My life before alcohol was pretty hellish. From a young age, I remember feeling like I was put on this earth by accident, that I didn’t want to be here. It was like I didn’t get the memo on how to act, and there was constantly a voice in my head telling me how awful I was for it. Drink was an easy way to escape that.
Somehow, even trying alcohol for the first time at the age of 13, I knew that it could make me black out. And that was always the aim; I was never interested in just experimenting. Drinking in the park until I was paralytic became a regular Friday night feature. I knew I couldn’t get away with it at school, so I’d smoke cannabis in the week to take the edge off, and then drink all weekend. That’s how I managed my early years.
Drinking in the park until I was paralytic became a regular Friday night feature.
People thought I was fun to be around in the beginning, but the older I got, the more difficult it became to control my behaviour, so I began drinking more in private. I’d start the night off with others but then carry on at home alone. I think my parents were aware something was going on, but never the full extent. I got very good at hiding it: I was stashing cans under clothes in my wardrobe. I realise now those are the hallmarks of addiction, but it didn’t feel like that at the time. As soon as I left school and started earning my own money, I was drinking every day.
When I finally hit rock bottom, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and admitted to a ‘Therapeutic Community’ (a residential, group-based approach to treating mental illness) where they taught me controlled drinking. Nobody used the word ‘alcoholic’, but it was pretty clear that I had a drinking problem – to everyone but me that is. I still didn’t truly believe alcohol was the issue. In my mind, I was just playing the game so that I could still drink. When I completed the programme in April 2010, I had a party to celebrate and didn’t sober up until the end of the following July. With nobody to supervise my drinking, I was off and running again and back to where I was before therapy.
I reached a point where I was just so desperate – I felt like I’d tried everything – and while I was still convinced alcohol wasn’t the problem, I agreed to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting on the recommendation of a counsellor in the community. Honestly, I was mainly going just to please them, and I figured I might get some medication out of it. There was no way I was never going to drink again.
It was my AA sponsor, a few months into my recovery, that raised the idea of gender dysphoria.
How wrong I was! Within twenty minutes of my first AA meeting, I felt I related more to the others there than anyone in my 26 months at the Therapeutic Community. I had never sat with a group of people that had done the same sort of things that I’d done for a drink. Opening up to them, I could hear so clearly that I was an alcoholic – and two weeks in, I came out and said it. The acceptance I felt in that moment, and in the ten years since, is a beautiful thing.
It was my AA sponsor, a few months into my recovery, that raised the idea of gender dysphoria. While I was making so many positive changes in other areas of my life, it still felt like there was something missing. When she suggested that it might be related to my gender identity, something clicked. It was a bittersweet moment of relief to know what had been going on with me for all those years, for things to finally make sense, while also being terrifying. I was just starting to build my life; for the first time ever I had good friends and a strong relationship with my family, and here was this new thing that had the potential to turn everything on its head. I panicked that no one would accept me in the fellowship, that my family would disown me and I’d start drinking again. But in the end, the pain of staying how I was became greater than the risk of coming out.
I feel so blessed. I have more than recovery, I have a whole new life.
The thing with AA is, you stand up and say who you are in every meeting. So there was no slow way of doing it: one day I just got up and introduced myself as Finlay. The response blew me away: everyone was so supportive and immediately embraced me for who I am. It was the same with my family; my mum was incredible. From day one she was sending me texts saying “I love you my boy”, “my son”. I don’t think it was any great surprise to her, and she was mainly just relieved to see me get some peace.
I feel so blessed. I have more than recovery, I have a whole new life. I even have my own business! In the early days of my recovery, I went back to university to train to be a counsellor. However, as I neared the end of my course, with my mental health still being a bit wobbly, I decided that counselling wasn’t right for me at that time. But then I had an epiphany: I was already helping people by doing what I loved. I’d been sharing my story on YouTube for years as a hobby, and it occurred to me that I could develop that into a career. Since then, ‘FinnTheInfinncible’ has grown in all sorts of ways. I’ve been writing, creating content and giving talks, all aimed at making the world a more inclusive and accepting place to live, as well as mentoring and coaching others in the transgender community, and I’ve even got a book coming out next April! I also changed my university course to allow more room for creativity, and have since graduated with a first class BSc honours. If you’d have told me all those years ago that I’d be a business owner, let alone a published author and first class degree graduate, I wouldn’t have believed you. My recovery has opened up so many exciting opportunities, and I really feel like I’m making a difference in my working life. It has been a magical journey.
All of these things I have, I have because of my recovery – it’s the most precious thing I own.
I was told in the early days of my recovery to build a life I didn’t want to lose. All of these things I have, I have because of my recovery – it’s the most precious thing I own. Any fleeting thought of alcohol is fast overshadowed by that fact.
I lost my mum a year and a half ago, but to have made peace with my past, to be out as a gay man and in a happy, healthy relationship with my partner (to whom I am now engaged!), and most importantly, to have mended and developed a beautiful relationship with her before she passed, is a massive gift.
My advice to others in addiction would be: just take every day at a time. If I think too far in advance, I start panicking. But with anything, especially addiction, if you take it one day at a time and think ‘I just need to do this now’ – then suddenly those ‘nows’ add up. It’s a powerful thing to look back on.