Autistic community, identity, and the sense of self

During my years of active addiction, I had no concept of who I was beyond being a drug and alcohol user. For this reason, I felt trapped into my substance use, unable to escape the horror that I was habitually inflicting upon myself. I finally found sobriety, but was clinging on desperately.

That’s when it happened.

A team of neurodevelopmental psychologists conducted an extensive assessment and told me I was Autistic. I will admit that to begin with I didn’t know what to make of it. Was this the reason for my suffering? Could I make the memory of my darker years disappear if it were removed?

I won’t say I am ashamed, I was suffering, but I’m not proud to admit that there was a time when I may well have taken a “cure” had it been scientifically tested and offered to me.

Then I found a community.

This community was a strange place, because I no longer felt like an outsider. The experiences they described and the feelings they expressed were like the sweetest song lyrics, gently soothing my Autistic soul. These people knew me. They were me. I was no longer adrift in the world.

That community was the Autistic community.

I was learning more and more every day. I can’t mark the exact moment when it happened, but suddenly I had a real identity. As my engagement with that community grew, so too did my sense of self.

No longer was I David the drug user. I was David the writer, David the advocate, David the activist.

Presenter, host, speaker, consultant, trainer. The list simply grew.

I saw the imperfections of the community and felt it to be a beautiful melody. They were as imperfect as me, and they did not hide it. They seemed more human to me than those who had called me an alien.

This community. This beautiful, imperfect community, had saved my life. So now my work commenced to return the favour. I looked around and realised that the suffering I had once experienced, that all of us had experienced, had nothing to do with my Autistic mind. The problem was a cruel and indifferent society.

I set out to help my neurokin, one person at a time.

Thus, a new David had emerged from the ashes of his former life. Finding the Autistic community didn’t just give me a new identity, it fundamentally altered my sense of self. It gave me purpose and focus where before there had been none.

I can never be sure of whether or not my debt to this community has been repaid. Not that I particularly care. I adore this community, and will fight for it for as long as I draw breath.

Thanks to this community, I know myself, and that is a thing that is priceless.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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