Inside the world of drugs, sex, and Jesus in the gay community
Many of us have that friend who always has the Alice in Wonderland pill to provide just the right escape, from the potion that dims the insecurities left by that “ex-who-knows-what-we-were” to the “I-only-get-two-days-off-a-week-so-make-it-count” pill that guarantees all-night shirtless dancing doesn’t stop you from getting brunch with the girls.
Odds are, you or someone you know has tried some pill, potion, or powder—or at least once considered it. It’s almost innocuous in the gay world. Is it a club thing? Is it a peer pressure thing? Or is it really a GAY thing? The CDC reports that, compared with the general population, LGBT individuals are more likely to use and abuse alcohol and drugs, and to continue abuse into later life. But what makes this the case?
To find out, I knew I had to go to the source: people either in the grips of, or in recovery from, their addictions. Several common denominators—including a drug of choice—showed me a whole new dimension of what’s going on around us in the midst of the winks and woofs.
During my investigation, I met two people—I’ll refer to them as Rose and Nick—who forever changed my perception of the epidemic. Each had a history of misconceptions, misunderstandings, and rejection.
Coming Out, and Abuse
“Before I was adopted at the age of six, I had lived in nine different foster homes, but I kept getting placed back with my mother,” she recalled. “I remember there was a blind lady that lived near us. I wanted to do something nice for her, so I took her mail and sat it on the porch for her so she didn’t have to walk to her box. But it ended up raining that day and ruined her mail.”
When Rose’s mother found out what Rose had done, she and her aunt tormented her, beating her on the leg with switches. “There was a friend of the family, a preacher in town, that agreed to take me in,” Rose said. “At first it was a very loving family. I was spoiled.”
Her dream of a loving family had come true, or so it seemed. Rose would suffer years of sexual abuse at the hand of her adoptive father. While she confided in her brother, she couldn’t identify the perpetrator. “He went to my parents,” said Rose. “He didn’t realize it was our father.” A concerned mother confronted Rose with her father there. The intimidation of his presence forced her into silence about the abuse.
Rose came out as bisexual to her mother when she was twelve, after years of physical, sexual, and mental abuse, but her mother didn’t know how to handle it. Living in a small town in Arkansas, she felt alone, as though there were no other girls who liked girls. “My escape was Queer as Folk,” Rose said. “I stayed up until 10 p.m. and couldn’t WAIT to watch it. It was my only connection to the gay community.”
Nick also suffered sexual assault before turning to drug and alcohol abuse. His coming out story is like something out of a horror movie. “I was friends with a straight boy in high school. I think his girlfriend was away at band camp,” Nick reported. “He came over and we started drinking.” As the night progressed, Nick’s “friend” spiked his drink with Xanax and raped him.
He confided in another friend, who ended up telling the principal, who then called his parents. “I came out to my parents as gay while informing them someone who I thought was a friend had drugged and date-raped me in our home,” Nick recalled.
From Abuse to Abuse
Rose’s chemical abuse began when her group started bringing alcohol to school. “I would bring a Dr. Pepper bottle to school but I would mix it with bourbon, or Black Velvet whiskey,” Rose reported. No one knew because, according to Rose, it didn’t affect her performance in school. She was an A and B student until her junior and senior years, when she began drinking heavily.
She soon moved to live with her sister, who faced an even darker addiction. “She would take her prescription pain medicine and drive for hours to Memphis and sell them so she could buy meth,” says Rose. Despite Rose’s pleading, her sister continued to abuse the drug until her death in 2007—likely from health complications exacerbated by drug abuse. Rose then dropped out of college and immersed herself in Memphis’s gay nightlife. “I couldn’t get enough of it,” said Rose. “I had finally met people who loved and accepted me for who I am.”
Immersion in the bar scene and alcohol abuse were Nick’s initial coping mechanisms as well. “The only place we really have to meet other people like us is a bar,” Nick reflected. “Alcohol is…liquid courage. But there were some nights I would look back and ask myself what I did the last few hours.”
Rose was taken in and warned of the scene’s dangers by a drag queen at the club where Rose ended up working. “She would tell me who to stay away from and who was okay,” Rose said. “She’d tell me ‘that person’s not a good person. Stay away from them, honey, they will lead you down the wrong path.’” Her warnings fell on rebellious ears: “I was young. I was like ‘Who are you to tell me who I can and can’t hang out with’.”
Nick eventually started dating a prescription drug addict. “He had an addiction,” Nick said. “But honestly there are a lot of doctors out there that are nothing more than legal dealers.” The choice for Nick’s boyfriend seemed between being drugged out or being sick. Nick and his boyfriend were convinced by a dealer that meth could help with the opiate withdrawals. The two decided to do it together. “I was instantly hooked,” Nick admitted. “I was able to kick my alcohol and weed addiction because all I wanted was meth.”
Rose, too, said she was immediately hooked after one of the people she was warned about turned her on to meth: “I felt like I could stay up forever. And when I was up, no one could sneak up on me. You can watch your own back.” While Rose dabbled in other drugs, none was as satisfying as meth. Meth also gave Rose a sense of clarity. “I can remember things, and I’m able to carry on a conversation. When I use, I am the loud girl who doesn’t care what anybody thinks,” says Rose. “A lot of times I feel like I don’t make real connections, though. Like they’re connecting with [that loud girl] and not me.”
Deep in the Scene
Both she and Nick eventually graduated from using to handling. “I was a runner,” says Rose. “If we had gotten caught, I would’ve taken the fall, but I never paid for the drugs.” After he started dealing and realized who was using, Nick started to find it more socially acceptable. He saw it wasn’t just a “redneck, trailer trash” sort of drug. “College professors, judges, Senators, guys pulling up to buy it in their $80,000 Mercedes,” says Nick.
Nick and his boyfriend began engaging in chemsex, which involves the use of meth or other concoctions to enhance sexual pleasure. “Some of the best orgasms I’ve ever had were on meth,” says Nick. “You feel comfortable, and your inhibitions go out the door.”
Experts have warned that participants in chemsex face a multitude of dangers, from losing inhibitions and putting yourself at risk for rape and a number of STDs to significant, long-term side effects. But the psychological impacts should not be minimized. “I always felt very lonely and very empty afterword,” Nick reflects.
Both ended up spinning out of control. “One time I smoked three grams in two days,” says Rose. “I didn’t know you had to drink water. I was dehydrated.”
“I ended up getting arrested after my boyfriend cooked meth in our home,” says Nick. “You think you’re being slick. But your friends and family know.”
Nick eventually found help in—of all places—a Christian rehabilitation program. “I was skeptical at first,” says Nick. “But everyone at Addiction Campuses of Tennessee (ACT) was very welcoming to me and very helpful. And I feel loved and accepted here.”
Located in the hills of Rutherford County, ACT was where Nick learned to loosen himself from the grips of addiction. “It’s not what you’d expect,” says Nick. “I was accepted with open arms. Not all Christians are closed minded.”
Erik Hines, a Christian minister in recovery and the President of ACT, says their program is not about condoning or judging any lifestyle. “It’s not our debate to have,” says Hines. “We are about helping people and giving them the tools they need to set them free from their addiction.”
Nick, who is in recovery, says eventually he got sick and tired of being sick and tired. Rose, who used meth shortly before our interview, says she manages her addiction daily.
“It’s not something that’s easy, but it’s possible to maintain for a little while,” says ACT spokesperson, Julie Eisenbeck, of meth addiction. “It is an addiction that alters the brain so that when someone IS using they are at peace and comfortable, but when they are not they’re miserable. The problem is the use of the drug must escalate to achieve the same results. More meth kills the body. Too much meth kills the soul. The end result is always death.”
Nick and Rose were both victims of sexual assault. Both came from small towns and felt isolated at a very young age. And lastly, neither had a sense of self that empowered them to “just say no.” The difficulties that many LGBT people face growing up create these common conditions. Many come from homes where they are not accepted and live in a world that doesn’t fully acknowledge protect or extend love to LGBT people. Sometimes we act flamboyantly or do outrageous things to build our sense of self. When we find acceptance, it is almost impossible to resist the pressures that acceptance brings.
After our interview, Rose, who had used meth not long before our interview, reached out to ask for ACT’s number, but as of this writing, Rose has not called. Nick, meanwhile, is doing well in recovery and will graduate from ACT’s program soon and move into transitional living.
I’m proud to work for addiction treatment campus that accepts and heals our baggage no matter where we put our junk. If you are or know someone who is fighting the disease of addiction, you can contact our helpline at 1.888.614.2251 or log onto www.addictioncampuses.com.