A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.
Addiction. Drugs. Queer community.
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 suestions 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 struled 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.