by Rose Arellano
When I hear the common saying, I fall in love, I envision a persyn falling off the edge of a cliff. Love is pain. I internalized this young. It’s love that pushes me off stable ground, it’s love that hurts, it’s love that is an addiction. I’m addicted to escapism. I’m addicted to wanting to get out of my brown, queer, thin, small, abled, feminine body. I’m addicted to using this body as social and economic currency. I’m addicted to my ego’s game of using this body to gain over others, to fucking savagely survive any way I can. I’m addicted to substance that takes me away from this weight of my flesh, which feels heavy as 500 years of genocide. I feel gun residue in my bones, rust in my DNA. This addiction is generational, and both sides of my family have passed this gene along. Addiction is written in my blood and, for so long, I felt weak to it. It was my fate, I thought.
I was kicked out of the closet young. At home, my queerness was always a cause of conflict, a reason for violence. My mother claimed that it was because she loved me, so I learned to do whatever I could to survive her love. Back then, she owned me; in her contempt of my queerness, she searched for, and found, ways to destroy my spirit. I was a threat to the household—challenging the gender binary, the heteropatriarchy of our Roman Catholic home, the colonized traditions of our immigrant, Mexican history—and I was exploding in my own self-destruction. She banged on my door constantly. There was no neutral territory, no safe place, no opportunity to not look over my shoulder or worry about what would come next. I was only 14 when I started to find ways to escape. Sex with girls while I was under the influence. Fingers inside me. Mouths exploring. No consent. I had no boundaries. The only borders lay invisible on my skin – blurry between sane and insane, love and hate. I was lost in the corners, watching my body get used up.
I hated myself and found all the slow and violent ways to continue my mother’s plight and destroy my body and spirit. As soon as I left for college, I spun aimlessly. Newly liberated from my parents house and now able to express my queerness, I began experimenting with appearance, womyn, harder drugs, living in party houses, and inevitably diving deeper into the internalized hate I had for myself. I fell head over heels (or off a cliff) in love with other addicts of color which gave me more access to the substances I was addicted to. I fell and skinned my palms. I fell and I skinned my heart over and over until all I had left was a bedroom filled with empty bottles. Addiction. My lovers became my enablers. I became their caretaker. My lovers became my abusers and I bounced from one cycle of domestic violence and into another. I made my way into the destructive social circles where domestic and substance abuse were normal. This was a hell with which I was familiar.
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My lovers were my reflections and, eventually, I started to see myself. I could no longer deny what my life was forcing me to acknowledge: I had to stop using substances to escape my body. I also knew that I couldn’t stop cold turkey and that I had to start small. Like a snake, I began to shed old skin. I let go of hard drug substances and cigarettes, but I didn’t stop drinking and I continued dating alcoholics. Shifts in my social circles would come in waves as I got back into school and dove into my ethnic studies major again. With the encouragement to unlearn social constructions, I was really beginning to live out and practice my political beliefs. However, my partner, at the time, chose to continue drinking heavily which only strained our relationship. We were two, queer, brown addicts, no longer synced into the same cycle of abuse. It was only after our breakup that I really considered sobriety. I knew that I had value as a brown, queer Xican@, and I knew that self-love had to be my first priority.
I began to see my healing as a political resistance to this white supremacist, heteropatriarchal system. As destructive substance use is a coping strategy to escape from systemic oppression’s incessantly violent intrusion into every part of our life, Sobriety is a deliberate act against it’s attempt to colonize our bodies and imperialize our spirits. Queer people of color have exponentially higher risk for substance abuse due to our marginalized positioning. As I began my journey into self-love, I started recognizing the patterns of substance abuse in my peers and set harder boundaries around alcohol consumption in my space. I was absent during numerous community events. I lost many queer friends in that shift. I had no access to healing in those spaces. During that year of abstinence and sobriety, I changed my diet to consist of more sustainable, whole foods that felt better in my body and I began a daily yoga practice. Soon, everything started to change. My friends were the first to shift, then my place of residence, and finally my job. As my relationship to self changed, I chose different kinds of people with whom to develop relationships.
When I first experimented with the idea of sobriety from alcohol, I didn’t tell anyone. I was afraid of being held accountable for my addictions. I was afraid of being excluded from the invites for queer events. I was afraid to be visible in my community as someone “sober” because I had “an addiction” problem. During the summer of 2013, I relapsed. One night, on a whim, I decided to go out to a queer event and I drank dark rum until I didn’t feel my body anymore. I went home with someone who I knew had a regular practice of drinking and doing hard drugs. The days that followed were heavy days. My body didn’t feel like my own, I felt chained down by unspoken sexual agreements, and the hangover seemed to drag into my work schedule. Every queer event that I was invited to served alcohol and promoted intoxication. I knew this pattern and I knew I had to interrupt it again, so I began another period of sobriety and set harder sexual boundaries.
March 17th makes seven months of sobriety. Some days are harder than others. Some days I crave a cigarette more than any other drug. Some days, I eat one all-organic meal and that’s the best that I can do. I established a community of accountability with other people of color who have chosen sobriety and now I feel safe, once again, going to community events. I choose to challenge this system of oppression by reclaiming my queer brown body as a sober persyn. We are cycled through a culture that tells us that love is pain, that tells us that we have no choice in love but to fall, but to escape, but to give up agency over our bodies and behaviors to a chemical. That lie will keep us sleeping and spiraling back into the nightmare that is addiction. There was a time before colonization when my ancestors knew real love. They have guided me to where I am now. My body is a sacred vessel to worship and honor and that is real love. This love will carry me like a bird is carried by wind across continents. I am an ancestor and with this change I cleanse myself of the contaminants of colonial weaponry, heal old traumas, and bring new light into my rusty DNA. This love will take me higher, above my mother’s abuse, above self-hatred, above domestic violence, above addiction, above the act of falling. Now, I know my fate is to RISE in love.
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Rose Arellano is a BayArea raised queer Xican@ femme warrior womynist. She uses various mediums of art from pole dancing to poetry as a form as political resistance. You can find her on instagram, mynameislibre