When we think of our next fun adventure, whether it’s a sporting event or maybe a night at the theatre or even a camping getaway, it typically has one variable in common: alcohol. The lesbian community are no strangers to wild days and late nights filled with Jell-O shots and one too many margaritas. The idea of having any event sans alcohol is confusing to most of us: “What do you mean we aren’t drinking?’”
For years upon years, gay bars and clubs have been a source of our social existence, a place to find a community, a partner and or a friend. Often times it was the only place we had where we could feel accepted. Even major alcohol companies sponsor our events including our favorite of days: Pride. No matter where we go or what we do, alcohol is not far behind. Yet we seem to forget those of us that do without it: our sober friends.
“Being a sober lesbian can sometimes be double stigmatizing,” said *Amber, a lesbian who has been sober for almost 10 years. “‘Oh, you’re gay? Oh, you don’t drink?’ In the queer world, it seems like alcohol is a huge part of the culture. Finding queer friends that have the same interests as I do that aren’t total nut job drinkers is kind of hard.”
Often times alcohol is used as a way for us to feel connected with each other, but it is also a way to for us to disconnect from ourselves.
“I started drinking and smoking weed when I was a teenager to fit in. This was back in the ’80s when almost no one was out,” said Shaley, who has been sober for seven plus years. “I started drinking, in particular, because it was a way for me to blend. It’s a bit challenging when the last thing you want to do is pretend to be attracted to the opposite sex when you’re gay and drinking allowed me to deny my reality and internal pain.”
According to several studies found by the Alcohol Research Group, lesbians were less likely to be alcohol abstainers and more likely to be heavier drinkers than heterosexual women (Aaron et al., 2001; Gruskin et al., 2001; Roberts and Sorensen, 1999). Many believe that to be true because it is easier for straight people to find love interests no matter where they go, but for lesbians and bisexual women, there is much more work involved.
“I always imagined that straight people could meet love interests anywhere: on the train, at work, at a birthday party. But when you’re gay and trying to meet women, I only felt safe decoding the people I met at bars,” said *Karen, who has been sober for eight years and one month.
Amber, Shaley and Karen, like so many others, have faced their addictive demons head on with support from friends and loved ones, as well as being members of Alcoholics Anonymous. In contrast to the earlier study, other reports indicate that lesbians were less likely to consume alcohol but more likely to report being in recovery or having been in treatment for alcohol-related problems (Hughes, 2003; Hughes et al., 2000).
“AA teaches me to be in acceptance and therefore not be a victim,” Amber said.
Over the years AA has evolved into more than just a treatment program created by and for straight white men.
“When I was newly sober I used to go to a lesbian AA meeting in Manhattan where the women had changed every he in the Big Book and the 12 & 12 to she. It was a small gesture, but it meant the world to me,” Karen said. “I firmly believe that you can find your people in 12 step programs.”
Similar to coming out, getting sober can sometimes feel like a very isolating event, specifically because the social life you are used to is changing.
“Sometimes I don’t get invited to certain events because, from what I gather, people either try to ‘protect’ me from the drugs/alcohol or are protecting themselves from my sobriety in that environment,” Amber said.
Karen believes that in some instances, people are hesitant around her because they are questioning their sobriety themselves.“In some cases, I can tell that if someone is really judgmental or curious or snarky about my sobriety, it might be because they’re wondering if their drinking or using is a problem, too,” she said.
As a community, it is our job to assure that not only our friends and family are safely using alcohol, but that we are respectfully accepting those that have overcome their addictions with open arms.
“There is no shame in asking for help when you feel out of control. The shame falls on our society that views alcoholism as an individual problem and not a societal one,” Shaley said.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, know that you are not alone.
“Your life will still be there for you once you’ve built a sober foundation, and in fact, it’ll be an even better life that you could’ve imagined,” Karen said. “For me, being sober means being my best self.”
Visit AA.org’s site for their guide on Lesbian/Gay Alcoholism.
*some names have been changed