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Meet our LGBT At­lantans work­ing to bet­ter their health

JA­SON DAVIS: Fight­ing ad­dic­tion, work­ing out, and in­spir­ing oth­ers

Chicago Pride pics, work-out Instagrams and a meme that says “no mat­ter how slow you go, you are still lap­ping ev­ery­body on the couch” led to an odd si­lence on Ja­son Davis’ Face­book last sum­mer.

Usu­ally busy with cheeky up­dates and pro­mos for the nights he tends bar at Mary’s in East At­lanta, his feed went mys­te­ri­ously dark for three months start­ing last Au­gust be­fore he re­turned qui­etly with more of the same. Un­til Nov. 19. “If any­one was cu­ri­ous why I really dis­ap­peared for a minute, it’s be­cause I was drink­ing and do­ing drugs again,” Davis posted. “Ev­ery­one says ‘re­lapse is a part of re­cov­ery,’ but I didn’t think it had to be part of mine, nor did I think it would last four months…

“I just hope that some­one can learn some­thing from me, with­out hav­ing to go through all the bull­shit I have,” he said.

‘It’s hard to do that drug ca­su­ally’

Davis’s story seems un­likely if you spend a night across his bar. He’s the 35-year-old drink-sling­ing, karaoke-singing bear laugh­ing above the crowds ev­ery Tues­day, Fri­day and Satur­day night at Mary’s — a gay bar he’s helped make fa­mous over the past eight years.

But how much do we really know about our fa­vorite bar­tenders?

“I was raised as a Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness and my par­ents were very strict,” Davis re­called. “My dad had a way of mak­ing me feel shame­ful for do­ing any­thing I wasn’t sup­posed to do and when I was an adult, I de­cided to get out of the re­li­gion and do ev­ery­thing I couldn’t do be­fore.” And did it he did. Davis started drink­ing at 20, and hard drugs came just two years later. He’d left home in St. Louis, Mo., for South Florida where a boyfriend with a la­tent pro­cliv­ity to­ward vi­o­lence in­tro­duced him to meth. Just a year later, he found him­self hal­lu­ci­nat­ing in strangers’ homes for days at the time.

“I lost all my friends, lost touch with fam­ily, lost my job, lost my house.” he said. “It’s hard to do that drug ca­su­ally.”

At the end of 2003, at rock bot­tom with noth­ing to lose, Davis was rescued by a fa­mil­iar face. The boyfriend who’d in­tro­duced him to meth was at­tempt­ing so­bri­ety in Texas and asked Davis to join him. The two quickly fell back into old habits and the re­la­tion­ship ended af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion where Davis re­ports hav­ing his scalp bit­ten and shin kicked in.

“The very next day I got on a plane to At­lanta,” he said.

Shame and per­fec­tion

Sev­eral years of on-and-off meth and co­caine use grew tire­some as Davis built a new life with old friends in Ge­or­gia.

De­pressed and still ad­dicted in 2008, Davis started see­ing a ther­a­pist once a week, re­luc­tantly trac­ing his strug­gles with drugs back to two things that haunted him: the guilt, shame and self-loathing at­ti­tude he at­tributes to an ex­tremely re­li­gious up­bring­ing, and his ten­dency to be a per­fec­tion­ist, even at the cost of his health.

“I thought that if I couldn’t set out to do some­thing per­fectly, then I prob­a­bly wouldn’t give it an ef­fort... Re­al­iz­ing that I would have to make some mis­takes go­ing into to it, I was able to com­mit my­self to an idea to change my­self for the bet­ter,” he said.

There was an at­tempt at a not-so-com­plete so­bri­ety in 2009, when Davis quit drugs, but con­tin­ued drink­ing, hop­ing for the best with help from his ther­a­pist and his sup­port group of friends and fam­ily. It didn’t stick.

“It was hard for me be­cause I work in a bar, but I don’t see my­self as a text­book al­co­holic, but then I would re­al­ize that I would drink, get drunk and make bad de­ci­sions,” he said.

Drop­ping weight

In Oc­to­ber 2010, Davis quit drink­ing and be­gan his long­est pe­riod of so­bri­ety in eight years. A cou­ple months later, he joined a gym and com­mit­ted to a “Big­gest Loser” con­test with a fel­low bar­tender who hap­pened to be study­ing diet and ex­er­cise.

A sweets and fried-food lover boast­ing 299 pounds at his heav­i­est, Davis knew it would be an up­hill bat­tle. He pho­tographed him­self to track his re­sults.

Davis com­bined el­e­ments of the “Body for Life” pro­gram he’d tried when he was younger with tips from his chal­lenger and train­ers at the gym. He watched por­tions, ate balanced meals and dropped weight al­most im­me­di­ately: 40 pounds in three months.

“It was the first time in my life that I felt like I was ac­com­plish­ing some­thing I set out to do and peo­ple would come up to me and start com­pli­ment­ing me on things and god I love that,” he said with a laugh. “I’m a to­tal at­ten­tion whore and when peo­ple say those things to me, I just eat it up.” Bet­ter that than the sweets and fried food. In March 2011, Davis bravely Face­booked a photo of his 2010, 299-pound shirt­less self with a cur­rent af­ter photo: 249 pounds. Then in July 2011, 219 pounds. Fe­bru­ary 2012, 199 pounds.

Sober for 20 months and 100 hun­dred pounds lighter, by spring 2012, he was run­ning out of things to talk about in ther­apy.

‘The end of it’

Phys­i­cally re­made and sur­rounded by good friends, Davis leaned on the idea that he’d never truly been that “text­book al­co­holic” and al­lowed him­self to drink at Chicago Pride.

“But once I al­lowed my­self to make an ex­cep­tion, I started mak­ing all kinds of ex­cep­tions,” he said.

Davis ran into meth again dur­ing a July 2012 hook-up that ul­ti­mately lead to the moment he calls “the end of it.”

“Of course when it was there and when it was in front of my face, I couldn’t say no,” he said. “I found my­self com­pletely weak again and taken over.”

Swal­lowed whole by the fa­mil­iar com­bi­na­tion of guilt, shame and ad­dic­tion, Davis con­tin­ued to use. By the end of Oc­to­ber 2012, he’d dis­ap­peared from Face­book and “ev­ery­where,” he said.

A black out scared him into try­ing again for so­bri­ety.

“When I came to and started to re­mem­ber, I thought, ‘This is out of con­trol. This can­not hap­pen any­more. I care about my life too much, and I care about the things I’ve ac­com­plished and I don’t want to throw it all way.’” he said.

By Nov. 19, Davis had again com­mit­ted him­self to so­bri­ety and boldly took his con­fes­sion to Face­book.

Go­ing pub­lic

Davis, now more than 60 days sober, says he likes the idea of be­ing held ac­count­able by the 800 or so peo­ple con­nected to him on­line.

“Some of my friends think I’m crazy for not keep­ing my­self more pri­vate, but I don’t really have a rea­son not to. I’m not go­ing to be pres­i­dent some day,” Davis said, laugh­ing again.

More than any­thing, he hopes his hon­esty and hu­mor can help oth­ers es­cape the iso­la­tion he felt in his dark­est days.

“When you’re go­ing through some­thing like this, ad­dic­tion or try­ing to re­cover, it’s very easy to feel very alone,” he said. “I’ve had friends open up to me and tell me things they’ve gone through and I would have had no idea.

“I know a cou­ple of in­stances where I’ve in­spired peo­ple to get clean or lose weight,” he con­tin­ued, “and even if it’s only a cou­ple, that makes me feel good about putting my­self out there.”

Dec. 2010: 299 pounds

Feb. 2012: 199 pounds

Ja­son Davis chron­i­cled his weight loss in th­ese pho­tos on Face­book, and even­tu­ally came clean about his strug­gles with ad­dic­tion last Novem­ber. (Courtesy pho­tos)

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