Tag: West Hollywood

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.

Top Ten Reasons Why West Hollywood Is The Destination For Recovery

By Patrick O’Neil, Group Facilitator

When you think of Southern California do you immediately think recovery? Well you should, because the Huffington Post listed Los Angeles as one of the top ten American cities that make getting sober easier. The criterion that put L.A. at the top of the list is the extensive recovery services offered including drug treatment centers, sober living facilities, and an abundance of 12 step meetings. If one were to take that listing even further to include the neighborhoods and districts that make up the greater Los Angeles area then West Hollywood would not only be ahead of the pack, but a crucial element within the SoCal recovery landscape.

Commonly referred to as WeHo, West Hollywood is its own city within Los Angeles. Bordered by the Miracle Mile neighborhood to the South, Beverly Hills to the West, Hollywood Hills to the North, and Hollywood itself on the East. With a population just over 37,000 WeHo feels like the tightknit community that it is. However, with the Sunset Strip and Santa Monica Boulevard’s ever-growing nightlife, restaurants, and hotels the weekends can see the population expand to 80,000, and with such iconic events as Halloween or the Pride Parade crowds of 100,000 to 500,000 are not unusual. One would think with this “party atmosphere” West Hollywood would not be known for its recovery. But that would be a misconception as WeHo is definitely a Destination For Recovery.

Here Are the Top Ten Reasons Why:

1. Treatment Centers: If you’re looking for a city that can deliver on rehabs then West Hollywood is your answer. According to the U.S. Department of Mental Health’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration there are 41 recovery centers that provided substance abuse treatment and mental health services within WeHo’s seemingly tiny 1.8 square mile radius. Per capita that would make WeHo the densest ratio of rehab to residents in the entire Los Angeles area.  

2. Meetings: Do meetings make a difference? Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy was quoted as saying, “Well-supported scientific evidence demonstrates the effectiveness of twelve-step groups.” Whether it’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, or Overeaters Anonymous (just to name a few), West Hollywood is home to over 150 of these meetings per week. So to say WeHo is 12 Step friendly would be an understatement.     

3. Spirituality: Are you searching for a sense of connection to something greater than yourself that not only inspires you, but also promotes harmony with the universe? What you’re no doubt looking for is “spirituality”. In West Hollywood there is an abundance of opportunity to find the right guidance to help connect you with your own inner peace and serenity. Spirituality can be found following a religious faith or through inner personal connections, such as engaging in mindfulness activities like yoga and meditation. WeHo has a multitude of faiths, churches, temples, meditation and wellness centers, and over 50 yoga studios that offer various approaches to help you discover your own spiritual path. 

4. Health: An integral part of recovery is addressing mental and personal health issues. There are numerous hospitals and medical centers in or near West Hollywood, including the world-renowned Cedars Sinai Medical Center, and the UCLA Medical Center. Psychology Today lists close to 300 licensed therapists, psychologists, and counselors in West Hollywood, and the list of “Alternative Medicine” practitioners is just as long. For physical health there are well over a hundred fitness clubs, gyms, yoga studios, and just as many personal trainers available to assist you in whatever level of comprehensive fitness program you desire.  

5. Diversity: West Hollywood is a diverse multi ethnic, cultural, and racial city. It is not unusual to hear Slavic languages spoken along side English and Spanish. 45% percent of the population identifies as LGBTQ and 65% of the adults have a college or graduate degree. The overwhelming majority of the workforce is employed in white-collar jobs and there are more artists, designers and people working in media than anywhere else. This diverse concentration of occupations and ethnicity helps shape West Hollywood’s character into a distinct community that not only embraces individual differences and uniqueness, but celebrates them.

6. Housing: Think palm trees and swimming pools because West Hollywood is home to an unprecedented number of fine hotels and motels, all of which cater to your every lodging needs. WeHo also boasts an abundance of sober living, transitional living, and sober roommate opportunities. Online share-rental companies list hundreds of rooms, apartments, and houses for short and long term rental agreements. For more permanent options there are numerous rental companies that can help you land that amazing WeHo apartment.    

7. Fun: There is no reason not to have fun in recovery. In fact, why be in recovery if you can’t have fun? West Hollywood is a party town and that party includes sobriety. Every New Year’s Eve there’s a city sponsored Alcohol/Drug-free celebration. During Pride and Halloween there are accompanying sober events. The restaurants are legendary. Sunbathing at the ocean beaches or hikes in the canyons of Hollywood are minutes away. For cultural events there’s the West Hollywood Book Fair and the Pacific Design Center. At last but not least, the shopping is phenomenal. From the numerous stores in the Beverly Center to the glamour of Sunset Plaza and Rodeo Drive, the cutting edge designer clothes are everywhere.      

8. Safety: Personal safety is always a top priority and West Hollywood ranks high as a safe area in Los Angeles County. The Los Angles Sheriff’s Department polices WeHo and according to their statistics crime is down, assuring visitors a secure and welcoming environment. The main boulevards are well lit. The near constant foot traffic in the business areas helps pedestrians stay safe. The city employs “Security Ambassadors” on bicycles that patrol the neighborhoods. Their constant vigilance keeps the residents safe and crime down. 

9. Transportation: Need to get around and have concerns about transportation in a new city? Well, there’s no need to worry as West Hollywood has an abundance of transportation options. Town cars, taxis and ride share services ply the streets and are on call 24 hours a day. Cityline shuttle services the Santa Monica Corridor and connects with the Metro Red Line in Hollywood. Five Los Angeles Metro bus lines transect the city allowing for connections across the greater Los Angeles Area. WeHo has it’s own bike share company and you can find racks of rental bikes throughout the city. If you’re driving a personal vehicle, the majority of WeHo’s streets are regulated with residential parking permits. Be sure to check if your neighborhood requires a permit, as temporary Visitor Parking Permits are available free of charge.

10. Weather: Are gray skies and bad weather getting you down? Seasonal depression is real and nothing helps more than sunshine and getting exercise outdoors. Southern California’s weather is legendary and WeHo’s weather is no exception. The summers are warm and the winters are cool and partly cloudy. The temperature averages from 48° to 82° and rarely gets below 42° or above 90°. The last thing you want to worry about is bad weather. Staying in West Hollywood allows you to focus on your recovery, not digging snow out of the driveway or slogging through puddles of rain. 

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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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