Our nation and the world-at-large continues to be afflicted by the devastating epidemic of the disease of addiction. Those affected are friends, family and loved ones from all walks of life. As is the case with most diseases, it is known that addiction does not discriminate. There are no types of individuals or communities of people that are invulnerable.
The reach of this condition is widespread. It is likely that most everyone knows somebody who has been through addiction treatment, but for those who have not experienced its nuances first-hand, the particulars are unclear. What is the addiction treatment experience like? For those who are LGBT, this question might also be met with an element of curiousity about comfortability and acceptance that is not a guarantee for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
Those who work in the field and those who have been in treatment often come to realize that addiction treatment is not an exact science. There are numerous philosophies and approaches. One aspect that can be agreed upon is that addiction and mental health tend to go hand-in-hand.
Self-Acceptance and Society Acceptance
What exactly is mental health? Understanding the scope of one’s mental health and the incredible numbers of people who live with a mental illness or mental stress can be as murky of waters as an outsider understanding of the world of addiction treatment. For our purposes, it will be sufficient to define mental health as a person’s ability to be content and at peace in their life. The opposite: discontentment and inner turmoil and conflict can lead to the powerful urge to hide and escape.
In our society, we have greater access to alcohol and other substances than therapy, trauma healing, resources such as balanced nutrition and exercise or even peer counseling other than hanging out with friends. Generally speaking, when we are not feeling great mentally or physically we will often resort to alcohol and substances as a coping mechanism. This is one way to clearly define why so many people turn to drugs and alcohol instead of self-help or community-supported opportunities to get well and feel good.
The LGBTQ+ community has a 20-30 percent higher risk of addiction and increased the potential of family rejection, school bullying, lack of positive role models and increased risk of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Again, drugs and alcohol often seem like the way to make our problems seem less heavy and make light of our difficulties. When you look at the root causes of a person’s addiction you can often better understand how their use turned into dependency.
How do we revitalize fit mental health in order to give people the tools and coping skills to walk through life drug and alcohol-free? Where do we find the answer to that age-old question: how do we find happiness? A simple answer is that cultivating self-love and an inclusive encouraging community are good places to start.
An unfortunate truth is that our society has long been in the habit of excluding people, making outcasts of those who are different and pushing them to the fringes and the outskirts. This characteristic of our society inevitably finds its way into addiction rehab.
At Inspire Recovery, our experience was that the LGBT community has frequently had negative experiences in addiction treatment and statistically their stays in treatment have so often been unsuccessful in solving their substance-use disorders. Those who are LGBTQIA+ (an evolving acronym that written this way includes queer, questioning, intersex, asexual and plus other sexual orientations and gender identities) can face the same lack of understanding and the same lack of acceptance that they have always been confronted with in the outside world. This obviously does not lend towards encouraging self-love and cultivating a sense of being a part of a community, those things we have established are integral to fostering happiness and strong mental health.
The Inspire Recovery Affirming Approach
Inspire Recovery is an exceptional and special place for LGBTQIA+ individuals who are struggling with addiction to receive the kind of care and attention they need for several key reasons, one of which is the concept of LGBTQIA-affirming care.
Counselors and therapists at Inspire Recovery are proud to celebrate the sexual orientation and gender identity of the clientele and recognize that these are important aspects of personhood. Our staff creates the space needed for people to openly discuss and display their true selves—which are often characteristics many people in our hetero-centric society deem to be “too gay” or “weird” or “freakish.” Not at Inspire, we know there are many colors in the rainbow!
It is essential for people recovering from addiction to reach self-acceptance and to begin to take pride in who they truly are. This is why actively affirming a person’s gender identity and what a person knows their sexual orientation to be is crucial. These aren’t topics to be swept aside or go undiscussed. These are rich components of what makes someone a unique and special person. Exploring these subjects freely in group therapy and individual therapy is what it means to create a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in recovery from addiction.
Inspire Recovery as an institution and an inclusive community is always evolving. The dedicated staff is ceaselessly working with motivation towards ending homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. Here’s what this looks like in action:
- Providing in-house training to all staff. We love training our staff and yours! Find out more about our extensive educational packages by contacting: Directors@InspireRecovery.com
- Update your admissions process, intake forms and housing policies so they are transgender-inclusive. There are a number of key procedures that centers need to incorporate if providing care for trans individuals. Contact us to find out more.
- Rigorously confronting anti-LGBTQIA+ behavior and comments when we hear it or see it. This includes at our center. Just because someone is LGBT doesn’t mean they are sensitive to everyone in the rainbow club. We are cultivating community through accountability and transparency. Honesty is our policy.
- If your treatment center is dedicated to creating a safe space for LGBTQ+ clients, be sure the BHTs know how to approach a client who is using derogatory language. Often it is the other clients at a center that make an LGBTQ+ individual want to leave. Be consistent. It’s not just therapists who need to be culturally aware and sensitive.
- Affirming and using a person’s gender pronouns. At your center, if you have a transgender or non-binary client – introduce yourself and ask them “What pronouns do you use?” If you are trans* or non-binary and needing addiction recovery support – we suggest being upfront with the staff about your gender identity and let them know what name you use and what pronouns you use. This can help people become more familiar with supporting trans* folks in addiction treatment!
- Addiction professionals – seek education about the LGBTQIA+ community outside of asking clients personal questions about their gender identity or sexuality. If you don’t receive formal training you can educate yourself by getting SAMHSA guides (there are currently three publications they have available about providing care for LGBT individuals in recovery) as well as checking out YouTube, TED Talks, researching articles online – the ocean of information is big and there are many books to support you as well. Email us if you need support.
- And of course, you can ask questions in a sensitive manner to better understand our clients and who they are, and more. The key is to be cautious and ask IF you can ask them something that is probably quite personal. If it’s super personal you probably don’t need to ask it. When was the last time someone asked you about how you have sex? Keep clear of those questions.
- You can put up a few signs around the center that colorfully states “Safe Space for All” or “Discrimination will not be tolerated.” This is a subtle way to remind people that bullying of any kind is not allowed.
At Inspire Recovery, our mission is to provide a safe space for the LGBTQ community to recover from addiction and find lasting happiness in their lives. We humble ourselves every day in knowing that some of our greatest teachers are our clients. As the staff of Inspire Recovery, we invite more centers to step up on the inclusively and unequivocally acceptance of LGBTQ folks—especially those who are transgender. Today, trans individuals are facing an enormous amount of discrimination while continuing to break new ground and forging new frontiers every year—teaching us how to live authentically and what gender is diversity is all about.
Together, we can create a solution to the addiction epidemic and we can eliminate the discrimination and exclusion that has pushed so many in the LGBTQIA+ community into its grips over the years. Contact us today to find out how we can support your center in gaining LGBT-affirming knowledge that can save the lives of many!