As part of our Opioid Awareness project, in partnership with Fruit Loop and the Edmonton 2 Spirit Society, the EMHC is speaking with community members about their substance use experiences. We recognize that everyone’s substance use experience looks different. Some people use substances in a way they feel comfortable with, which doesn’t negatively impact their health. For others, their experiences of substance use are more challenging. This short interview provides a glimpse into one person’s experience: Lyn.
[Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity]
Can you tell me a little about your substance use experience and how it’s related to your identity as a trans woman?
I was married before my problems with drinking really came to light. While I was married, I wasn’t out as trans yet. I was expressing myself – my identity – in private. Some called it cross-dressing. But to me it was deeper than that.
In my marriage, this part of my identity was hidden. I’m very close with my ex-wife now and she accepts me for who I am. But in the marriage, that’s not what she signed up for. I knew this going in to the marriage. But I thought I could suppress it. Like, “I know this isn’t really who I am. But I’m meant to get married. I’m meant to have kids.”
Living together, I couldn’t sneak off to express myself in private as much. So, that’s when the drinking really started to cause problems. I was supressing myself and using alcohol as a coping mechanism for not being able to be the true me. I had to drink a 60 (1.75L) every day to stay alive. Or at least, in my mind, that’s what I thought I had to do.
Can you tell me about some of the challenges you’ve experienced on your substance use journey and what led you to decide it was time for change? Did you hit “rock bottom” as some people might call it?
My alcohol and substance use has taken me to a lot of dark places. I’ve definitely lost a lot by going into high debt. I’m still coming to terms with that on a daily basis. It’s a struggle but I’m learning to accept that it’s something that I did. And all I can do now is move forward and try to fix it. As for my “rock bottom,” I wouldn’t say it was any one situation or event. It was more like a lot of things coming together at once; a bunch of horrible situations that were building up to a point where I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore.
When I came out as transgender, I knew I was an alcoholic. But I couldn’t admit it. It was nearly two years from the moment I came out as trans to the moment I became sober. It really started to hit home for me when I wanted to start hormones.
I went to go see an endocrinologist. And, you see, you can’t really hide anything in your blood from them. I’m not proud of it but I cheated on my blood tests so that I could get on hormones. I was lying to everyone in my life, including my gender psychologists, my team of doctors, and myself. I would say, “I don’t drink. Maybe just socially with friends.” But that wasn’t the case. I was drinking a 60 every day.
After I started my hormones, I started to have problems which were affecting me physically. I knew it was my drinking that was causing this. It was then that I realized that I needed to give up drinking alcohol. I tried to get sober on my own, unsuccessfully. So, I asked to be part of a private counselling group. It was after starting that group that I finally got sober.
Can you tell us a little about what that journey to being sober looked like for you?
After starting the group and speaking with a counsellor, I started making changes to my alcohol use. I didn’t quit “cold turkey.” After they realized how much I was drinking and using, they realized that I couldn’t just pull a 180 and stop drinking altogether. I had tried that before and it didn’t work. It just made me sick. So, they started me on a harm reduction program, aimed at helping me gradually reduce my alcohol use.
I went from drinking a 60 per day to drinking a 40 (1.18L). It was still a lot of alcohol but I was bringing it down slowly. I did 40 for about a week. Then it was payday, so I partied at home alone, because that’s what I would do. That brought me back to the beginning.
But I got back into it and started again with a 40 a day. Then I gradually made it down to a 26 (750ml) a day. It was then that I was like, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” By taking this harm reduction path, it helped me clear my mind long enough that I was able to realize that, for me, I needed to put myself into detox. From the day I went to Detox, July 5th, 2018, I haven’t had a single drink.
What’s life like for you now?
My life now is awesome. I feel like I have a purpose. I like to give back and help other people who need support related to their alcohol or substance use. I’m a sponsor. I run a support group. I volunteer with LGBTQ2S+ youth. I didn’t have any support from anyone like me growing up. If I had, maybe my life would have been different. If I, by being out as a trans woman and open about my own alcohol and substance use journey can help just one person, then it’s all worth it.
What would you like share with others reading this who might be considering similar changes in their own lives?
Be true to yourself. Love yourself. I still suffer from dysphoria and depression. Even though I’m doing better, it doesn’t necessarily go away. But I look for the positives in my life. I encourage everyone else to do that too and to practice self-love. If you don’t love yourself you can end up heading down a pretty dangerous path. And while others can help, no one else can do for you, what you can do for yourself. I believe in you. You can do it.
If you need to speak to someone about your substance use – whether you want to stop using substances, use substances more safely, or change how substances impact your sex life, contact the Peer N Peer team at firstname.lastname@example.org 587-599-7290. We offer one-on-one counselling, screening and referrals services, and access to harm reduction supplies. All of our services are free-of-charge.
The Opioid Awareness project is made possible by Alberta Health. The Peer n Peer project is made possible by the Public Health Agency of Canada.