Tag: alcohol

Asking For Help Is Not Enough

By Patrick O’Neil, Group Facilitator

The meeting started at noon and I was running late. It used to be when I first got sober I was so self-conscious if I couldn’t be on time I just didn’t go. But these days, with my busy life and even busier schedule, I have to get in a meeting whenever I can. I can’t afford to use the excuse of being late to keep me from going.

Normally with my low attention span, I like to sit up front so I don’t miss anything the speaker says. But when you walk in and they’re already halfway into the readings, your seat options are what’s left, and today that meant in the back of the room with all the newcomers that hadn’t yet made AA a priority. Luckily there was an open chair on the aisle and I quickly sat down.

The secretary was taking care of business and they were passing the 7th tradition basket around. I put in two dollars and handed it across the aisle. Or at least I tried to. The man sitting there had his head down and he was crying. I tapped him on the shoulder, gestured with the basket, and asked if he was okay.

“I can’t do this anymore,” he whispered. He took the basket, and without adding any money, handed it to the woman next to him. Then he turned away from me and hid his head in his hands.

For the next twenty minutes I listened to the speaker share his experience, strength, and hope. He told one story after another defining his drunkalog, and then switched to when he found recovery. The man across the aisle never stopped crying. No one else spoke to him. When he abruptly jumped up and walked out I followed.

“Hey man, what’s your name?” I called out to him as soon as we were both outside.

“Um, Daniel. Why?” He furiously wiped the tears from his face and stared defiantly at me.

“Hey Daniel, my name’s Patrick. Why are you leaving?”

“I need help. No one in there gives a damn.”

“God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

Courage to change the things I can;

And wisdom to know the difference.”

— Serenity Prayer

Typical of most newcomers Daniel thought his not so silent crying would attract a fellow alcoholic to ask if he needed help. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work. One of the fundamental cornerstones of Alcoholics Anonymous is learning to ask for the help you need. As that signals to the rest of us that the addict or alcoholic has finally surrendered and, “admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Daniel just wasn’t there yet. But he still needed help.

“You need to talk to somebody? I’m listening.”

“Really? Why the hell do you want to help me?”

“Look Daniel. I’ve got over 18 years in the program. I didn’t stay sober this long keeping it to myself. I have to give away what’s been given to me. It’s how it works.”

Daniel stood there, hunched over, staring at the sidewalk, and not making eye contact. Then he quietly started talking. “My life’s a mess. I don’t fit in anywhere. I’m gay and I work in an industry where I can’t be myself. My family disowned me. I’ve been doing meth for ten years. I can’t keep a relationship. I feel like… I’ve been thinking of killing myself.”

“You suicidal now?”

“No, that’s not the point. It’s just that… I’m desperate. I’m so desperate I came here and not one person in that goddamn room even looked at me or introduced themselves.”

“I introduced myself.”

“Yeah, well now that you know me you’ll probably just leave like everyone else in my life.”

“You got a cell phone?”

“Of course I do. I’m not homeless.”

“I wasn’t implying you were. Here, punch in your number.” Daniel slowly inputted his number into my phone. I hit the call button and the phone in his pocket rang. “Now you got my number.”

“Your numbers not going to help me get sober.”

“Well okay, Daniel. Just how are you going to get sober?”

“I don’t know. This is a waste of time.”

“Ever considered going to rehab?”

“I can’t afford that.”

“How do you know? You got insurance?”

“Yeah, and a lot a good it’s done me.”

“I work at a rehab. Let me give you the director of admissions’ number and then you call him.”

“What, this some weird religious place out in the desert? You guys keep me secluded, indoctrinate my gayness to be gloriously cis straight and I’ll find Jesus. Then soon as I get back I’m hitting Grindr and doing meth all over again.”

“Wow. Ah, no man. We’re right here in West Hollywood. CAST Centers. Not only are we LGBTQ-affirmative. But we’re Gay owned and operated.”

“I don’t know… I just…”

“Come on man, call tomorrow. I mean like really, what do you have to lose?”

“I got to go.”

“Hey, I’ll be here next week. See you then?”

“I can’t… I have to go.”

“Call me, okay?”

Daniel didn’t turn around or acknowledge me as he walked away. I went back into the meeting just as they were standing up to pray out. I took my place in the circle and joined in.

“God grant me the serenity; To accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.”

My life got busy again after that meeting. I went to work. I hit the gym. I made another two meetings over the weekend. I hung out with my wife. We went out to dinner with friends. I called my father. I text my sponsee that never calls. I did a bunch of domestic stuff like laundry and vacuumed the rug. But I didn’t hear from Daniel.

Monday rolled around and once again I was running late to the meeting. Not quite as late as last week. But I still had to park on the street, as the community center’s parking lot was full.

Thankfully they hadn’t started and there were seats up front. As I walked the aisle I notice the empty chair where Daniel had sat the week before. I looked around for him but he wasn’t there.

When the meeting let out I scrolled through my phone and found his number. I pressed call. It went straight to voicemail and then said the mailbox was full.

A lot of people try to get sober. It’s not easy. It’s a “we” program and they have to ask for help. Some people just aren’t ready. As a recovering addict/alcoholic I always have to be there in case they are.

The False Intimacy of Crystal Meth

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
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My first time trying meth was one of the classiest drug experiences I have ever had. I was sitting in a literal Maybach on a cute, cobblestone street in Philadelphia. I felt invincible, all my fears were gone, and I felt like I could take on the world. That was coincidentally the last time my adventures with crystal meth were even classy-adjacent.

I’d been introduced to meth by another gay man (who I had a crush on) who told me it was much stronger than the Adderall I had been using, and would make sex amazing. I was very into that, and very into gaining his approval and spending more time with him. It gave me this sense of intimacy and connection that I struggled to feel in my day-to-day life. I felt smarter, more social, and like every idea I had was brilliant. It also offered the added benefits of weight loss and more energy for longer periods at the gym. It also played on my fear of not being productive enough. As far as I was concerned, there was no downside.

I was barely aware of the paranoia as it set in. I would walk down the street and become convinced I was being followed. Or that the elderly woman who worked at the bodega by my house was actually spying on me for the Chinese government. I wasn’t even certain that my hallucinations were hallucinations. I was slowly pulled away from reality as the meth changed how my brain worked, and the lack of sleep took its toll. I could barely keep it together without other drugs and alcohol to manage the effects. My temper went from almost nonexistent to present in my everyday life. I turned into this angry, disorganized, mess of a human being. It took about a year of continuous sobriety before I started to feel normal again.

Sadly, crystal meth is like the interconnective tissue of the dark underbelly of gay sex culture. Its like this secret we do not want to acknowledge. Just look at Grindr, Scruff or Jack’d — if you log on in West Hollywood you are bound to see references to T, Tina, Partying, speed, PNP, clouds, etc. on some profiles. Sometimes it’s just a capital T in an otherwise innocuous word, or a series of emojis. This is particularly true if you are on gay dating apps late at night when tweakers are still up and partying. You can buy, sell or just find someone willing to share some of what they have in a matter of minutes.

Those of us who identify as gay men already are significantly more likely to develop addiction and struggle with drugs and alcohol, as is the LGBTQ community at large. Gay and bisexual men use crystal meth at double the rates of other populations. For a lot of us who indulge for whatever reason, sex and meth become more and more interwoven until we cannot even separate them. Normal sex becomes dull and even unappealing. Under the influence of crystal, we become completely uninhibited and inadvertently put our health at risk. We are much more likely to contract HIV and other STIs.

Crystal meth touches on two things the gay culture struggles with — vanity and sex. We feel intense pressure to be thin or fit, and an emphasis of sex is a major emphasis in our culture. There is this unspoken, and unfortunately mainstream, message that if you are gay and want to be a part of the culture, you have to be hot and have plenty of sex.

The core issues of gay men and crystal use are the same as they are with most things gay men struggle with: shame, fear, compartmentalization, intimacy, and perfectionism. Meth can easily pollute our natural, human sexual energy and darken our prospects for the very things we use it to facilitate in the first place. It plays on our blindspots and makes them wounds that take a long time to heal.

My use of meth, and my use of drugs and alcohol in general, was often driven by loneliness. The same loneliness that most gay men can relate to. Ironically, the more we lean on drugs and alcohol to alleviate that feeling of isolation, the more isolated we become. The more we end up surrounding ourselves with people who are also using, and therefore cannot meaningfully connect to us in any healthy way. Our minds, under the influence of addiction may tell us that we are “going through” something together, but really what we are doing is engaging in a mutual suicide pact. We are teaching ourselves that connection means exchanging and supporting harm. Therefore an integral part (some might argue the MOST integral part) of recovery is finding a community of other people working to better themselves.

Luckily, in West Hollywood there is an abundance of resources for those wishing to explore recovery and a community of other people who are going through the exact same thing. Finding treatment for crystal meth addiction can be difficult because it requires time and a comprehensive approach, but rarely do we see people able to successfully do it alone. And we are not alone in the struggle. Time, patience and a little self-love go a long way in this fight. There is no shame in leaning on a support network during the fight to get clean. Asking for help is the first step to repairing the damage from crystal meth and starting down the road to recovery.

Finding Safe Addiction Treatment As A Gay Man

By Michael Arndt, Alumni Coordinator, CAST Centers
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I remember realizing when I was gay, and immediately feeling shame because I felt there was something wrong with that. Since its inception, my identity as a gay man has been interwoven with feelings of shame.

I carried this feeling with me most of my life, and found it was only amplified when I started struggling with my relationship to drugs and alcohol. I think the two were probably related. I don’t find it particularly useful to try to find the “answer” to why I developed addiction problems, but it is an interesting question to ask. Did me being gay mean I was more susceptible to addiction? I do not think that my being gay lead to my addiction; instead I believe the societal shame I felt about being gay was a contributing factor. I did not know how to process this feeling growing up. I had no real role models to help me walk through it growing up.

Over the course of my late teens and my 20’s I found myself increasingly dependent on alcohol, opiates and amphetamines to get me through my day-to-day life. I was openly gay to my family and friends, and had been since high school. However, I still had a very difficult time being intimate without drugs or alcohol in my system. I would get drunk and/or high alone before going on dates, etc. The shame and discomfort would be numbed out. I often would be so uncomfortable that I would way overshoot the mark and end up blacking out in the beginning of dates; waking up in strangers apartments, or with strangers in my apartment. Or waking up alone, with no recollection of what happened, and a person who would no longer answer my texts. The shame would set back in, and perpetuated a cycle that over the years became increasingly difficult to manage. I was not alone in this experience. Many of my LGBT friends used alcohol or drugs as a way to manage their anxiety, shame, and discomfort around dating and sex in our community. It was almost a foreign concept to do anything else.

When my life finally began to unravel and it came time to get help, I was confronted with the issue of finding treatment that could also address the damage done not only by addiction, but by growing up in a society that was often hostile to members of the LGBT community. There is real damage done there, whether it be conscious or subconscious, lurking unacknowledged just beneath the surface. I was at least fortunate to have some awareness that it was there, even if I wasn’t able to fully wrap my mind around what it meant.

I entered inpatient and had another uncomfortable experience. Though I knew that the place I was going to was more than just LGBT friendly, I felt that feeling of needing to hide who I was around all the straight men I was going to be spending the next 40 something days living with other guys would proclaim their acceptance of my sexuality in group in front of the staff, and then turn around and make comments like “Oh, I don’t care if you’re gay, just don’t try anything with me.” Or ask invasive and frankly awkward questions about the mechanics of how gay men have sex. And please, I know a bunch of grown men know exactly how gay sex works.  

But all of this brought up those same feelings of not belonging that I had grown up with and was as desperate to shed as I was my heroin and alcohol addiction. The more sober I became, the more aware I became that I had to find outpatient care and sober living that was not just LGBT “friendly” but that was LGBT-affirmative, informed and that would protect me in a society that had failed to do so and in an industry that had so far failed to do so.

So naturally, I came all the way from Philadelphia to West Hollywood for outpatient and sober living after my stint in detox and residential back home. I landed in the perfect sober living for me, but my first outpatient was more of the same awkwardness that I had experienced in residential. They claimed to be LGBT friendly, but I found zero support around my sexuality (which was not what I was told over the phone with their admissions coordinator, nor what their website advertised). It was one of the most well-known and celebrated treatment centers in the world, a leader in addiction treatment, and yet they offered nothing to me to address my sexuality, despite saying they did. Disappointed with their lack of integrity, I decided to go somewhere else. Through my sober living, I was able to find an outpatient center in West Hollywood that finally was the right fit for me.

The staff there were not just LGBT-friendly. The place was LGBT owned and operated, and the staff were LGBT-affirmative. I found a place where I could finally process 20 something years of internalized homophobia, shame, guilt, fear, self-hate, addiction and its subsequent damage. I finally felt protected and safe enough to open up about all those nights getting drunk and high before dates, about going to school where I was physically attacked and called a faggot more times than I could even remember, and all the rest of it. But I got lucky.

As a gay man who just wanted to finally belong and be like everyone else, it was a tough pill for me to swallow that I wasn’t like everyone else and that treatment that worked for others probably wouldn’t be the best fit for me. We face unique challenges in life and in getting sober as members of the LGBT community. We exist in a society that is often hostile to our very existence, let alone to our voices, our lives, and our love. For me it was imperative to find treatment that would address me as a whole person, not just fragmented little pieces that I (or they) were comfortable addressing. I was very fortunate to have found it, and I implore anyone reading this to do their homework. And if you go somewhere where you do not feel safe, there is nothing wrong with going somewhere else. Stand up for yourself, your life and your experiences deserve to be honored in their entirety.

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