As part of our Pride feature in June, we interviewed the incredible Eric Dorsa: a non-binary actor, comedian, drag queen, and recovery advocate.
How do you identify?
My name is Eric Dorsa. I am non-binary and I am an actor, comedian, drag queen, and recovery advocate currently living in Chicago, Illinois.
I would say the most important part of my identity is that I am in recovery. Recovery is the foundation of my life.
Can you tell me about the intersection between being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and substances?
My use of substances and my addiction are directly related to the shame and the trauma I have around my gender identity and my sexuality. I believe that my genetics loaded the gun and my environment and my trauma pulled the trigger. I used them as a way to cope with the pain and self hatred I felt around my identity and later as a way to try and fit in with my community.
When I came out, I felt nothing but shame about who I was.
I grew up in a family, community, and religion where it was not OK to be gay let alone non-binary. It was actually dangerous. I used substances and an eating disorder as a way to cut these parts of myself off and silence them. Brené Brown in her work calls this the opposite of belonging is trying to fit in. When I came out I was dying of shame, literally, and I feel so are a lot of persons in the LGBTQ community. There wasn’t anyone talking about shame, just pride, and I felt like there was even more “wrong” with me. I also, feel like the LGBTQ community in terms of pop culture is centered in partying as a way to escape and find acceptance.
What led to you seeking recovery?
I couldn’t sustain how I was living. I had been in recovery for an eating disorder for almost 8 years when I realized that I was now using drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with the negative emotions I had around my identity.
I knew that if I was going to live I needed to learn how to love myself, all of myself. I wanted to live, I just didn’t know how. I saw that the drugs and alcohol controlled my life and relationships. I wanted to stop. I was willing.
Did being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community present any challenges in finding and maintaining recovery?
One of the biggest challenges I faced in my recovery as an LGBTQ person is that most of my identity had been centered in nightlife and partying. I had to change the sandbox I was playing in. This is where finding and going to LGBTQ 12 step meetings changed my life.
Everyday there were meetings and I needed the community and experiences of the individuals there to stay in recovery. “I” was sick and “we” get better. I felt less isolated. They spoke my language and had what I wanted, a life. I needed to accept that I hated my identity before I could learn to love and accept myself exactly as I was.
Which recovery-related resources have been particularly helpful to you in your recovery, that are inclusive of how you identify?
The most important part of my recovery today is LGBTQ 12 step meetings and a sponsor. Therapy with a trauma specialist was also critical in my recovery.
What advice would you give to a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who is struggling with substances?
I would tell anyone struggling with their identity and substances is: you are not alone. Pain and shame around our identities as LGBTQ people is real. The world we live in sets you up for it. It is okay to not be okay.
Recovery doesn’t ask you to show up as anything other than what you are and where you are. I am the same person today with the same value and ability to love as I was when I was lost in my addiction. Recovery has helped me let go of what isn’t me and embrace what is. Ask for help and let the help heal you.