session went much better than I expected. My mom appeared very open-minded and willing to support me in any way she could. Will she be hanging a pride flag on her front porch? Probably not. But progress is progress, and I’m so grateful that we did that session.This is a new beginning for our relationship, and I feel safer to let her into my life a bit more.

I never thought it would happen. I am breaking down the wall one brick at a time. In my relationship with my mom there is still much work to be done on both sides. But as long as we keep moving forward, everything will be OK.

My goal is to practice self-compassion and continue to allow myself to grow and love what I see in the mirror. This is definitely going to be a lifelong process but a rewarding one. Fortunately, I have my biological family, friends, and my recovery family to love me, support me, and walk with me on my life journey.