'I started focusing on the love I could give myself'

Photo of Carlos Guirola (he/him), coaching member in Sioux Falls, SD

Published July 10, 2023

Carlos Guirola (he/him) grew up in a household with abuse, which he escaped by going out with friends and drinking. It started as something fun to do, but quickly became his only coping skill and a way to forget his trauma.

In his time with his coach, Terri, he’s experienced a relapse, his second DUI and other challenges. At every point, Terri has been there for him without judgment. She helped him cultivate self-love, which has been vital to his recovery, sexuality and identity as a gay man.

What would you like to share about your journey from addiction to recovery?
Being in a household with abuse, my escape was to drink with friends and away from home. For a while, it was just for fun. But my living situation never improved and eventually drinking led to a coping mechanism to forget the trauma at home. That’s when the addiction really started – it wasn’t about having fun with friends, it was to the point of blacking out.

My easiest escape was to forget; that was my crutch in life. I was a broken person. It felt like the drugs kept the pieces of me together, but I didn’t realize they weren’t making me whole. My use heightened and I was becoming very destructive in my life and to the people around me.

I’ve gotten two DUIs; I was in recovery and made it to a year before relapsing. It’s about picking yourself up again. This time around in my recovery, I’ve really learned to find the values in my life. I don’t want to lose those values. I think a lot of people don’t feel like they have a purpose on this Earth. What if that purpose is for you to do what you love and the things that bring joy to your life? That’s what volunteering brings me. I didn’t used to feel connected to my community and the world, but now I feel that connectedness to both.

Was it important to you that you were paired with a coach in the LGBTQIA+ community? 
When I first came to Face It TOGETHER, I remember doing the paperwork and it asked about sexuality. Being in South Dakota, I was a little bit nervous to put that I was a gay man because I didn’t really know how that was going to affect how the coach was going to see me. I wondered if I’d be treated differently once I was honest. It’s scary to check that box. So, I lied at first. 

Once I got comfortable talking with Terri and the Face It TOGETHER community, I opened up and talked more about the struggles LGBTQIA+ people face. It definitely became important to have a coach who understood. Everything that I was saying she really understood and had the words to guide me. We talked about trauma, and I really felt her empathy. We just have a love for one another she’s been a great coach in my life.

Was there anything in particular that Terri helped you with when it came to sexuality/relationships?
Growing up as a gay kid and gay teen, I couldn’t be open in my household. When I did come out to my parents, it didn’t go well at all. It was such a negative household filled with trauma. To come out and not feel love was really hard for me.

I was using apps to go hook up with people just to feel that love, but it was never enough. Terri has really helped me come to terms with self-love and not having to look to others for it. I started focusing on the love I could give myself – I’m not looking for the next hookup or falling in love with anyone that says hi to me. I can be alone, but I don’t feel lonely. I’ve come to enjoy my peace with myself.

A lot of us in the LGBTQIA+ community turn to drinking and drug use to feel the love that we never got. Terri helped me get out of that hole and build a foundation of being grounded within myself. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if you work at it, you can feel that love and value for yourself. Giving yourself that validation becomes enough.

What would you say to someone in the LGBTQIA+ community who’s afraid to reach out for help?
I would say I understand your fear. Opening up and trusting someone can be very scary, especially if in the past you’ve given out trust and been betrayed. I’d say face that fear, look within yourself for courage and give Face It TOGETHER one chance.

It only takes one session. See how it is, see how you connect with your coach, and if you don’t that’s OK. You have the option to meet with a different coach. Face It TOGETHER wants to be able to build you up in a compassionate way, with empathy and respect. It has been such a meaningful part of my life.

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