HIV and Crystal Meth: A Fairy Tale
June 23, 2010
Now that I have your attention, I would like to share with you a little story.
I am a meth addict.
I know, the story could use a little more meat on its bones, so why don't we start this story as stories should be begun:
Once upon a time, a young fairy -- and by fairy I mean queer -- man was in college. Like many of his magical kind, he had many many issues. As a child, he had survived intense physical abuse, he was a person of color living in the third whitest state in the country (right after New Hampshire and Vermont), he was from the poor side of the fairy train tracks, and in college he was sexually assaulted.
This particular fairy had a wicked stepfather that he had seen knock his eight-months-pregnant mother unconscious outside of his home. That same stepfather was also a cocaine addict. When the fairy went to college he was virulently anti-drug. It wasn't until the summer after his freshman year that he got drunk for the first time. It wasn't until almost the end of his sophomore year of college that he tried his first drug, which was acid (it was the mid-'90s, after all).
As his college career progressed, he was very successful academically and socially, but emotionally he was, still, a hot hot hot mess. Around 21, he realized he needed some help. He spoke to his doctor, and the doctor prescribed him Paxil. The Paxil helped and it hurt. It got the fairy out of his emotional tailspin, but it also gave him an excuse to not find the underlying nature of his problems.
That was the same year that he first encountered ecstasy and the club scene. He discovered, in the late '90s, that being Latino was in, drugs were in, and he was in as long as he partied with the right crowd. In truth, he had a handle on his narcotic consumption. He would and did go long stretches without using drugs.
At the same time, when he did, he would often engage in risky sexual behavior, because, through that most physical and intimate of connections, for however long they lasted, that gaping emotional void wherein he felt alone, worthless and unloved, was filled (along with other parts of his anatomy). Of course, when the drugs wore off and the trick went home, he was left empty, and often worse than he had been before.
Then the fairy met a sweet boy that he adored. They started dating, and he left the drugs behind. He was, for a time, very happy (though, in hindsight, he realized that he was still finding fulfillment in external phenomena as opposed to doing the work to fulfill himself). He thought that he had found Prince Charming.
Until Prince Charming tested positive for HIV, followed shortly by the fairy finding out that he, too, was positive. Prince Charming was devastated and the fairy pretended as if he was not -- that as a former HIV Outreach Worker, he knew it wasn?t a death sentence, that life went on, and it would all be OK. Prince Charming let himself feel the emotional pain of seroconversion, while the fairy shoved down and locked out any negative feelings, put on a happy face, and danced off into the Mystical Land of Denial.
Soon thereafter the relationship ended. And the fairy was introduced to a new partner: Tina, aka crystal meth.
("Tina" is the street name most often used by the queer community for Meth; conversely, the period after using, when one is coming down and experiencing all the hell that entails, is often called "a visit from Ike" -- the reference being the abusive relationship between Ike and Tina Turner.)
Here was the friend, lover, partner, confidante that he had always wanted and needed. Tina stayed around much longer than other lovers; she made him feel invincible and sexy and loved and desirable -- all things that the HIV diagnosis had completely stripped away from him.
Of course, the fairy didn't know that Tina had a pimp named Ike, and while Tina was fun, Ike was worse than his wicked stepfather. Ike showed up after Tina went home, and he beat the fairy harder, faster, deeper, and more destructively than anything had ever done. And, like his mother, the fairy had battered woman's syndrome. For three years he kept going back for the joy and the pain until finally, one day, he broke down.
The fairy checked himself into the psych ward at Fairview Riverside Hospital, which was followed by a six-month spin at the Pride Institute. He has been fighting his addiction (and the wounds left by both Tina and Ike) ever since.
To be continued ...
Crystal meth let me let go of my childhood and my HIV diagnosis, temporarily.
There are more details to this story, and, the story is still being written. But the truth remains that I am an addict, and I will be for the rest of my life. I have made the decision, today, to leave crystal meth behind. But it is always there, just out of sight, waiting for a moment of weakness or a desire to escape, and more than once, I have gone back to her arms only to find out that Ike is still there, bigger, buffer and meaner than ever before.
I do not believe in moralizing. I have met amazing human beings that have this wondrous ability to go out, party with various drugs, and then go home, go to work, and not touch another drug for months at a time. They are not addicts. Of them I am deeply jealous.
I do not subscribe to the idea that all drugs are alike. For example, I hate marijuana. I have lived with a 24/7 pothead and never took a hit. I despise the drug, and it does nothing for me. In fact, there are many drugs I tried and disliked and never tried again. Or there were drugs that I liked but was able to walk away from at the end of the party.
But, I also know that where one drug is found, Tina is usually waiting, not far away, ready for a whirl on the dance floor. And Ike, that bastard, is the jealous ex waiting for me to leave.
Add HIV to drug addiction or drug addiction to HIV, and you have a recipe for a serious personal and spiritual disaster. For me, meth was a way to ignore my HIV diagnosis. It was an escape valve. When you are partying, almost never does anyone ever ask you your status. It is not often part of the conversation; and as such it is easy, for a time, to leave behind the stigma and shame and hurt and pain. But -- and listen closely here -- it is ALWAYS waiting there for you when you come down.
I didn't go to rehab in 2005 because I was a drug addict, I went to rehab because the overwhelming guilt at the number of sexual partners with whom I had unprotected sex was staggering, and the thought that I may have infected them literally drove me to the point of a mental break.
It did not matter that I was never asked my status. It didn't matter that I never asked anyone else his or her status. It did not matter that every sexual encounter, including at massive sex parties where no one was using a condom, was consensual. I felt like I was the one responsible for my behavior and the behavior of those with whom I engaged.
The mental burden took me to the point where, in one evening, in roughly an hour, I called every single person in my cell phone, including my mother, and came out to them as HIV positive and a drug addict.
Talk about not the best way to come out as poz or a drug addict.
I almost put my Mom in a mental ward, and when my best friend came to visit me in the emergency room, I tore a hole in her spirit. She came because I needed her, and she was there through it all, but I found out later that I had hurt her profoundly, not by my use but by not trusting her enough to ask for her help before I was in complete crisis.
I also went to rehab because my behavior was in direct opposition to the work I had done and continue to do as a social justice organizer, writer and advocate. I was living two completely distinct lives, and in one life I was directly working against the goals of my other life.
When I have relapsed since then, it is always the sex and not the drug use that brings me back. I find myself repeating old behaviors, and I find it a convenient excuse to validate the nasty tapes that have been playing, internally, for most of my life.
I am not here to tell anyone to abstain from drugs. That isn't my job, nor is it my right. I think that the best thing I can do is to share my story as openly and honestly as I can, and hope that some of the lessons I have learned, and that I continue to learn, can help others make the best decisions for themselves around substance use, abuse and HIV. And, every time I write about HIV and drug use and my behavior as an addict, I bring myself a step closer to forgiving myself.
Because, really, we all deserve to live happily ever after.
Read more of Queer, Poz and Colored: The Essentials, Brandon Lacy Campos' blog, at TheBody.com.
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