by Princess Harmony Rodriguez
“Hi, my name is Princess and I’m an addict-alcoholic.”
Looking back at almost a year of being clean and sober, it’s a necessity to reflect on the victories and struggles of this past year. Recovery was not easy in the beginning, it’s a process that started out difficult because it required me to shed my old way of life and find a new, better way to live. Faith in recovery was necessary if I was to shed the destructive power of addiction.
I spent more of my life addicted to something than not. I was 9 years old when addiction entered my life. I was sexually abused by men, groomed for sex and for what amounted to prostitution. Sex was my first addiction, but I started to drink at 13, take painkillers at 16, and use heroin and other drugs at 20. I put faith into my ability to hustle, use, and live comfortably. After all, I’d been taught to trade sex for money and gifts since I was a child. As my addiction grew worse, I was no longer able to maintain my lifestyle and remain functional. I lost faith in myself, but still believed that the drugs and alcohol would make me happy. By the decline of my addiction, I was a college student at my dream school and believed moderation would allow me to use and function normally. However, I had been raped while drunk, and my mental state deteriorated because of it. I eventually saw an opportunity to get clean. On November 2nd, 2013, I finally surrendered because I could not keep fighting a deadly disease on my own. That is my clean date, and I’ve never looked back.
That was not my first attempt at recovery, though. Only a few weeks earlier, I was reminded how being a trans woman of color worked in institutional settings when I was sent to a behavioral facility because of Rape Trauma Syndrome-related suicidal ideation. Unit staff segregated me into parts of the dual diagnosis unit that were meant for violent patients because they couldn’t place me anywhere else. Despite that all of my gender markers were set to “female”, I was placed across from a male patient who was violent and difficult to stabilize. Asking questions about my placement was like pulling teeth. Nobody was willing to answer them until an advocate helped me.
BGD is a reader-funded non-profit.
GIVE BACK and help amplify marginalized voices.
I wasn’t a willing patient in these facilities, often being forcibly committed to them because of my PTSD or bipolar disorder. I’ll never forget the first 12 step meeting I experienced: it was in a behavioral facility in Philadelphia. At the end of every meeting, someone would pull me aside and tell me how I was rebelling against God for transitioning and “living the lifestyle [I was] living”. That experience scared me away from seeking further help until I had no other option. I had attempted to go to outpatient facilities after my release, but couldn’t afford them. I refused methadone and Suboxone, legal or otherwise. I had to detox and go through the pain of withdrawal without medical intervention.
In November, when I finally went to a 12 step fellowship, I had no idea what I was going to experience. I was afraid of talk of a hateful God, sin, and repentance, turning away not just from my life of addiction but being made to turn away from my queerness, my transness. I was terrified. I didn’t want to have to apologize for it, hide it, or live as if I were still in the closet. I had thought I shed that personal Hell earlier in my life. In the early weeks and months in the rooms (meeting spaces) of a 12 step fellowship, I experienced instances of transmisogyny by people who couldn’t handle a trans woman’s presence. There’s a saying in recovery, “men go with the men, women go with the women,” and when some see transgender people in the rooms, they either reject their identity or are confused by them, often making a grand spectacle of it. In my earlier days when I was trying to meet recovering women to see if they could sponsor me or just be there to speak to, I was often subjected to men humiliating me by asking what my birth sex was, defacing phone number lists, or misgendering me. Sometimes men would hit on me, to “try out” what I would be like as a sexual partner. Still, I remained committed to getting, staying, and living clean; making meetings, taking Steps, and being of use to my communities.
While I was disrespected by some, the truth is I was loved, embraced, and respected as an equal by many others. Those negative people eventually left me alone. I am grateful to all those in 12 step programs who have been kind and loving to me, and those who haven’t. Through our interactions, those who were rude taught me how to be stronger in the face of intolerance. They all taught me how to live again. Although I am critiquing the culture in some spaces of recovery life, it’s done out of love and a desire for all who seek recovery to get it without having to experience intolerance.
There is a phrase that’s often used as a bludgeoning stick against minorities in 12 step programs: “terminal uniqueness”. While it has legitimate uses, it’s also used to silence. A legitimate usage of “terminal uniqueness” refers to the idea that some newcomers have: that their addiction and/or alcoholism is so different from other people’s that they couldn’t recover the same way. When it’s used as a silencing technique, it’s used to shut down people who talk about negative experiences. If I say I get harassed, there are people who say I’m suffering from terminal uniqueness for mentioning my experience. Whether it’s knowingly or unknowingly, that invalidates experiences and allows bigotry to thrive. While addicts and alcoholics aren’t exactly known for our social awareness, I believe we can and should aim higher.
In my life outside the rooms of 12 step fellowships, I am an activist. I dedicated my life to feminist, anti-violence, and pro-equality action. I want to smash silences surrounding trans women, prostitution, sexual violence, and addiction. Out of my love for that mission and for healthy recovery, I want to smash the silence surrounding my experiences so that others can speak theirs. Better activists than I have said, “SILENCE=DEATH,” and silence has killed too many for too long.
Princess is an unapologetic trans afro-latina survivor, creator, and anti-violence activist. Her latest projects include a Title IX teach-in, a book by and for trans women in recovery, and a zine about heroin addiction. There’s no hope on dope and our disease dies in the light of exposure.
Do not republish anything from this site without expressed written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.