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Drag nun talks sobriety at country club benefit

by Sari Staver

When Castro Country Club Executive Director Billy Lemon asked Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to emcee the sober organization's annual fundraiser and share the story of her sobriety with several hundred people, the well-known drag nun and activist hesitated.

"Of course I was thrilled to be invited to host the event," said Sister Roma in a telephone interview the morning after the October 25 dinner, "but I just wasn't sure I want to talk publicly about my sobriety."

Until she was up at the podium at the Green Room dinner last month, Roma said she was still undecided whether she'd include any personal comments in her emceeing responsibilities.

"But then I realized I had all these people in one room, so why not?" she said she asked herself rhetorically.

Until the ride home from the event that night, however, Roma didn't realize how quickly news travels in this day of mobile phone recorders and social media.

"Turns out my best friend had already posted my entire talk on Facebook," recalled Roma. "But after thinking about it, I asked him to take it down the next morning."

When the Bay Area Reporter called for a comment, Roma said, in a surprised tone, "Oh, did you record it too?"

Acknowledging that a speech at a public event becomes instant news, Roma said, "I just don't want people to think I'm grandstanding, but I realize that sharing stories is a great way to give others encouragement and hope if they are struggling with addiction."

While Roma said her alcohol and drug use did not stop her from keeping service commitments with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, her weight had ballooned to over 300 pounds and she had been diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension.

"I've never been to a (12-step) meeting, I'm not a member of AA, and I've never shared my story before," Sister Roma told the rapt audience, referring to Alcoholics Anonymous. "That doesn't mean I don't appreciate how important AA is or how many lives it saves. It also doesn't mean that I stay sober alone. I have amazing support from many sober people in my life, and we encourage each other to make healthy choices every day."

Roma recounted how 10 years ago, while walking up a flight of stairs at work one morning, "I felt like I was going to black out" from the exertion. When she passed out in the bathroom and sprained her ankle, co-workers insisted she go to the hospital "to find out what was wrong," she said.

"That (intervention) saved my life," Roma said, because she stopped using crystal meth.

Roma said she reluctantly joined a gym (planning only to "cruise the steam rooms") and realized she liked the daily routine on the treadmill. When she began to lose weight, "my motivation improved because I am really very vain," she said.

Five years later, "I decided to stop everything and go sober," she said.

Sobriety "has changed my life," Roma said. "I have traveled the globe, and I have never felt better in my 32 years in San Francisco."

Lemon talked about a young man and his 3-year-old toddler, new in town, who found their way to the country club last year, looking for support to get sober. When the man realized he couldn't afford San Francisco rents, he moved back home, began using again, and wound up in prison. But the man's wife telephoned Lemon, and said her husband talked about the help he had received from club members. Lemon began doing 12-step work by teleconference while the man was still in prison.

"What struck me," said Lemon, "was that this gentleman had told his wife how loved he felt at the country club, which had become his second home. Each one of us - and many of us in the room tonight - had a different path to getting sober, but we all have our journey when we set out on the road" to sobriety.

The club honored District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy with its Stuart M. Smith Legacy Award; drag queen and former Miss Castro Country Club Intensive Claire with its Community Ambassador Award, and Jimmy Jardine with its Dan Cusick Service Award.

For more information about the Castro Country Club, visit http://www.castrocountryclub.org/.

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