by Melissa H. (Munro 2014)

As a Trans woman (male to female) in recovery, I am a member of a very small community which is even smaller when we factor in sobriety. I know fewer than 10 sober Trans women and this is a sadly low number considering my community’s size, level of addiction and number of premature deaths. The upper median age for Trans women in Canada is 46. Friends die on a regular basis, each and all active in addiction.

My story of addiction and recovery begins at the ripe old age of 14, when I was “introduced” to things that would help me deal with pain (not doctor prescribed). Quickly I began to look for ways to kill the pain of life as a young naive Trans girl and by 15 much of my innocence was gone. By 17 I was in real trouble, which led me to believe that quitting school was a good idea.

Days became years and I found myself visiting Collins Bay Penitentiary just east of Kingston, Ontario, with older men talking about me as property. The idea that alcohol could be a less legally entangling tool was grasped with both hands. And again days became years and then decades, much of it a blur.

My bottom began with falling from my bicycle and breaking my right hand; I lead with my right and rarely need the left. Now defenceless and drunk, I was attacked twice in two weeks. It was upon being refused help by Woman’s College Hospital’s sexual assault clinic that I gave up on living. I called my friend Nicki to say goodbye and somehow ended up in a meeting (I believe she carried me in, if not physically, metaphorically).

My first meetings are not something I am able to recall but according to those who saw me, I was an angry mess. I held on with both hands and my friend accompanied me to daily meetings. At this time, I was in the care of an urgent care nurse who called Renascent to see if they had a bed; I was homeless and getting sober but still very angry and suicidal. The nurse said they had a bed and my sponsor made sure I showed up on time.

My hours in the house were a mixture of incredible gratitude and unmanageable anger. Thankfully, one extra special counsellor took me aside and gave me a plan to deal with my anger. I vividly remember on the first day, when I got into bed, safe and warm, I cried myself to sleep so incredibly thankful to not have to do anything non-consensual to sleep in a bed. I believe that was my moment. I cried and prayed to God for help.

I had a sponsor and gave my word to go to a meeting a day until I had a year, so on January 1, 2014 I walked out the door of Renascent and began living. One slip and I was back into the rooms after yet another attack which required more hospital treatment. I prayed again, this time for help and strength, “Dear God, I have no idea how but I need to find a way and I’m ready to say ‘uncle’.”

Everyone has a great uniqueness story in early sobriety, so nobody really cared about mine but I did not relate to others in most meetings. I’m not unique in having survived a nightmare.

In my experience, Trans women in the rooms of AA are seen more as things than people. I think this is in part because of Drag Queen celebration within the gay/lesbian communities. I don’t think people understand that few, if any, Drag Queens are Trans. At special gatherings such as the Ontario Conference or Gratitude, there also seems to be an atmosphere of carnival. I have been seriously sexually harassed at both these events. I do not attend AA events outside of regular meetings because of it.

I need to remember that if I don’t feel comfortable hugging someone, it’s okay. There is one AA member who will not speak to me because I did not hug him when picking up a chip. When I arrived in the rooms I had just survived a violent rape; clearly I have issues around that and don’t need to be pressured into feeling obligated to touch anyone. Many of my peers have suffered in the same way.

Being Trans is about gender, not sexuality, which is a fact few understand. A few people have said and done things that were unhelpful and made me question my future involvement in AA. More than once I stormed out of a meeting crying because I was alone in a sea of others, surrounded by those who wanted to help me but didn’t know how to reach me. It took another friend dying to make me realize that living was worth forgiving. I finally found the strength to want recovery more than anything; the following nine Steps seemed hard but not as hard as surrendering my will.

With the help of several sponsors, working the Steps and attending at least one meeting every day, sometimes three, I earned a one-year medallion on August 1, 2015. It says, “Nicki, Love and Hope.” I needed someone to help me (thank God my friend is sober). I had to learn to love my injured self and respect the singularity of hope.

My life today is still a daily struggle of insults and prejudice but I am filled with hope and while problems still occur I have a way and a community to help me stay healthy. I go to bed each night as grateful as my first in the care of Renascent, lights out by 12:00, bed made in the morning, dishes cleaned after each meal; living with structure and to the expectations of those who care about me. Each morning I wake up and say thank you to the big guy. I’m hopeful for the future and thankful for the help I continue to receive and remarkably now am able to give.