My earliest memory of hockey is from elementary school. I came home from school and told my father that I quit soccer so I could play hockey instead. He told me absolutely not and signed me up for girl scouts. I grew up playing soccer from then on. I played many other sports through the years, but soccer was always my constant. I played sports year-round until my junior year of high school. Shortly after I graduated high school in 2009, I got sick, and after months of tests, procedures, and surgeries, I was finally able to come back home. I was given a prescription for Percocet, and I flew through them. This really opened the door for my addiction, and for the next several years I used a variety of drugs daily.
It’s fair to say that I have very little recollection of a large portion of 2015. I was living in Madison, and I woke up on the top of a parking ramp in West Virginia with almost no memory of how I got there. I came home and overdosed for the final time, less than a week later. After being taken to the hospital and receiving Narcan, I spent the next three days in the hospital. I have almost no memory of my time at the hospital, but I do remember the doctors told me that if I would have gone home and gone to sleep, I would not have woken up. Within weeks I found a treatment center in the area that felt right for me, and I dove in. I made my recovery my full-time job.
I had many obstacles to overcome, but something that always seemed to pull me down was boredom. I had received emails from Patrick Farabaugh asking if I was interested in playing hockey, and with a lot of hesitation and fear, I made the jump. I laced up skates for the first time just days before the evaluations. I walked into that building not knowing a single person. I specifically remember Leah Rudin watching me try to tie my skates. I looked up, and she gave me a smile and said, “Can I show you a trick?” I use that same trick to this day. I started hobbling to the ice, and Christina Libs said, “You’ll need one of these” as she tossed me one of her old jerseys with an “A” on it. She said, “Look at that, you are already an assistant captain.” As my skate glided onto the ice for the first time, I grasped tightly to the boards. I looked up, and I must have had a face of pure panic because Molly Costello looked at me and said “Hey, you got this.” That first day on skates was one of the first solid memories I have after I found sobriety.
My first year of hockey wasn’t pretty, on or off the ice. On the ice I was not the best skater, I had a tough time with the rules, and I was extremely quiet. Off the ice, I was dealing with a lot of anger. The first year of sobriety is hard for anyone, and another one of my biggest struggles was anger. I had spent the last five years numb, and was finally starting to feel everything I had been suppressing. Looking back on the first year or two of hockey, admittedly, it was not the best reflection of who I wanted to be.
The entire first year of hockey, most people didn’t know I identified as a transman. I was not a very social human, and outside of Rainbow Kate, I really didn’t connect with anyone in the MGHA right away. It wasn’t until the beginning of the second year that I came out as a transman in all aspects of my life. The MGHA was the newest community I was a part of, but it instantly made me feel the most welcome when it came to how I was going to identify. It was the first space I was a part of where someone asked me and respected my pronouns.
When I reflect on where I started my journey versus where I am, I can’t thank hockey and the MGHA enough. Hockey gave me a place to go when just that was all I needed. MGHA was the first place I was able to feel completely like myself. It was the first place I could comfortably walk in a space and say, “My name is Dex, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I’m in recovery.” Those were two huge parts of my identity that I was hiding in different areas of my life. I was never made to feel uncomfortable for being in recovery, nor did I ever feel left out. I was still always invited out after games. Connection was difficult for me for many years, and if I’m being honest, it wasn’t until the last several years that I really started to open up and was able to make connections at MGHA. I feel that last year has been the best reflection of the true me. I feel more involved, have more patience, and have made so many meaningful connections.
There is a saying that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; it is human connection.” I came here angry, alone, and closed off. Hockey and the MGHA family have helped me find that human connection was possible for me and gave me something to feel passionate about.
Ed. Note: We are happy to publish the Madison Gay Hockey Association’s selected essay each year for their league-run essay campaign. Any other LGBTQ sports organization that wishes to publish essays or testimonials from their league members should contact Our Lives at [email protected].