By Jake Myers, MFT
Jake is a therapist at the Gay Therapy Center. He sees clients at the Hollywood Center in Los Angeles, and worldwide by phone and Skype.
When I look back on it all now, I realize it was just going to be a matter of time. As a gay man coming of age in the early 2000’s, of course it would make sense that in a fairly short time-frame I would cross paths with the darkness known as crystal meth. While I had been drinking, smoking pot, and dabbling in psychedelics and other drugs since high school, I discovered meth when in college through the gay club scene. Coming from a tumultuous, repressed, and traumatizing family life, suddenly being in an accepting space with other gay men who encouraged me to be free, feel good, and not hide my sexual feelings was like a dream come true. The clubs felt like a new family had embraced me, and with that I would pretty much try anything that was put in front of me. Being in this environment was a high in-and-of-itself, but when combined with the substances that were going around (ecstasy, GHB, meth, ketamine), I was truly flying for what felt like the first time.
After coming from the other end of the spectrum, not being allowed to develop naturally and express my true self and sexuality, being in this space felt so good and so free that I never wanted it to end. What’s a better way to keep things going, going, and still going? The miracle of crystal meth, of course. It allowed my friends and I to keep dancing all night long, followed by having sex in a way that made up for all the years of stifled longing and buried desires.
Meth has long been associated with gay men. The lost inhibitions induced by the drug are in such contradiction to the lifetime of suppression that most gay men have to adopt, that the appeal is magnetic. Growing up in a largely homophobic society, we can’t help but develop with feelings of shame about who we are, and even internalized homophobia. Long-term effects of feeling this way about ourselves include depression and anxiety. So when something can come along and literally strip away those feelings of shame, sadness, not feeling good enough, repression, isolation, etc., it’s no wonder that it’s hard to stop it. Add to that the fact that meth is one of the most physically addicting substances there is, and it’s a perfect storm of abuse and dependence. The days and days of being up and not sleeping, and the intense dopamine release during that time, make the come-down one of the worst one can experience. Instead of enduring that come down for long periods, it can seem much easier to just go back to the “happy place” sooner rather than later, especially if there is any predisposition to addictive behavior.
The problem is, that “happy place” has a shelf life. Meth worked for me until it didn’t. At first it helped me keep the party going, keep the sex hot, keep the mood up, but something began to shift the more I did it. I became dependent on it in order to feel “okay” in my own skin. When I wasn’t on it anymore, something was off and I found it so difficult to contend with regular life, connect with others, and find any joy or pleasure in day-to-day things. The world became grey, muted, and not pleasurable when I was off it.
I believe that the combination of meth’s extremely physically addicting qualities, along with the unique feelings that a gay man grows up with in terms of how he feels about himself, sets up a perfect marriage between gay men and meth use, and explains why the drug is so rampant in our community. As a recovered meth addict, and a therapist specializing in addiction and recovery, I have seen countless times how this drug can take people down to the depths. I’ve seen gay men lose their minds, kill themselves, go to jail, steal or hurt others, and I’m humbled to acknowledge how close to death I probably came in my usage. The effects of the drug on the brain and body keep getting exponentially more damaging, and between the physical addiction and the subsequent loss of impulse control, it can be extremely difficult to get out of the cycle of using.
One of the first steps you can take towards recovery is to get help from another person. Addiction is often larger than us. It’s not always something that is a matter of will power. If we could simply stop on our own, we would. It’s imperative to have some kind of support and structure that can help keep you above water when you feel like you might drown. If you know of anyone that used to use, but no longer does, it can be a great help to reach out to that person and let them know what you’re going through. Seeing a queer affirming therapist can also be an important step. In therapy you can come up with a plan to intercept addictive behaviors, and learn to cope with difficult emotions more effectively. You may even realize you need more accountability than just therapy alone. There are recovery groups around, including 12-step groups, that can provide even more structure and tools for living life in a different way.
Ultimately, recovery will require a brave step towards giving up something that once worked for you, but now no longer works and always leads to the same dark, anxiety filled place. It will involve slowly facing some of the things that were easily avoided by doing drugs (shame, depression, anxiety, etc.) and learning to deal with these in a new and different way. It can seem scary or overwhelming at first, but if you take it one moment at a time, it’s easier than you think. And don’t forget, you don’t have to do this alone. For me, I found a truly better life awaited me on the other side, filled with freedom, relief, authentic connection, and happiness.