She Escaped The Trap Of Addiction
Now she's running marathons and helping others overcome their own demons.
Overcoming exhaustion and intense heat to complete a 100km ultra-marathon would rank amongst the hardest things a body can endure, but this doesn’t come close to the hurdles Sandi James has overcome in her lifetime.
A history of drug use since the age of 12 soon took full control of Sandi’s life, impacting her relationships and crippling her ambitions. After countless attempts to break free from the grips of addiction, Sandi turned around her life to become a leading LGBTQ+ Addiction Counsellor and Psychologist, recently launching LGBTQ+ specific rehab facility Resort 12, in Chiang Mai Thailand, the first outside the US.
In Australia, LGBTQ+ individuals are five times more likely than the general population to attempt suicide in their lifetime, while trans people are nearly eleven times more likely. The disproportionately high numbers of LGBTQ people who struggle with addiction and trauma are believed to be related to experiences of stigma, prejudice, discrimination and abuse on the basis of their sexuality.
According to Sandi, the stigma in all areas of life for lesbians to be honest about who they are adds to the shame of falling into the trap of addiction. “At work and in social situations, there is a pressure to pretend to be straight and hide your relationships in order to ‘fit in’.
Throughout my career in teaching, I felt uncomfortable talking about my relationship with my partner Jen in front of my colleagues. This stigma only made it worse to speak up about some of the struggles I was facing with addiction. I couldn’t speak to anyone and I felt very isolated,” she said.
sandi and her partner jen. image provided
To aid her recovery, Sandi began to take an interest in endurance sports. Starting out mountain bike racing, pushing herself to compete in triathlons and now an ultra-marathon athlete, Sandi stands by the importance of developing mental strength and mindfulness when life becomes painful and difficult.
“For me, pushing myself physically makes me feel alive and present in the moment – rehabilitating yourself physically is an incredibly powerful tool. “Running is a lot like recovery. I don’t run 100km, I run 10km to the first drinks station. And then the next drinks station. And then the next. Breaking the challenge down into smaller pieces makes even the most difficult task possible,” she said.
Now 18 years clean, Sandi has dedicated her life to helping others in the LGBTQ+ community overcome addiction, trauma and mental health issues as a psychologist and counsellor at Resort 12 .
Sandi says gay and bi women are under-served and under- represented in addiction and mental health services. “Gay and bi women face unique barriers to accessing treatment for addictions or mental health concerns. It is time our community becomes more assertive in this arena. A space for freedom and honesty with others who understand and can know the struggle.”
“In my attempts to quit, I went to a number of female only and mixed treatment centres. Neither of these environments enabled me to address the specific issues facing me in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Resort 12 is a place where lesbians and the wider LGBTQ+ community can be understood on a level that is not available anywhere else, where everyone can feel safe and free from judgement. Our team is also unique – we are all from the LGBTQ+ community and have developed the program specifically to enable members of our community to find recovery and achieve the life they deserve.”
Committed exclusively to the needs of LGBTQ+ people experiencing substance and behavioural addictions and mental health issues, Resort 12 guarantees a safe and confidential sanctuary with a culture of understanding, respect and support, regardless of sexual and gender identities. Clients benefit from the care of empathetic, nurturing therapists and staff, and the shared experience of peers.
Today, Sandi and her partner Jen are 18 years clean from drugs. “I couldn’t be prouder of Jen and myself for prioritising recovery. Keeping open and honest lines of communication became our combined strength and we are both achieving incredible feats,” said Sandi.
Head to resort12.com to check out the facilities available.