CONTENT WARNING: SUBSTANCE ABUSE
For all the benefits of a twelve-step program (and there are countless), one of the more troubling aspects is the lack of diversity. My first twelve-step meeting happened to be all white, all straight, and all cis male. Thankfully, I kept coming back. After almost a year of being in and out of the rooms, I met Bri. Bri was the first queer latinx person I'd ever seen in the rooms of a twelve-step group (aside from myself). Our conversations surrounding our shared identities and experiences, and how they fueled our drinking, was a game-changer for me. Meeting Bri helped me realize that I'm not alone in this struggle, and that there are more of us out there than we know. We just have to stick around long enough to find out.
A: I'd love for you to tell us about yourself. Where do you live? How you identify?
Briana McClaskey: My name is Briana McClaskey and I happen to be an alcoholic. I am 29 years old and live on the east coast of South Carolina in a town called Beaufort. I moved to Beaufort from Southern California when I was 11 years old. In this small, slow, and beautiful southern town I am known and accepted as a lesbian. Inside, I identify as a transgender male. Fortunately, I have some very close people in my life that I have felt comfortable and confident enough to share this with.
I am four days away from my 7 months of sobriety, but, by the time anyone reads this, I hope that I will have surpassed this milestone (fingers crossed). Coming out as an alcoholic was just as, if not harder, than coming out as a queer person. I wondered: Who will judge me? Who will say we already knew? Who will be disappointed? Who will I lose?
Everyone I truly cared about responded in ways I could never have expected. They offered love and support. Addiction is one of those things you can’t really understand until you’ve experienced it yourself. It’s painful, but it’s beautiful.
A: What was it like coming out as a queer person in the deep south?
BM: For me, it was relatively easy. I lost some acquaintances, but any close friends stood by my side with loyalty, and many of them said they already “knew” (I wish my mother had responded like that). There was some teasing, mostly from men saying that I hadn’t found the right guy yet, or that they “wanted to watch.”
When I came out to my mother, I begged her not to be disappointed in me and told her how sorry I was for being gay. Even though she always said nothing would stop her from loving me, I knew she was scared for me and the difficulties I might face as a gay person.
Not all coming-out stories are like this and I know I’ve been lucky.
A: Could you talk about why you decided to get sober? What did it look like when you were drinking?
"ADDICTION IS ONE OF THOSE THINGS YOU CAN’T REALLY UNDERSTAND UNTIL YOU’VE EXPERIENCED IT YOURSELF."
BM: Let me start by saying I was in my second round of drug and alcohol classes before I decided to actually get sober (I had been failing the “sobriety” requirement for quite some time). Because of the way the drug/drinking tests worked, I knew that I could go out and indulge one night a week without getting caught, so I did just that. One week, the morning after an all-day bender, I woke up and realized I didn’t want to live my life just waiting for the next drink. I had never actually tried to quit drinking prior to this. I had tried cutting back several times in an attempt to prove I was not an alcoholic, but I’d never QUIT—that was just crazy. I knew, though, that I was destroying my life. I was close to losing everything. I wasn’t even sure who I was as a person. Alcohol had all of me; it was what my life had revolved around for such a long time.
I wanted more.
I wanted my life.
In my active addiction, all I did was drink. Every activity involved drinking. Not a drink but getting drunk. I was proud of the amount of alcohol I could drink. I was proud of what I had gotten away with.
To put it bluntly, I was a great alcoholic.
Until I realized it wasn’t great and I was a dying alcoholic. I would eventually die or kill someone else if I continued down that reckless path. I had crashed my car multiple times, gotten into numerous bar fights, gone to jail more times than I would like to admit, spent nights in the hospital, and slept with people I would have never slept with if I had been of sound mind.
I welcomed my first week of sobriety. For the first time, I didn’t want to drink. I was tired.
A: I know we have talked about this in person before, but I’d love to hear about the parallels between your experience “coming out” as a queer person and “coming out” as a someone with a drinking problem.
BM: The similarities between these two coming outs were so close, I’m surprised I hadn’t connected them sooner. Before I came out as a queer person, I had so many worries and fears. Almost all of them were identical to the ones I had when I thought about coming out as an alcoholic. What is everyone going to think of me? That’s probably the biggest one. I was 28 years old when I decided to get sober and I felt like I was too late. Who was I going to lose? Who was going to judge me? All the same old questions and insecurities came flooding back. The fear was just as real and raw. Again, though, I got relatively lucky. My community accepted me. Sure, there were some difficulties, but the people I cared for most were loving and supportive.
A: Personally, in my sobriety I’ve come to discover that there is a connection between my queer experience and my addiction. When I thought about “getting my life back together” before getting sober, I kept telling myself, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” Of course, “tomorrow” took a long time to become a reality because I was stuck in a cycle of avoidance, denial, and fear. In a lot of ways, for me, this mirrored my coming out process. Can you relate to that at all?
BM: I can definitely relate to this. I was always telling myself that I was going to get my life together tomorrow but it was just too stressful to deal with it today. Instead, I’ll have a drink. This small southern town has been wonderful at accepting me as a lesbian, but I have yet to come out fully as transgender. That’s a scary thought for me. While many people are getting used to having “gays” around, transgender acceptance is not really a part of that equation. While I certainly have been getting my life back in a lot of ways, coming out as transgender has yet to be a part of that. Once I quit drinking, I realized how much I drank to avoid things that I couldn’t change, didn’t understand, and wanted to hide. Now that I have been sober for almost 7 months, it is quite clear that I am changing, and with that I’ve begun to realize that there are some things that aren’t going away, things that I can try to understand, and things that I shouldn’t have to feel like I need to hide.
"I WAS ALWAYS TELLING MYSELF THAT I WAS GOING TO GET MY LIFE TOGETHER TOMORROW BUT IT WAS JUST TOO STRESSFUL TO DEAL WITH IT TODAY. INSTEAD, I’LL HAVE A DRINK. THIS SMALL SOUTHERN TOWN HAS BEEN WONDERFUL AT ACCEPTING ME AS A LESBIAN, BUT I HAVE YET TO COME OUT FULLY AS TRANSGENDER. THAT’S A SCARY THOUGHT FOR ME."
A: Is there anything else you would like to share?
BM: I know that being queer in any place can be difficult and growing up in a town that, compared to a lot of places, is closed-minded has definitely had its cons. I have not gotten the chance to experience and explore my own identity and my relationships with other people in a truly progressive space.
Beaufort, SC, for those who are not familiar, is a small coastal town saturated with transitioning military, tourists, and breathtaking seaside sunsets. As a local, a lot of people in my community have known me for (almost) my entire life. Although plenty of Southerners still adhere to stereotypically conservative Evangelical beliefs on gender, sexuality, and marriage, most people I know have been remarkably accepting and open minded.
Part of my recovery practice is actively seeking out ways to help others. Now that the fog of addiction is lifting, I feel myself engaging my community in an even more productive way. It’s a privilege to get to play a part in opening the minds of others. I am 29 years old and I am starting to figure out who I am. I have been blessed with open eyes, an open heart, and an open mind. I intend to continue to use these gifts to make a difference here.
A: If you could go back and say something to yourself when you were really struggling, what would you say?
BM: I honestly imagine this as a dream or a vision of me standing over myself, looking down at who I was and saying, with a hand held out, “Get up.”
Briana McClaskey. Aspiring Human and Writer. Fan of Adventure and Discovery. Lover. Car Singer. Gentle and Fierce. Music Enthusiast. Outdoor Player. Alcoholic. Queer. No longer in a closet.