This year has been filled with so many amazing memories and celebrations. My mother turned 70, my parents are celebrating 50 years of marriage (which is incredibly amazing!), my son turned 3, and my husband BJ and I celebrated our 10 year anniversary together. There was another huge milestone I celebrated this year; ten years ago I checked myself into rehab for the third and final time and gave up a bad drug habit knowing that if I didn't do it at that point, I was going to die. I chose to live.
I remember telling my parents that this was going to be the time. Third time's a charm right? I think they kind of rolled their eyes at me when I told them that--they had heard it many times before. Our trust had been broken, but for me, this time was different. I knew I was going to die if I kept going the way I was. When you are on drugs you are not really living. I rarely left my house, except to go out to get more drugs, and I had pushed away anyone who had ever loved me. I mean if you hate yourself it is pretty hard to let others love you.
I am often asked what led to my addiction? That is not an easy thing to answer, though one would think after all that group therapy I would have some clear ideas as to what my triggers were. Was it the internalized homophobia I felt growing up? Was it the fear of fitting in with my peers? Was it the severe anxiety I had about coming out to friends and family? Was it all the rejection I felt when I finally did came out? Was it the "gay-scene" itself with its rampant drug use? Or was it the fact I would never have the family and the white picket fence I had always dreamed of? It was definitely a combination of all the above. A deadly concoction for sure. I used drugs to numb all those feelings—they were too much for my sensitive soul to handle. I didn't feel loved or worthy of love and that was killing me inside. These are all things I am still working on, and probably will be for the rest of my life, but I have found other ways to deal with those feelings now.
This all seems like a lifetime ago. It's amazing just how much my life has changed in the past ten years. I could have never imagined such a life for myself. I was living hour by hour back then on social assistance just trying to make it through a day. Now look at me, married with a child, and because of a viral photo our family is now part of an iconic image that has helped change people's ideas of what it means to be same-sex parents. Can you believe it? A former addict. It's amazing how we can reinvent ourselves. Life is short and you need to live it to the fullest.
I wondered recently why I didn't make more fanfare around this milestone this year. Why didn't I have a party to celebrate (and I do love a good party!)? Why didn't I acknowledge it with my friends and family? I am a teacher and a father now which means I am a role model for my students and my son. Sometimes I feel these two things are at odds with one another. I mean, how can a former addict be a good role model? Or can I? In fact, I can understand what many of my students are going through. I empathize with mental health issues, having struggled myself over the years, and I use strategies learned through counselling and rehab to help my students succeed at tasks that might seem too hard to achieve. If I can kick drugs, I can definitely help others achieve their goals. But I rarely get to talk about my past and share my story anymore. To be honest, I am not even sure all my family members know about my past. I used to volunteer at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) here in Toronto and talk to my peers that were new in rehab about how I finally achieved success. But life happens and that has fallen by the wayside I am afraid. Having a child can do that.
Frank volunteering at CAMH
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how I can best use my past experience to educate my son and my students as to the dangers of some drugs out there. I know I do not want to sound anything like Nancy Reagan, as I don't think a "Just Say No" stance really works. I worry that if I were to share my past with my son, that this could open up a can of worms and give him the opportunity to use the old "like father like child" excuse. We have seen many celebrity offspring following in their parents troubled past. Though people like Kelly Osbourne grew up with her father doing drugs around her all the time, that is not the case for Milo. I could also get it thrown back in my face, but I guess those are the risks I have to take. I know my parents' generation would just have me sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened. But I believe information is education, and I should use my experiences, both successes and failures, to help both my son and students to navigate their futures.
I don't know how or when I will share this with my son. He is only 3 so I figure I have a few years to think about it. But I know I don't want my son to grow up with lies. The truth will always set you free. I found that out when I finally came out and I have tried to live an authentic life ever since. I would love to hear from others who have had a similar experience to mine.