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Straight Talk: Finding acceptance through sobriety

Published: Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017 5:30 a.m. CDT

“Stephan” grew up in a family with seven siblings. His mom and dad were hard working, religious people. Stephan knew he was gay by the time he reached middle school. He never acted on his impulses and even dated girls through high school. He was a popular and academically talented kid, but his secret was torture for him, especially because of his parents’ deeply held religious beliefs and his brothers’ “uber-male” personas.

His older brothers were no strangers to heavy drinking, and so Stephan found his way to alcohol by sophomore year. Although not a big partier, he often drank alone in his room while telling his parents he was doing homework. He hid his drinking as well as he hid his sexual preference. He felt isolated, alone and different. He threw himself into academics and was awarded a scholarship to a prestigious school.

He continued drinking secretly and hiding his sexuality but added stimulant drugs “to help him study” and soon became dependent on them, starting a cycle of stimulants to stay awake and study, and alcohol to relax and sleep. He graduated at the top of his class and was offered a high-paying job in California. He stepped into a fast-paced, cocaine-fueled world that he was both unprepared for and excited by. For the first time, far from his family’s judgement, he stepped into the gay community, and a hard-partying lifestyle. He had a long way to go to feel comfortable with his sexual preference. He had no one to judge him but himself, and he discovered his internal judgement was worse than anything external. He drank to relieve the pain and hated himself all the more for doing it.

At the end of his rope, he reached out to a recovery program through the gay community aimed mostly at accepting his sexuality and found that, to do that, it was suggested he get sober. “Not as easy as it sounds,” he thought.

All his friends were amphetamine or cocaine users, and most were heavy drinkers as well. Any attempt to stay clean and sober, he thought, would result in social isolation, the very thing he had suffered all his life. Stephan found he couldn’t live with the drugs and alcohol, but felt he couldn’t live without them.

In desperation, he found a 12-step recovery meeting in his community and discovered a whole group of sober gay men. With this and a therapist who understood the nature of addiction, along with the precarious process of coming out, Stephan stayed clean and sober.

He was able to find some peace after telling his parents and siblings he was gay and recovering. Although there was some judgement, he felt relief from the honesty. He has continued to live a sober life and has been able to help other addicted gay men to work through the transition to their own sense of freedom.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He hosts the weekly radio show Straight Stuff on Addictions at He can reached by email at

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