La Conextion’s Take on Sobriety & Community

Gabrielle Rodriguez, founder of La Conextion, recently sat down with Juncture to explain the services she provides. As someone whose been in recovery for 7 years, Gabrielle has had a lot of time and a lot of experience, both personal and professional, with being sober and helping others toward sobriety. Below, Gabrielle describes La Conextion as a service that focuses on community more so than total sobriety.

Juncture Mag: Thank you for taking the time to speak with The Juncture Mag! How are you today?

            Gabrielle: “Doing well.”

JM: What do you prefer to be called and what are your preferred pronouns?

            G: “I prefer to be called Gabrielle. My pronouns are she/her/hers.”

JM: Do you identify as LGBT+ or an ally? (No pressure to answer this or any other questions.)

            G: “Yes.”

JM: I’ve heard great things about La Conextion, and I think you all are doing important work. Can you tell everyone a little bit about La Conextion?

           G: “It’s still in the beginning stages. I wanted to create a space where people can get together and build community and have fun without the pressures of alcohol. I wanted a space that promotes healing in whatever way that looks for people without substances. I haven’t gotten to this point yet, but it includes implementing the harm reduction lens. Because I do understand people utilize marijuana as a healing [substance]. It’s a place where it can be done without shame. I don’t want to shame anyone or their ways of healing. I think people use substances for reasons, and so I try to help people look at those reasons and find alternative ways, and to heal those reasons.”

JM: I like that it’s not a cold turnkey program where if you use you get kicked out.

            G: “There’s a recovery aspect but that’s not my primary goal. My goal is to be vulnerable with people and recognize we’re all human and we all have trauma, and we need community to overcome it. It’s definitely not abstinence-minded. Even though I am abstinent doesn’t mean I’m not open-minded.”

JM: How do you feel about the jargon surrounding ‘substance abuse’?

            G: “Being a part of the LGBTQ community, I know that language matters. I personally don’t like to use the term abuse anymore. I use substance use, because I think the substances used were created to be used. I think we can get through things without substances, but I know they can be beneficial. Especially natural [substances] like marijuana. For myself, I always think, ‘what are my intentions?’ I’ve been in recovery for 7 years and I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 7 years. I’ve had a lot of healing. I know all the reasons why I drank, I know the background and what it was rooted in. But I’ve thought about it, and I still haven’t had a drink. Because I guess I’m still just wanting to make sure my intentions are clear and that I’m not hiding anything and I’m being truthful and honest. But it does scare me to have a single drink, The first night I drank at the age of 12, I kept going to blackout. I drank to the point of distraction.”

JM: I like what you said about intentional drinking.

            G: “When I drank, it was for everything. And it’s funny because when I mention to people that I don’t drink, people bring up how much they don’t drink. And I’m like, ‘I don’t care.’” *laughs* “Which I guess makes me feel good because it’s talked about more and in the spotlight more and more people are thinking about it. And I’m like I get it. Life is so fucking hard! *laughs* Sometimes I don’t know how I’m making it.”

JM: What are some of the services/programs you offer?

            G: “We had a meet and greet in May and since, we’ve been trying to figure out different events we want to see. The intention with this is to not necessarily take away from what’s already happening in the community. But Denver seems to be odd in the sense of a lot of competition and not a lot of collaboration. My plan is to eventually have our meetings in a fixed space, but also to collaborate with what people are already doing. I have some friends doing different kinds of wellness series, and right now they’re doing yoga. That’s why I like the name because not only are we building connection within ourselves and others, but also with different organizations.

            “I’m trying to break up the competition aspect. I don’t know how well received this will be. *laughs* And it’s also a little selfish. Since moving to Denver, it’s been hard to find sober people of color. I have friends who are supportive of my sobriety, but they don’t understand the addiction piece of it. So even though my friends won’t have a drink when we go out, there’s still a disconnect. Scientifically, it’s declared a disease, and it’s definitely not a choice. I believe some of us are more susceptible genetically and how we are raised. Growing up, I saw that alcohol was the answer to a lot of different emotions. When I experienced the first big loss in my life, my uncle, I didn’t know how to grieve. Alcohol made sense to me. I took my allowance one week and went to a convenience store, and approached a guy and asked him to buy me vodka. And he did! And I went back to my friend’s house and we drank the majority of the bottle that night. What a 12 year old at that time was doing with a $20 bill, I don’t know. And then that was it.

            “For the next 10 years any chance I had—pretty much like the movies—I would ask people to buy alcohol. By high school graduation, I called myself an alcoholic. But because of society, because it’s normalized, nobody took it seriously. I was never told by friends/family that I had a problem. I hid it as much as I could. My friends drank as much as I did, so it wasn’t a problem. I just heard ‘you’re in school, that’s what you do.’

JM: Incredible story that really speaks to your presence of mind as a teenager to know something was wrong. Where do you currently work?

           G: “Currently to pay bills, I’m working with the city as a peer navigator for the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment. There’s so many layers and I don’t understand, still learning. I’ve been there since May. I was previously at Young People in Recovery where I was on the receiving end of a racist comment. The position I had there was my dream job, and it crushed me because it was such a fucking joke. I had been following them since 2012 when I got sober, and that’s when they started. I thought they were doing fantastic work because their mission statement says that.”

JM: Can I ask what the statement was?

            G: “Justin Luke Riley is the CEO and I was the national Chapter Coordinator. Because I was in this position, I was able to see how non-inclusive and white it was. Michael Miller was my supervisor, and he also had been trying to effect change for the last three to four years. He had my back on everything, it was great. I tried to make change, wasn’t really moving along. And I was told, ‘this is your job.’ And I’m like, it’s not my job. This is an entire cultural shift that needs to happen.

            “Once, me, Michael, and 2 other people were discussing someone who wasn’t present and couldn’t defend themselves. It felt completely unnecessary. We were discussing someone who recently quit because the position was overwhelming. [Staff] messaged saying the person quit, and I said ‘okay, great, thanks for letting me know.’ One of the men in the chat said, ‘we’re better off without this person. They took on a position they weren’t ready for.’ I talked to my supervisor, he said, ‘I’m on it.’ After that it was 6 weeks of retaliation against my boss. They had a meeting about it, and as soon as it was over, my boss texted me and said, ‘I’m being forced to take off this whole day. I don’t have access to my email or Slack.’ Nobody told me anything, no one reached out to support me in his absence. Then 4 weeks later, HR and Justin reached out to me and said, ‘we’re suddenly aware that you brought up the concern of what was said in the messages.’ I said, ‘listen, regardless of who brought the complaint, all 4 people should have been spoken to within the first week. You wait 4weeks to schedule a meeting, schedule one, cancel it, then reschedule it.’

            “I put my notice in. The next week they said, ‘Let’s build culture.’ I go and I’m sitting across from Justin and [another employee], and Justin says, ‘so, Gabrielle, where are you going next?’ I said I don’t know. And he says, ‘are you gonna do roofing?’ The other employee was the only person who said something. She said, ‘of course not roofing.’ I left, went to the bathroom. I wasn’t surprised, but I was in shock. I came back, grabbed my stuff, and just left. I sent an email to him and everyone in the room and I said, ‘intent doesn’t matter. That shit doesn’t fly anymore or ever.’ As soon as I sent it, in under a minute I was kicked out of my email, kicked out of Slack.”

JM: That’s insane, and truly highlights the importance of inclusion and diversity. What does diversity and inclusion look like to you? How do you strive toward more inclusion and diversity?

            G: “I love how everybody talks about diversity and inclusion. For me, diversity and inclusion doesn’t just mean—there’s such a fine line with tokenism. I’m still trying to figure it out. Yes, I have used all of my intersections to get me places. But then I have also been paying attention to how people are using that. I got into my master’s program because I utilized my unique perspective of a woman, queer, and Latina, and lived with substance use disorders. I feel like diversity is letting you in, but inclusion is listening to you. Like, you have a voice in those spaces. So, I’m still learning about it. I saw something on social media that talked about how diversity is getting a seat at the table, but inclusion is actually listening to that voice. There’s a difference. And I’m learning that in my role too. Because I’ve been to several meetings where I’m the only one with so many white people. And the times I’ve spoken up, I’ve then heard after, ‘well, that was an interesting meeting.’ And not in a good way. And so it’s like, yes you’ve checked your diversity box. But what about the inclusion part?”

JM: This may be redundant, but do you think the work you do is important, and why?

            G: “I absolutely do!” *laughs* “I saw it with Pride—I think our community of QTPOC is so disproportionately targeted with substance use. And so there’s higher rates of mental health and substance use issues with these intersections. I do think that it’s important to show that you can have sober spaces that are safe, welcoming, inclusive, and aren’t making you quit cold turkey. And to enter these spaces you don’t have to be sober daily. That’s not the point. The point is to create those spaces so you don’t have that worry of ‘what’s going to happen? Am I going to be comfortable?’ A First Friday at Tracks is typically the night I go with friends. But it’s like okay, how many straight identifying people are going to be there? How many people are going to be drinking super heavy and getting aggressive?

            “There are so many things that can happen in that situation. If we have a space where people can come and it be similar — imagine having that night at Tracks without alcohol. I have so many friends, sober and non-sober, who don’t go out because they don’t want to be around people drinking. I think collaborating with other QTPOC healers—whether yoga, massage, herbal medicine, therapists—to have a one stop shop to connecting to those avenues [is important]. I also just think it’s more important now than ever just because of the state of our world right now. I say world because, I feel like it’s global, not just the United States. And because we have so much access to [substances], and such quick and easy access.”

JM: Did you celebrate the 4th of July?

            G: “I did not. Umm, I did go see a friend perform, and that was about it. And even when I was there, I felt very uncomfortable about it. I immediately left when her set was over. I got a text from my mom, which was very surprising. She said, ‘Happy 4th of July. I hope you’re having fun.’ And I was just like, ‘no.’ I’m not gonna celebrate when families are being torn apart, kids are in cages. That’s also a whole other interview—conversations with my mom. It’s just so surprising to me because she was born in Mexico City, she moved here when she was 8. I think there’s a lot I’m unpacking for myself and for my mom. It’s exhausting because she’s so unaware of the work I’m doing for the both of us. Also unsurprising was that my father didn’t send me a text, and I appreciate that so much. Because he always texts me for every other holiday.”

JM: We’ll say it’s on purpose. Nice job, dad

            G: *laughs* “Exactly!”

JM: Thank you for speaking with us. Is there one last message you want to send out before the interview closes?

            “I just think that if anybody is curious about what I am envisioning with this, or sobriety, healing of any kind, to reach out. I live my life, especially my sober life, I live it so open and honestly because I want people to know of at least one person to go to. I don’t believe in the bullshit of being anonymous. I think it needs to be out in the open. I think the longer we keep it in the dark, the longer it’s going to be stigmatized. It’s not a bad thing. Honestly, if I was not given the life of addiction, I wouldn’t have the life I have now. I wouldn’t have the clarity and ability to help people, like I do now. I’m kind of grateful that it happened in my younger years, because now I have time to figure it out. I drank for a decade, got sober at 22. My 20s have been different than a lot of people’s, but I’ve enjoyed it. I feel like I’ve been given a whole other life.

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The Juncture Mag staff

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