Ernest Chang

Ernest Chang

Artist and Art Gallery Founder

"If you just keep looking towards your future in a hopeful, positive way, you will survive. I believe in you."

Back when I was a teenager, you didn't see as much of a spectrum of sexuality as you see now in pop culture. I didn't see many models out there for what I knew about myself, that I was gay. I told my best friends first, then over time, it got to a point where it was quite literally killing me to hide who I was, and I had to tell my family, too.

I was only 14 at the time and the kids at school were mean. Some of my female friends were supportive, but I was excommunicated and bullied by the guys. They would call me names and throw basketballs at my head during breaks. The teachers weren't much better - I remember my sports teacher calling me "fairy boy" in front of the whole class. At home, my parents didn't know what to do with me, and they sent me to see a therapist.

Without the support I needed, I went into hiding. I withdrew from people around me and I started drinking and taking Xanax to numb my feelings. I just didn't want to exist. It got so bad that my parents sent me to a two-month drug rehab programme, but the programme just put a pause on my addiction.

Once I got back to school, I felt even more disconnected from my peers, so I started making friends outside of school. Because I was interested in photography, I spent a lot of time with people in the fashion industry, where drugs were readily available. I also tried to fit into the gay community - I felt like that part of me wasn't accepted anywhere else, so I wanted to be with people who were like me. I met so many others who were also trying to cope with being marginalised by society by turning to drugs.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was using cocaine daily. I was depressed. Most days, getting out of bed or eating just seemed impossible. My equilibrium, my feeling of normal, depended on doing a line first thing in the morning. My family staged an intervention and sent me back to rehab for the second time.

Although my recovery journey was long and rocky, this time, it stuck. In rehab, I was sent to art therapy, where I discovered my passion to pursue art as a career. Art is the only thing that makes me see myself as purposeful. Purpose is a really important thing in recovery. That's what gives me strength everyday.

Today, I am six years sober. Meeting KELY as an adult, I really wish that I would have been able to participate in those programmes as a teenager - to help me navigate my identity and to ask for the support I needed. I also think that parents and teachers need to be more informed about the reality of young people doing drugs. It's really difficult to solve a problem when you can't talk about it,

so adults need to play their part to remove the stigma so that young people can get help.


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