July 18, 2013
Do we have an obligation to intervene when our friends are engaging in behaviors that are dangerous and potentially deadly? Some of my closest friends and peers are shooting, snorting and sleeping their way to potential HIV infection and eventually death. Am I responsible through inaction for their ultimate demise?
We have all seen the commercials that teach us to stop a person who has been drinking from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle; however, why can I not do the same thing for other dangerous actions? It is time that all of us start to have real conversations with each other if we expect to turn the tide of new infections as well as the death of our generation by way of addiction to drugs such as crystal meth and heroin to name a few.
Recently Glee fans from around the world were saddened to hear of the sudden death of Cory Monteith, who played the lead character of Finn. Monteith made his own personal struggle with addiction public last year when he entered drug rehab for the first time. It now appears as if Monteith's battle with addiction to methamphetamines was still ongoing. Monteith's death follows on the heels of Spencer Cox, world-renowned AIDS activist, who also lost his battle with addiction, and only further serves to highlight the need for action.
As I travel across the United States sharing my experiences as a person living with HIV since June 6, 2011, one thing stands out to me: People are still using crystal meth. As a recovering addict, I can tell you that during the height of my addiction I would have loved for anyone to have told me how much I was hurting myself. What started out simply as something I would do while partying with friends soon became a major addiction that wrecked every aspect of my life, ending with my being becoming infected with HIV. I could have easily have been another Monteith or Cox. My life while using meth consisted of trolling hookup sites looking for my next trick, while looking for my next fix. There were never enough tricks and there was definitely never enough meth. Psychologically, I had devolved to a state of amphetamine-psychosis, a consequence of chronic amphetamine use. Symptoms mimic those of schizophrenia and include hallucinations, hearing voices, paranoia, mental confusion, loss of time, emotional flatness, not eating, and inability to sleep, just to name a few.
Logging on to any hookup application or websites I'm continually amazed to see the headlines for "Party N Play", "PNP" all code for fellow-tweakers (a term used to describe a person who uses meth). Bathhouses are filled with guys who are doped up on chemicals; the actions they engage in while under the influence create a breeding ground, no pun intended, for new HIV infection.
You might ask, "How does this guy know about what goes on in my bathhouse?" My response is that I am most likely a card-carrying member of your bathhouse. I have no shame in disclosing the fact that I frequent bathhouses around the world. Regardless of what your social standing, we are all equalized when we are wandering the halls of the bathhouse in a towel simply looking for our next trick. It is time for us to have the tough conversations with our friends who are dealing with addiction.
The reality is that the bathhouses are filled with your friends who slip in after a night of partying. You may never know about it because they know that you would judge them. It is time to admit that you likely have at least one friend or acquaintance who is an addict but they believe they have it under control. All addicts think that they have it under control but the truth is that addiction is in control.
We need to face it that there are two messages being told. The most prevalent and politically correct message is that condoms need to be used each and every time that you have sex. The reality however is that not everyone wants to use condoms and consequently we are not wearing them, more personally ... I will not wear them. The reason that no one freely admits that we are not using condoms is because we do not want to be preached at and shamed. While condoms offer protection against exposure to HIV they are just one of many tools that we have currently. If we are truly committed to reducing stigma and having a conversation about reducing new HIV infections we must end the stigma surrounding unprotected sex. I will always choose to have no sex at all rather than to have sex with a condom.
It is time for us to have the tough conversations with each other regarding risk-reduction practices and prevention outside of simply putting a condom on. It is time to wake up and recognize that beating people over the head with the "condom" message isn't cutting it. A better conversation to have with friends who refuse to use condoms might be whether they have heard of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) or what other risk-reduction practices they use.
People are going to make their own choices regardless of how you feel about it. If we are committed to changing the tide of new HIV infections and addiction, then it is time for us to start having real conversations free of judgment and stigma. Are you responsible for your friend's HIV infection? That is only something that you can answer. Ultimately each person is responsible for their own actions; however as friends and family don't we have a higher responsibility to intervene when a person is engaging in behavior that presents a high probability of negative results such as HIV infection and in some cases death? Without these tough conversations then how many more of our friends fall victim to addiction and risky behavior?
Read Aaron's blog, My HIV Journey.