Growing up on a farm in rural Western Pennsylvania had its advantages. I loved being able to experience nature every day while roaming in the woods, playing in the creek that ran through the farm, and taking care of all the animals. It taught me many valuable lessons that still influence my life today. I am grateful for those experiences and hold them close to my heart. There is also another side of growing up in that area that influenced my life for a very long time: my inability to be myself.
I grew up knowing I was different. I’m not sure when I knew exactly, but it goes back to elementary school at least. I never felt like I fit in with the kids around me; my friend group was always changing because I wasn’t sure who or what I wanted to be. I was great at being a chameleon so that I could feel “a part of” and not feel like I was an outsider, but I believed that I had to be someone else for people to like me and accept me. I was never able to be myself. I was bullied, harassed, beat up, and continually called names throughout school, so I chose to hide behind a made-up persona because I thought my life would be easier that way.
I chose to suppress a person who was loving, caring, funny, empathetic, and trustworthy—all because I believed that I would be liked more if I was someone else. I thought I would have more friends and have a better life... This fake life that I chose to live was hard work, pretending to be someone else every day.
What I needed to tell the world is that:
Finally saying those words out loud was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I said those words while another person was in the room. It was frightening for me; I’d spent my entire life believing that I needed to be straight to live a good life, and I knew many members of my family wouldn’t accept me if I was gay. So I hid it for as long as I could.
But I was sick of hiding; I would no longer live a lie. Finally, I allowed the person I chose to hide for all those decades to come to life and show his face! In that moment, I experienced a level of freedom that I’d never felt before.
Looking back, I can definitely connect the dots between my sexuality and my substance use. The substances I used helped me hide my true identity and numbed the turmoil going on in my mind. Drugs became my identity for such a long time that I didn’t have to accept who I truly was. Discovering my true identity just a few years ago (when the drugs were taken away) helped me to finally begin to be true to myself. It allowed me to work through my feelings of fear, guilt, shame, and embarrassment. I realized that this part of me could not remain hidden any longer if I wanted to continue on my journey in recovery. I wanted to start loving myself again, and that was only possible if I truly accepted who I was.
I believe that my own path of self-discovery while on my recovery journey has provided me with more empathy, acceptance, and love. I know that being gay doesn’t make me different and doesn’t mean that I am less than others; what it has provided me is a unique lens from which to see the world. There are many people who struggle with their sexuality or a variety of other things that they might not be comfortable sharing with anyone. Knowing this, and being able to fully understand it, helps me to connect with others in a way that builds trust and harbors healthy professional relationships between myself and other individuals.
Now, I choose to not hide this person anymore; I am free. I am happy. I am me.