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Queer AA Wasn’t Perfect, But Here’s What Access to Sober Community Gave Me

Sam Dylan Finch

A crowd of blurry people at a pride march in a city. In focus is a cardboard sign with the hand-painted words "Be as queer as you want."

Aug 17, 2022

I was in my early 20s when my drinking really started to scare the people around me. 

I wasn’t a frequent drinker, but when I did drink, it was a disaster. It almost always ended with me blacking out or passing out, sending garbled text messages to friends who were tasked with finding out which bar I had visited so they could safely bring me home. 

One particularly terrifying night, I was slumped over in an alley — literally having drunk myself into the gutter. As I was carried into a friend’s car, only half-conscious, I could just barely make out his words to me: “This is the last time."

Looking back, I see my drinking for what it really was: a death wish.

When my therapist suggested I go to AA, I was (of course) resistant to the idea. While it was clear to us that I struggled with binge drinking, it was less clear if I was “truly” an alcoholic.

Being transgender also made me fearful of going into community spaces without knowing if I would be welcome. Luckily for me, living in the San Francisco Bay Area meant I had access to LGBTQ-specific meetings. So with great reluctance, I showed up one night and plopped down in the very back row, hoping no one would notice me.

What I didn’t expect was how moved I would be by the end of that first meeting. Hearing queers of all ages — elders and young people alike — share stories of anguish and eventual triumph was a deeply inspiring experience. 

I heard from survivors who had lost loved ones to the AIDS crisis; I heard from young people who had run away from home after being rejected by their families. I had never been in a room with so many people who, like me, knew what it meant to struggle as queer. Their resilience was like medicine to me.

While I wasn’t sure deep down if my drinking was a permanent or temporary problem, I committed to working the steps with a sponsor and trying sobriety for a period of time. A few times a week, I’d walk into that church basement, help set up some chairs, give and receive a lot of hugs, and listen to queers share their most vulnerable secrets with their community. 

With time, I became a familiar face, “adopted” into a family of LGBTQ+ people who talked openly about mental illness, addiction, spirituality, suicide, sex, and other more “taboo” topics that we’re so often discouraged from naming in polite company. I had never been in a space where we were encouraged to show our shadow selves, and practice radical honesty in the face of our ugliest truths.

And I mean radical honesty in the literal sense. I still remember asking one evening how someone was doing. He chuckled and replied, “I’m not on meth and I didn’t steal a car. So it’s a good day.”

In a world obsessed with image — insisting on us displaying our “best selves” at all times — it felt healing to be in a space where we were instead encouraged to be honest. I watched what it meant to open up about the worst parts of yourself, and be received with unconditional love, acceptance, and care.

This was a place where I saw men openly cry, strangers hold one another’s hands in support, and people of all faiths (and no faith at all) come together as family.

I maintained my sobriety for the better part of four years. Four years in which I was able to do important healing work around my PTSD and depression. Four years in which I finally realized that the real reason I binged on alcohol was because I didn’t want to live. Four years in which I was able to find countless reasons for living again, this time with a more open and brave heart.

AA is by no means a perfect utopia. I spent a lot of time fearing what might happen if I ever touched alcohol again, absolutely certain my life would fall apart with just one drop. 

Spoiler alert? I went on to drink again, and found that alcohol had largely lost its appeal. Contrary to popular belief about how addiction works, I grew out of my binge drinking. With better tools to manage my mental health, I stepped into my power at last.

So, did AA “work?” I don’t know — I guess that depends on how you determine success. I’m not sober anymore, yet I rarely drink and drink very little when I do. 

What I can say is that queer community saved me at a time when I had very little regard for my own life. I learned how to be vulnerable, how to ask for help, how to face the darkest parts of myself, and how to show up for others in a more selfless way.

The question of whether AA really “works,” for me, is overshadowed by a truth that I think we can all agree on: We aren’t meant to go through this life alone. 

By opening up about my pain, I was able to see more clearly that I wasn’t alone in it. Few things are as powerful as knowing that even your darkest secrets are part of a common, shared humanity that connects us all. 

In sharing my story in those rooms, and hearing the stories of so many others, I quickly learned that what we are most afraid of in ourselves is something we can still hold and love in each other. I was able to accept myself more fully by watching others so readily accept me, even in my least flattering moments — yes, including in the gutter.

I don’t know if I found God or my “happy destiny” in AA, but I found something that I think is just as valuable: I found community and chosen family. Without them, I really don’t know where I would be.

Editor's note: If you're interested in Alcoholic's Anonymous, visit the AA website to find a meeting or learn more. You may also find alternatives to AA or alcohol recovery resources for the LGBTQ+ community helpful.

About The Author

Sam Dylan Finch is a writer, coach, and mental health advocate based in Seattle, WA. His work has been featured on Healthline, the New York Times, Psych Central, Teen Vogue, Huffington Post, and more. You can connect with him on Twitter and Instagram @samdylanfinch, facebook.com/samdylanfinch or learn more at his website samdylanfinch.com.

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