For the LGBTQ community, religion can be a hot button discussion.  In our New Hope with Pride Program, clients often mention that religion is the area where homosexuality is first discussed in their lives, often in negative terms.  Some of our LGBT addiction clients have experienced trauma from their experience with religion. Many LGBT clients have learned deep shame about who they are, based on their sexuality, from their religion.  Because addiction is a disease of shame, LGBT addicts often experience a double layer of shame: shame about their addiction, and shame about their sexuality. Recovering from shame is an important part of New Hope Recovery Center’s treatment program. LGBT clients often grapple with their religious upbringing as they find their own spirituality when working a 12-step program.  The first step is often learning that spirituality and religion are not the same.

Spirituality Beyond Religion

Religion is an influence that has an effect on many of us at multiple points in our lives, so it is a disservice to not talk about it openly.  Whereas formal religion emphasizes a rigid ethical code, values system, and rituals; spirituality is believing in something greater than yourself.  Spiritual self-discovery provides us with the opportunity to discern our own purpose and meaning for our lives.  Many who have experienced trauma from religion express that they did not have the opportunity to form their own value and belief system, but instead were told what to believe based on the doctrine of their religion.  Negative messages about homosexuality are frequently expressed directly from the church and, more likely than not, by family members and peers in the religious community.  Young LGBTQ individuals internalize these negative messages.

Spirituality in recovery is an opportunity to surrender to addiction and explore what gives us a deeper sense of meaning in life.  Religion may or may not be a part of someone’s story but the impact it has, both positive and negative, can be profound.  Having a better understanding of that impact is one area we explore with our clients.

Although any LGBTQ person can be affected during their childhood by religion, we have seen that clients who were raised Catholic, Baptist or Mormon are often the most affected.  Further, clients that attended religious schools were usually surrounded by religion for the majority of their waking hours.  Childhood is a very impressionable time and hearing that non-heterosexuals are sinful, bad or even evil has a deep impact.   Many clients learned to be ashamed of their sexual orientation based on the teachings of their families’ religion. Many clients become depressed and yearn to be straight.  This yearning is called internalized homophobia: not wanting to be gay or lesbian.

My Story: 

Losing My Religion

I was raised Catholic and although I was not overtly treated negatively, I did not feel I belonged.  The covert messages I received reaffirmed this feeling of not belonging, and that who I am was wrong.  It contributed to me staying in the closet for over a decade before I decided to fully accept my sexuality.  As I accepted my sexuality more and more, I was keen on religion less and less.  My process of self-acceptance meant shedding my religion and the negative messages I internalized.

Religion has been a long-standing vehicle to promote heterosexism throughout the world.  I personally did not find it be a place where I can be myself openly.  I also was not interested in living the dual life I lived before I came out.  Therefore, to live a fully integrated life, I decided to reject my religion. In order for me to accept my sexuality fully, I took the internalized shame and guilt I had about myself and externalized it to the Catholic Church.  Doing so resulted in my rejection of the religion but it freed me from the notion that I was innately bad or disordered.

Finding My Religion

My religious journey is ongoing and I am not closed off to the idea of integrating my sexuality and religion.  Thankfully there are more and more LGBTQ-affirming churches.  There have even been strides in my own Catholic religion which is uplifting to see.  In the New Hope with Pride Program I have seen people with affirming religious upbringings and with extremely traumatic religious upbringings.  But there is always room for healing and subsequent growth.

New Hope Recovery Center is Chicago’s premier addiction rehab facility and we’re here to have the hard conversations.  Our New Hope with Pride Program caters to the unique issues LGBTQ clients face with addiction.  If you or a loved one is seeking help for alcoholism or a drug addiction, please visit our website at www.new-hope-recovery.com or call us at 888-707-4673.

To find an LGBTQ-affirming church in your area please visit http://www.gaychurch.org/find_a_church/

Written By: New Hope Recovery Center