My name is Tee Gee, and I am a person in long-term recovery. When I found drugs I fell in love with them, and no one could stop me from obtaining them. I quickly spiraled into an unstoppable active addiction. I was a straight “A” art student who played soccer and ran track. After my addiction began I became a living, breathing, corpse with no goals—besides more drugs. Death seemed like a reward to me on most days. Countless rehabs, jails, and institutions would lead me to my darkest moments over and over again. My family was quickly losing their grips on me and I had no hope. People hated me for what I was doing, and I hated myself for not being able to stop. I attended various recovery meetings while high just to let my mind rest for an hour. I wanted what other recovering addicts had, but I couldn’t figure out how to get it.
Before I was aware of my addiction, I pictured junkies with needles in their arms and alcoholics with brown bags, living on the street. I used any excuse to separate myself from my perception of the “addict.” I eventually became the depiction I had separated myself from. Addiction has many shades. Rock bottom is something that is often talked about and a common misconception is the gravity of what that actually means for each individual. My rock bottom was simple. It wasn’t the rape, the traumas, the physical health issues I accumulated, losing friends, family, and a home to ever come back to. It was the day that my heart felt like it didn’t want to beat anymore, because I was no longer willing to exist. It was the day that I stopped using.
My clean date is August 13, 2008. I quickly dove into recovery, which had already been introduced to me during my first rehab. I used to use being young as an excuse to not get clean. I quickly realized that growing up was no longer an option. I used to blame everyone else for my addiction. It was time I let go of resentment and become accountable for my actions. Life seemed to become bearable as smiling became normal. I didn’t use one day at a time and attended a recovery program, which saved my life.
The stigma of addiction is as real as it has ever been. As a result of being clean for several years, I have attended many funerals that I would refer to as an “inhuman addict funeral” (a funeral for a person with a problem who has lost the battle to addiction). Funerals are where lives are celebrated. Yet, upon attendance at the “inhuman addict funeral” the first question people ask about the fallen is, “Was it drugs?” With little or no empathy, the deceased person becomes dehumanized because of their addiction. That moment of disapproval is one I have often felt when telling people I am an addict. Even after several years of being clean, often I am given the look of criticism when discovering I am an addict. To be more specific, new jobs and first dates can still cause me anxiety because of the stigma.
People, who have experienced great challenges, have the kindest souls. I remember meeting up with an old friend in rehab who I hadn’t seen since we stopped using together years before. I was broken, and wearing a dirty t-shirt. She immediately went to her room and got me two changes of clothes after seeing I had not brought any luggage with me. People literally will give you the shirt off your back. Recovery is the most beautiful and real thing that happens, and I am not willing to hide any parts of who I am. It is everyone’s right to be anonymous and I understand the stigma that must be broken, but I am fortunate enough to exist in circumstances that allow me to be out. Everyone deserves a chance to be who they are.
I am hoping that speaking out about all elements of who I am within my recovery will help others to do the same. I want to kill the negative pictures that people have of us.
The best rewards I have gotten from recovery are losing the desire to get high, building meaningful relationships, and finally being active in the LGBTQ community. I get to say, “Hey, life is great without drugs and I am going to show you.” I get to say this is the face of addiction. I get to be the person I always intended to be and that is the best stigma fighter I have. I have been awarded the opportunity of doing things I have never even imagined doing, from poetry readings to being a drag king. I am usually dancing or smiling, sometimes both! The best compliment I receive is when people tell me they can’t imagine me like “that.” It always propels me back into time. I sometimes forget how far I have come. Recovery saved my life. It gave me my soul back. I get to paint, write poetry, help people, hold jobs, have relationships, have friendships, and live my life. Every day is a miracle and I try not to forget it. I get to kill the stigma just by existing.
On a regular basis I just try to be me. My recovery has allowed me to learn more about myself; I am genderqueer leaning Trans*masculine. By genderqueer I mean, I identify somewhere in the middle of both genders and currently have a more masculine presentation. Recently, I was afforded the opportunity to meet other people who identify across the gender spectrum and we are working to expand recovery language to include other people who identify under the Trans* umbrella. Additionally, we have started the first support group in Philadelphia for people who identify under the Trans* umbrella and are seeking support in various recovery communities. I am hoping that by sharing this here, others can start feeling more comfortable sharing it within recovery meetings. I came out when I was high at seventeen years old. I will no longer be scared to be who I am, this is me.
Addiction can happen to anyone. It is so easy for me to beat myself up and even easier when the rest of the world is doing it. Yes, I did bad things. Yes, I did drugs. Yes, I did what I needed to do to get the next high. I am not that person anymore. It is so easy to believe, “Once an addict always an addict.” I never thought I would stop, and now I can’t imagine going back. I am humble to have been fortunate enough to not die, as I spend many days thinking about those who have.
Change is a beautiful possibility for anyone, including every person with a problem. I wish there was a way to show people what I am fortunate enough to see on most days. It’s like seeing everything you wish you hadn’t seen; yet it makes precious moments as important as years. Job titles, money, material things will always mean nothing compared to hearts revived.
I will always keep growing, learning, and loving who I am becoming. Addiction means you get a second chance and a reason to start over. The fear of change kept me at bay for so long and I am hoping others will embrace the miracle of becoming themselves again. Change is possible for anyone. I thought when I started recovery my life was over, I know now, life was just beginning. Today, I am helping others embrace the miracle of becoming themselves again. All I really want is to help people like me and to give back to anyone and everyone, so we can all pay it forward. I want to tell people that it’s not over and to always keep trying, no matter what hardship you face.
Recovery is possible. You are beautiful.