A STEP IN THE RIGHT DI­REC­TION.

Ad­dic­tion. Drugs. Queer com­mu­nity.

Gay Times Magazine - - ESSAYS - Words Rory H

As a young gay man in Lon­don, ac­cept­ing that I was a drug ad­dict at 27 was a dif­fi­cult pill to swal­low. Cer­tainly not the worst or messi­est in my group of friends, that was not a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to my be­hav­ior which over the course of about seven years of club­bing and par­ty­ing had de­scended into a self-cen­tered, ob­ses­sion of get­ting high and stay­ing high as fre­quently as pos­si­ble.

Gay men and les­bian women sta­tis­ti­cally are much more likely to suf­fer from al­co­hol and sub­stance abuse than het­ero­sex­u­als. Although some of this can be at­trib­uted to self-med­i­cat­ing less-than-per­fect ex­pe­ri­ences grow­ing up gay in a straight world, his­tor­i­cally the LGBTQ com­mu­nity for decades could only so­cial­ize and meet in un­der­ground bars and clubs that were tol­er­ated by au­thor­i­ties. These dens of in­iq­uity formed the back­bone of our early com­mu­nity foun­da­tions, mak­ing il­licit drug use, al­co­hol, anony­mous sex and other ad­dic­tive be­hav­ior syn­ony­mous for gen­er­a­tions of LGBTQ peo­ple’s com­mu­nity ex­pe­ri­ence.

Un­der­stand­ing this helped me process how and why I ended up a crys­tal meth ad­dict at the age of 27. This de­spite the fact I was well ed­u­cated, from a good back­ground and on the sur­face of it had ev­ery rea­son not to abuse drugs. Ad­dic­tion after all does not dis­crim­i­nate re­gard­less of gen­der, sex­u­al­ity or any other kind of back­ground cir­cum­stance.

For me the hard­est thing in ac­cept­ing that I was a drug ad­dict was so­ci­ety’s pre­con­cep­tion of what a drug ad­dict was. I lived in de­nial for years about my ad­dic­tion be­cause I was fed an im­age of what a drug ad­dict was: peo­ple that in­jected drugs, were home­less, lived off wel­fare, grew up in im­pov­er­ished cir­cum­stances or were from a bro­ken or abu­sive back­ground.

Although un­doubt­edly many drug ad­dicts and al­co­holics do be­have in these ways and are from such so­cio-eco­nomic back­grounds, like a mul­ti­tude of other mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the LGBTQ com­mu­nity, be­ing a gay man with a drug prob­lem did not fit any kind of stereo­type that I had ex­pe­ri­enced. The de­nial in me was there­fore strong and only sup­ported by so­ci­ety and prob­a­bly the main rea­son I didn’t seek help sooner. Ev­ery­one knew gay men par­tied and took drugs I told my­self. That didn’t mean I was a drug ad­dict!

Even­tu­ally though, my prob­lem was un­de­ni­able. I couldn’t hide it any­more from fam­ily and friends, or from work. And hon­estly, by the end, I didn’t want to. I wanted to get caught as I didn’t know how to ask for help, or to ad­mit de­feat – it went against my very na­ture as a gay man. The LGBTQ com­mu­nity are sur­vivors after all. We know how to over­come ad­ver­sity and I thought my drug prob­lem was the same. I be­came sloppy in hid­ing my drugs and drug para­pher­na­lia, my lies were in­con­sis­tent and my friends got tired of me can­cel­ing or not show­ing up.

Even­tu­ally my fam­ily in­ter­vened. I was lucky in a way. The point at which my loved ones called bull­shit was when emo­tion­ally, men­tally and phys­i­cally I was at my rock bot­tom. Mas­sively un­der­nour­ished, un­der­weight, sleep de­prived, on my last warn­ing at work, hav­ing

pushed all my friends away, barely hold­ing my life to­gether the tim­ing for an in­ter­ven­tion was ideal. I was ab­so­lutely sick and tired of feel­ing sick and tired. Any­thing was bet­ter than liv­ing like this.

Ad­mit­ting de­feat to drugs was solely the most pow­er­ful and life chang­ing event of my life. Im­me­di­ately I felt a huge weight had been lifted. No-one judged me. My friends and fam­ily ral­lied round in sup­port, all want­ing me to get bet­ter. My great­est fear that I would be faced with re­jec­tion, judg­ment and anger was base­less.

One of my un­cles had got clean many years ago and he was the one that took me to my first 12 step meet­ing. The short ver­sion of the story of get­ting clean was that Nar­cotics Anony­mous and Crys­tal Meth Anony­mous saved my life. After a few slips along the road in my early months I even­tu­ally put six years of clean and sober time to­gether. Sin­gu­larly the proud­est achieve­ment of my life. I re­mem­ber a time that I couldn’t not be high for more than six hours, let alone six years. My life trans­formed, I found a new ca­reer, I re­lo­cated to Los An­ge­les for work. Life was great.

I never went to a res­i­den­tial treat­ment cen­tre, in­stead I did an evening in­ten­sive out­pa­tient pro­gram for six months, at­tended a lot of 12 step meet­ings and fol­lowed the su‡es­tions from other clean gay drug ad­dicts. Hon­estly get­ting clean was far from the hard­est thing I’ve had to do. I look back and it was rel­a­tively easy in com­par­i­son to the life I had been liv­ing for years. The time and en­ergy I put into my drug ad­dic­tion was far harder than liv­ing life clean.

I had no in­ten­tion in us­ing again but ad­dic­tion is a cun­ning, baf­fling and pow­er­ful disease. Whilst in Amer­ica I was di­ag­nosed with ADHD and de­spite my full trans­parency about my past abuse of metham­phetamine, my psy­chi­a­trist in­sisted on pre­scrib­ing me am­phet­a­mine-based med­i­ca­tion. Within nine months I was pop­ping those pills like candy, get­ting up to all the same shenani­gans I used to on Tina. End­less amounts of mean­ing­less, trans­ac­tional, am­phet­a­mine driven sex with strangers, not sleep­ing, not eat­ing, the chaos that goes with that life­style, and ly­ing to ev­ery­one.

Even­tu­ally I got hon­est and re­set my so­bri­ety date but get­ting off the pills was not as easy. The crav­ings were un­bear­able, far worse than any­thing I had ex­pe­ri­enced on Tina. After a year of try­ing and fail­ing to put more than 90 days of clean time off the med­i­ca­tion, I felt so de­feated I ended up us­ing again with a guy who pulled out a pipe dur­ing a hookup. Things got bad very quickly. I had of­ten heard in 12 step meet­ings that whilst you are clean and sober, your disease is do­ing push-ups, they weren’t wrong. I picked up ex­actly where I had last left off six years pre­vi­ously.

Lucky for me hav­ing been clean for six years, I knew what I had to do. I recog­nised that I was deal­ing with an ad­dic­tion to pre­scrip­tion strength med­i­ca­tion and that a year of try­ing by my­self had not worked. I reached out to a friend of mine who worked as a psy­chother­a­pist at a treat­ment cen­ter. He had re­cently moved to North­ern Thai­land to set up a LGBTQspe­cific pro­gram at a re­hab in Chi­ang Mai, called Re­sort 12. I had be­come com­pla­cent in my re­cov­ery around LGBTQ-spe­cific is­sues to do with my own demons. As a gay man, I have al­ways bat­tled with my body, in­clud­ing dys­mor­phia and self-ac­cep­tance, as well as FOMO (fear of miss­ing out), not be­ing at the right party/party week­end or hol­i­day. Con­stantly com­par­ing my­self to oth­ers, while ne­glect­ing or negat­ing the val­ues and parts of me that other peo­ple val­ued. Al­ways look­ing for a rea­son to prove why I was less than and en­gag­ing with be­hav­ior and peo­ple that only made this worse.

As a com­mu­nity, one area we fail mis­er­ably at is sup­port­ing one an­other. There is so much tox­i­c­ity be­tween dif­fer­ent groups within the LGBTQ spec­trum, gay men vs les­bian women, LGB vs trans, and within dif­fer­ent mem­bers of the same group: ‘No Fems. No Asians. No blacks.’ ‘Masc4Masc only.’ How did we end up here? Did we not learn any­thing from be­ing made to feel ashamed of our­selves as gay kids grow­ing up in a straight world? Why are we then do­ing it to each other?

I had fallen vic­tim to this as much as the next gay. Believ­ing I needed to be some­thing dif­fer­ent than what I was, so I felt ac­cepted by my com­mu­nity. Re­in­forced by the bronzed, hair­less, 6-pack, mus­cle boys in speedos that we are bom­barded by in the gay me­dia.

As the only LGBT-spe­cific res­i­den­tial treat­ment pro­gram out­side of North Amer­i­can, Re­sort 12’s power and ef­fec­tive­ness is routed in the ther­a­peu­tic value of fel­low LGBTQ clients sup­port­ing one an­other. Some­thing our com­mu­nity des­per­ately needs to learn the heal­ing power of. With LGBTQ coun­sel­lors and var­i­ous LGBTQ sub­jects taught, we learnt about the ma­jor is­sues fac­ing our com­mu­nity, the men­tal health and so­cial chal­lenges as well as cel­e­brat­ing our unique­ness and vi­brancy. Of course, this was in ad­di­tion to the stan­dard psy­choe­d­u­ca­tion, group and one-onone therapy and ev­ery­thing else typ­i­cal to any treat­ment cen­ter, re­gard­less of sex­u­al­ity.

Some­thing changed whilst I was in treat­ment, hope re­turned. Some­thing that for what­ever rea­son I had stru‡led to muster my­self over the year of re­laps­ing. Ul­ti­mately, I be­lieve the in­cred­i­ble pow­er­ful ef­fect of a sup­port­ive, LGBTQ com­mu­nity around me was the rea­son I was able to get clean again.

I have long be­lieved my great­est char­ac­ter de­fects, used in the right way, are also my great­est char­ac­ter as­sets in the right sit­u­a­tion. Although much of my ad­dic­tion and the things that lead to it are routed in my sex­u­al­ity, the suc­cess of my re­cov­ery is em­bed­ded firmly within the LGBT men, women and gen­der non-bi­nary in­di­vid­u­als that I had the priv­i­lege of be­ing in treat­ment with, the LGBTQ ther­a­pists that helped me un­cover the causes and so­lu­tions to my ad­dic­tion and the LGBTQ friends that I have the great op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue the jour­ney of re­cov­ery with. Theodore Roo­sevelt once said that “Com­par­i­son is the thief of joy.” I may be a gay man who is a re­cov­er­ing drug ad­dict, but I have equal value to ev­ery­one else on this planet. I re­mind my­self of this every­day: by be­ing the best ver­sion of my­self, and not try­ing to be the best ver­sion of some­one else. In ac­cor­dance with the prin­ci­ple of anonymity for all mem­bers of 12 step fel­low­ships, the au­thor has been iden­ti­fied by his first name and ini­tial.

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