Recovery Issues for Lesbians and Gay Men

People who have been using alcohol and drugs for many years may have anxiety and confusion about who they are and how to make sense of the experiences and feelings they encountered during their active addictions. Counselors need to help people in recovery begin to address the task of struggling with the question, “Who am I, now that I’m clean and sober?” People in recovery need help sorting out various aspects of themselves, such as, “What does it mean to be a man? A woman? Gay? Lesbian? Straight?”

If we look at gender identity and sexual identity on a continuum with male and female being the endpoints of gender and gay and straight being the endpoints of sexual identity, we can see that society forces people to one or the other of the endpoints—even though this may not actually characterize their feelings or experiences. An important part of treatment may be helping people tolerate ambiguity and diversity. Counselors may be the first people to tell substance abusers that whoever they are is okay, that they do not have to declare themselves gay or straight or bisexual, and that an important part of recovery may be to spend time exploring who they are. Clients may need to explore the meanings of their various feelings and experiences. At the same time, other individuals may arrive in treatment stating they are “okay about being gay” but in reality are still struggling with self-acceptance. Counselors can help these individuals to identify the pain masked by their addiction and to accept who they are and the identity they may wish to embrace. In addition, some “out” clients may find that their gay or lesbian friends may not understand or may resent their recovery efforts. Counselors can alert clients to this issue and can assist them in making choices about how and with whom they share their recovery.