Joy is what enlightens us.
I got to know him through various means – dance, music, hiking, food, movies, karaoke, dodgeball, writing, meditation, connection. Each of them brings a spark into my life that feeds my spirit and sustains me.
That’s not to say joy comes easily, though. Every day demands real effort, intention and commitment from me to achieve it. My attempts aren’t always successful, but I keep going because I’m worth it. I believe it now. I haven’t always.
As a Samoan, I come from a community plagued by homophobia and other conservative values. Luckily my mum, dad and two siblings didn’t push any of these views in our home in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Still, coming out in 2017 at the age of 32 was tough. I feared the judgment of other Pacific Islanders and, above all, I was terrified of embarrassing my loved ones of whom I was so eager to make proud.
Facing the truth was liberating and my family readily accepted me. But that only scratched the surface in terms of accepting reality – it took me longer to tell them about my struggle with addiction.
It started in 2016 when I was living in Sydney. I had just finished a contract in what I thought was my dream job in the entertainment industry; it turned out to be the opposite of that. After enduring a hostile and often racist work environment for two years, things ended badly and I was at rock bottom. When a man I had slept with offered me crystal meth one night, I said, “Why not?
Getting high once or twice a month has become part of my routine that I’ve managed to keep secret. When I moved to Los Angeles the following year, things got considerably worse. I had more free time and now I was thousands of miles away from my family in Porirua – my support network. Something I had taken for granted.
Telling them I was struggling with drug addiction was like coming out all over again. On Christmas Day, I called my mother to tell her that I was a drug addict. Maybe subconsciously I thought I was softening the blow. In fact, the revelation deeply shook my mother. She stood by my side, however. Another burden had been lifted from my shoulders.
Still, a lot of things had to happen before I could retire. Individual and group therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous – you name it, I did it. There were positives to these meetings, but for the most part they all felt disconnected because they were whiteness-centric. It was isolating; I often left triggered or resentful. Over the years, I would gain about a year of sobriety, lose it for a few weeks, accumulate another year and so on. It has become a cycle.
Then the pandemic hit in 2020. I was out of work, got kicked out of my apartment, and relapsed fast and furiously. My spiral had never been so reckless or disastrous before. Between the collective weight of the pandemic and the gross incompetence and misconduct of the U.S. government, it’s amazing that any of us have operated as intended, as usual.
The Pasifika community was dying at disproportionate rates across the United States, along with other historically marginalized groups. Coupled with the violence and chaos of law enforcement during the racial justice protests, I felt scared, lost, alone.
At that time, I had not seen my family at home for almost five years. My best friend, Court, who has been instrumental in every step of my recovery, also lives across the country. I talked to them every day, but it wasn’t the same as being together, holding each other and hugging.
In June, my situation was dire. And yet, despite the gravity of the situation, I was desperate to stay in Los Angeles. I had a lot of pride and shame, and I was afraid of the uncertainty that would come from letting go of the pain. I felt so familiar and ‘comfortable’. with.
The court sensed that I was gone – and they reminded me that now was not the time to let my ego get in the way of my survival. I finally found the courage to reach out to my extended family, my Uncle Percy and Aunt Tupou, who are based in the South Bay area. We are blood related from afar, but our family background and cultural ties are close. Without hesitation, they went to Los Angeles and came back to take me home.
For decades they have hosted countless guests and helped them get back on their feet. It’s very much a Samoan/Tongan home, where there are always about 10 residents (including children) – not just because they have a big family, but because it’s in their nature to take care of others in it. need. After feeling alone for so long, I had finally found a place to live that truly felt like home. And living with young babies has been indescribable; their energy touched me in the most beautiful way.
Together we play board games, we train, we swim, we argue, we laugh, we cry, we eat, we chat, we let off steam, we crack jokes, we share stories, we watch” Encanto” and “Turning Red” hundreds of times – all the acts of affection I missed and desperately needed while living solo. I have been welcomed into a loving environment where I can focus on improving and growing.
Tragedy struck when my uncle Percy died suddenly last year. But every Sunday I bring blueberries to his grave after my hike – it was one of his favorite snacks. At times like these, I like to sit with gratitude for the way he showed up for me, which allowed me to show up for myself and, in turn, show up now for My relatives.
My family is what keeps me centered and healthy. My family here, my family back home, and my chosen family (especially Court). They are my greatest source of joy and peace. They are constant reminders of what unconditional love is.
It is a gift but also a privilege to have such a strong footing in the current political climate, where LGBTQ people, especially black queer and trans people, are under attack at all levels. Every day we see our basic human rights being violated and stripped away. Not everyone has the safety net I can rely on.
Without it, I would always be stuck. For all we know, I could be dead.
For those on a difficult road to recovery, don’t give up. That breakthrough and life-changing blessing could be just around the corner.
Today, I am in a position that I could not have imagined two years ago. I have just booked my immediate family’s flights to come and visit in December. For the first time in six years, I’m going to be able to hug my mom, sister, niece and nephew and take them to Disneyland and wherever they want to go.
So many LGBTQ people had to create new families and communities because we weren’t accepted in the ones we were born into. We all have the power to do this. And we all deserve to experience love – from our families and from ourselves.
Kristian Fanene Schmidt is a writer, animator and consultant.