In a previous blog I explored the stigma around alcoholism and addiction, how struggling communities often face the same dehumanization for their addiction issues and how white people struggling with addictions are sometimes portrayed as brave whereas POC’s are cast aside to continue to suffer. What I wanted to highlight in that blog is that the community and support I had backing me is what helped me overcome my addiction issues, and see myself to a sober and happier Hillary. What I hope to explore in this second blog is where those supports are in the east coast, and how that sense of community has benefited other addicts who are POC’s.
The biggest part of what saved me, other than my own desire to change, was the support of people around me. First my family and friends supported me in getting sober but the various support groups really helped me solidify my need to change. In these groups I found like-minded individuals, from different backgrounds and walks of life, all looking to finally be the best versions of themselves. Doing these support groups in Ontario allowed me to see very diverse people in attendance. But where are these groups in Moncton? I’ve asked this question and been met with statistics. Ontario has a bigger population, more money for mental health aides than NB. If the supports I found were offered in NB I think a lot of people I know could benefit from them.
One of the bigger hurdles in NB is the fact that the community surrounds itself with alcohol/substance consumption. Moncton has a prominent small town drinking culture. The friendships I sought out took place around alcohol and drugs. In my experience, most users seek to end their loneliness at the hands of their addiction. It eases pain, it keeps trauma at bay, and if you find like minded people you won’t be alone in your shame. Something I never experienced while in NB was trying to find support groups, or feeling alone in that quest. Once in Ontario I was pleasantly surprised that my support group had many different people of colour.
After reading an article about how rampant white privilege runs in AA groups, I thought more about the sense of community addicts seek. In Moncton, I was often one of the few Black people in the bar. The majority of the Black drinking community, in my opinion, were university students and they didn’t seem to drink near downtown except on weekends. I tended to work at the bar on the weekend and would drink Monday to Friday as part of the ‘service industry’. I do feel, as I’ve previously stated, that my lack of human contact outside of my mother contributed to my drinking. I perceived the Black community of Moncton to be inaccessible to me, and as we know I didn’t really want to try to make friends with these people once I was an angsty teen. Because the majority of the support groups I sought out were in Ontario, I never felt like my Blackness on top of my addiction made me more alone, more Other. I was able to connect with other lovely people of colour who used various substances to cope.
Upon researching AA groups in NB, I see that there is only one specialized online AA group for international persons wishing to drink, which seems to be the only place where international people can find like-minded individuals with alcoholism or drug use issues. I cannot elaborate on if AA groups in NB are racist, or how white the groups are. What I can attest to is the need for community for all humans – it’s one of our fundamental needs.
In my quest to see how a sense of community affects visible minority addicts I asked an acquaintance about his experiences. He is an Australian of Indian and Portuguese heritage that lives in Dublin, Ireland. He is the only POC in both groups he attends which are zoom meetings for LGBTQIA+ that have addiction issues. He told me that “Hardly any ethnic minorities” are in attendance and that he feels “that white people do not understand the racism I have experienced and on occasion try to downplay my experience.” He goes on to say that “AA in general has been a white experience so that is all I have had.” He acknowledges that he has struggles with his identity as a person of colour and that mentioning his race in regards to his alcoholism/addiction is not met with the same support that others receive when speaking on their issues. Though he has not experienced any outright racism this unconscious bias is noted by him, and does not make his sobriety journey easier.
After reading the article cited above, and hearing from my acquaintance, I couldn’t imagine how I would have felt if I was trying to celebrate my 90 days of sobriety and the group I was with was not only praising got, but encouraging members to vote for Donald Trump. I am thrilled I found like minded individuals in Ontario. I’m not sure what the sobriety groups are like in NB, and how many are even active. There is a desperate need for more mental health groups and supports in NB, and I hope that they are not white centric. My acquaintance asked why POC’s aren’t attending AA and other groups in his area, and maybe it’s because they have a better sense of community there. I fear that in NB, visible minorities need help with various mental health factors but aren’t finding like minded people which is discouraging them from seeking help. That being said, we all know that there are few mental health resources in NB, even for white people.
As the Gen article states, being the only Black or POC in the room means that work needs to be done. If you are the only POC in a room seeking sobriety, I see you, I hear you. Your sobriety journey is as valid as the white man’s. I hope you are able to find people like you, even on an international level who can understand what it means to deal with anti-racism while trying to stay sober. We already feel like the world is against us, and if you are also drinking your trauma away, finding a room of whites talking about the 12 steps might not feel ideal – but like all things you will find a way over and onward.