In an emotional debate in Parliament to mark Pride Month, Dan Carden, the MP for Liverpool Walton, opened up for the first time about his struggles with alcohol addiction. This blog is a version of the speech he shared with MPs in the hope that by being open about his own struggles, he could challenge the stigma that stops so many people asking for help.
If I could give one piece of advice to a young person today, it would be this: ‘be proud of who you are and who you choose to love’.
You may have had the frightening realisation that you feel different, to the expectations society has for you. You might be questioning your gender, your relationships, your sexuality.
Well there’s good reason to be fearful. Coming out is scary, and you might suffer because of it. But what you probably haven’t been told, is that hiding who you are, into adulthood, will
cause you far more suffering anyway.
Just growing up LGBT – the cumulative effect of those daily denials, the constant fear of being found out, and the internalised shame – can cause a deep trauma.
Despite social progress, and despite many of us never experiencing direct discrimination or abuse, rates of depression, loneliness, substance abuse and suicide amongst gay men are many, many times higher than in almost all other groups – each of these in turn causing more shame, more fear, more trauma.
It’s what happened to me. It took me a long time to admit that I was struggling with my mental health and alcohol addiction. Actually it took repeated interventions from the people
who really love me.
I did not know – I denied – that I had a problem. I suppressed my emotions – as I’d learnt to do as a kid – and told myself things were fine.
But looking back now, in my 20s I twice nearly lost my life to alcohol. I was saved only by the actions of others. Drinking was destroying my body and damaging me in so many other ways.
Alcohol addiction isn’t about drinking too much, or drunkenness. I could go weeks without a drink. For me it was about losing who I was, over a long period of time. It meant desperate
isolation, shutting down my personal life. Using a drug – alcohol – to feel better but ultimately to escape. And giving up on living.
I now know, it’s blighted most of my adult life. Fortunately, I have a mother who would protect me at all cost; a father who is the most generous, selfless man I’ve ever known; a brother who has supported me without judgement; and friends who, quite literally, saved my life.
I am now in my third year of recovery and proud of it.
Like so many in the Recovery community, I am happy, I am healthy, I love my life, I have a wonderful loving partner, and I appreciate everything that I have. But it took AA meetings,
psychotherapy and counselling to get here, and to stay here takes commitment and daily determination.
I’m in a privileged position, and all too aware that not everybody makes it. Addiction is fatal, if not treated.
I have gone from not recognising addiction in myself, to seeing it everywhere – doing its worst damage in the most deprived communities. Addiction is killing more people and ruining more lives than ever. It has even killed members of this House. Yet we would still rather hide its ugly reality.
I hope my openness today can help challenge the stigma that stops so many people asking for help. Nothing would mean more than turning the pain I’ve been through – and put my
family and loved ones through – into meaningful change. I know I have to be authentic to do that.
Pride is about celebrating who we are, without shame. In the end, it’s a simple choice – choose to hide. Or choose to live.
My advice is: choose to live.
Written by Dan Carden
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, there is help available.
Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. Calls are free and confidential. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9.00am to 8.00pm, weekends 11.00am to 4.00pm).
More information about organisations which offer help and support can be found on our support page.
This blog was published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alcohol Health Alliance or its members.