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 from the expectations that society has for you. You may be questioning your relationships, your gender or your sexuality. It is frightening. There is good reason to be fearful. Coming out is scary and you might suffer because of it. But what you probably have not been told is that hiding who you are into adulthood will cause you far more suffering anyway.
Substance abuse and suicide among gay men are many times higher than across society
Just growing up LGBT, with the cumulative effect of the daily denials, the constant fear of being found out and the internalised shame, causes a deep trauma. Despite social progress, and despite many of us never having experienced direct discrimination or abuse, rates of depression, loneliness, substance abuse and suicide among gay men are many, many times higher than across society, each of these in turn causing more shame, more fear and more trauma.
That is 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, or I denied, that I had a problem. I suppressed my emotions, as I had learned to do as a kid, and I told myself things were fine. Only looking back now have I been able to accept that 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. It was damaging to me, to my relationships and in so many other ways.
Alcohol addiction is not just about drinking every day or drunkenness. For me, it was about losing who I was over a long period of time. It was desperate isolation.
It was shutting down my personal life using a drug, alcohol, to feel better but ultimately to escape and give up on living. I now know that it has blighted most of my adult life. Fortunately, I have a mother who would protect me at all costs, a father who is the most generous, selfless man I have ever known, a brother who supported me through all this without judgment, and friends who quite literally saved my life.
Addiction has killed Members of this House, yet we would still rather hide its ugly reality
I am now in the third year of recovery, and I am 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, honestly, to stay here takes commitment and daily determination. I am in a privileged position. I am all too aware that not everybody makes it. Addiction is fatal if not treated. I have gone from not recognising addiction in myself for so long to seeing it everywhere, and doing its worst damage in the most deprived communities. Addiction is killing more people and ruining more lives than ever. It has killed Members of this House, yet we would still rather hide its ugly reality.
I hope that my openness today can help challenge the stigma that stops so many people asking for help, and nothing would mean more to me than turning the pain I have been through, and that I have put my family and loved ones through, into meaningful change. I know I have to be authentic if I am going to do that. Pride is about celebrating who we are without shame. In the end, it is a simple choice: choose to hide, or choose to live. My advice is to choose to live.