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We now live in a state where prescription drugs have far surpassed alcohol as the drug of choice and, with that, a known risk for addiction. The statistics are alarming, and with the Volunteer State’s crack-down on prescription pain meds, more and more users are turning to cheaper alternatives to the escape afforded to them by doctor shopping.
Across the U.S., we are seeing upticks in the statistics on abuse of meth and other synthetics, and in Maryland the Governor has declared her state’s heroin epidemic an “emergency.” But little alarm has been raised over the effects of drug abuse on someone living with HIV. What are the dangers of mixing the medical cocktail used to keep HIV from progressing into AIDS with the drugs an addict uses to escape the emotional pain of the disease? We sat down with an HIV patient in recovery to get the answers first hand.
Austin was living in Atlanta when he fell really ill. His roommate was dating a guy that was positive, and they urged Austin to go get tested because they didn’t feel there was a reason for him to be as sick as he was. They took him to the testing facility, and that’s when he found out he was positive. “When I found out about my status I was 28,” says Austin. “It was the summer of 2008.”
Austin hadn’t gotten tested a lot before that, and had never practiced safe sex. Austin had never exchanged needles or had a transfusion, so he knew that he had contracted the disease sexually. “Looking back it’s almost shocking that it took so long actually,” says Austin. “From there it was just all downhill.”
“It was someone I thought I knew really well, and that I trusted,” says Austin. “He did not know that he was positive. By the time I found out he had moved to San Diego, and I called him and told him, and he was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.’ I looked him up just the other day. He’s still running around telling everyone that he’s negative when I know for a fact that he’s not.”
When he found out, luckily, Austin had a really good support system. His friends rallied around him. He still, however, felt ashamed, scared and alone.
“The first act of the disease of addiction is isolation,” says Erik Hines of Addiction Campuses. “It makes you feel alone, and one of our basic needs as human beings is connection.”
Austin was already doing drugs recreationally when he found out about his status, but afterward he began to spiral out of control. He basically felt like there was nothing worse that could happen, which took him to a very dark place.
“I did meth to cope,” says Austin. “I engaged in chemsex. It was crazy. Looking back, there were a lot of things I shouldn’t have done, but I did it anyway. I felt like I could just have sex and not worry anymore.”
Some people, especially those in the so-called “bug chaser” community, consider contracting HIV a relief: “bug chasers” seek to contract the disease to relieve them of the “burden” of “living in constant fear” of contracting the disease. Like Austin, once they have HIV they feel as if they can engage in sexual activity without worry. Experts say this can be very dangerous for a person living with HIV, as they are susceptible to contracting other sexually transmitted diseases.
“I spiraled into meth,” says Austin. “I just kept doing more and more and more and more and more. You start to not take care of yourself.” Austin’s doctor put him on Norvir, a protease inhibitor that reduces the amount of disease in the body; Rayetez, which treats infections in the body caused by the disease; and Truvada, another infection fighter. Austin was able to lower his intake of meth when he went on the HIV meds, but still wasn’t able to let go of the grip of addiction.
He quickly began to miss his daily regimen of meds. “It kept the medication from working as effectively as it could have,” says Austin. “If you miss more than once a month, you run the risk of becoming resistant to the medications. I would be on meth and get all scatterbrained and forget to take my meds a few days at a time.”
Luckily Austin never became resistant to his life saving drugs. Someone addicted to meth is usually articulate and can maintain some level of function while using. It is when they are not using that meth is all their brain can think about. “I was doing about half an 8 ball a week,” says Austin. An 8 ball is around 1.75 grams.
Austin’s HIV got very close to turning into AIDS at one point during his addiction. When he moved back to Nashville a year after his diagnosis, he was going every month to do lab work and his CD4, or T cell count, got down to around 300. T cells, or white blood cells, fight off infectious disease in the body. The lab test measures how many T cells the patient has per cubic millimeter of blood. A healthy person has anywhere from 500-1500. A person is usually diagnosed with AIDS when the count gets to 200 or below. “Most people that I know stay around 600-700,” says Austin.
“One day I woke up and realized that I was being stupid,” says Austin. “I was tired, I was cranky, I wasn’t taking my meds. I was able to stop. I honestly just stopped. When I did, my CD4 jumped about 600 points, and my viral load lowered to around 200. The doctor asked me what I was doing differently and I said that I had stopped doing drugs.” Austin added that his doctor said, paraphrasing, “That’ll do it.”
Austin says he didn’t lose friends when he stopped, but he did lose acquaintances. Meth is a stimulant, so the most dangerous time is during the actual high, versus downers, such as opiates and benzos, where the highest risk factor is during the withdrawal period. Luckily, Austin didn’t have to detox physically, but he did have to detox mentally.
“It wasn’t the physical high that was the reason why I did it,” says Austin. “It was the mental escape. An escape from the way that I thought I felt.” He’s had relapses when he says he’s put himself in situations he didn’t need to be in, tempting situations that have occurred since his recovery process started.
Addiction Campuses promotes a “full life detox,” which they say is absolutely necessary for any chance at recovery. “You have to detox your life from every angle,” says Addiction Campuses’ Dr. Jason Brooks. “Treatment is absolutely imperative to a long-lasting recovery. Clean out your house, your phone, your social networking and the company you keep.”
Austin too has a strong message for people who are HIV positive and using drugs to cope. “Don’t,” says Austin. “All it is going to do is make it harder for you health wise. It’s not going to make anything easier. It’s a hard fight anyway just being positive, it doesn’t need any help. You can miss medications, it can keep them from being as effective as they could be. All kinds of things can go wrong.”
Austin says the important thing when you are diagnosed is to deal with it head on. “Get a good support system,” says Austin. “Hang around a good circle. That’s what helped me was my friends and my family. Being able to just talk to them about whatever I needed to talk with them about.”
For those with a thirst to celebrate, Red Bull Unlocked is the key. In city after city, the most exciting bars, clubs, mixologists, performing artists, and more take over a local landmark building to showcase their signature ambiance while also collaborating for a must-see mashup. And now it's Music City’s turn to seize the spotlight, as the event brings 10 bars together in East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood.
Fueled by the best of Nashville’s thriving music scene, Red Bull Unlocked has curated an eclectic night of show-stopping entertainment performances including a pop-up Whiskey Jam show, DJ sets, musicians, and more. The full lineup is here:
- Whiskey Jam (feat. Dozzi, Willie Shaw, and Johnny Hayes)
- A.B. Eastwood
- Daisha / Rap Girl
- Boom Bap (DJ Collective feat. DJ-Rate, Case Bloom)
- Whiskey Disco (DJ Collective feat. Coach, Jim O'Shea)
- Old Crow Medicine Show’s Jerry Pentercost (DJ Set)
- DJ Stretch
- DJ Griffin Green
- The Play Mates (Drag Show feat. Sasha, Vanity, Deception, Aura Mayari, Corlis Todd, and Carmin Triple C)
Counting down to the epic celebration, Daisha shares, “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to perform in so many of Nashville’s top spots all in the same night. Fans can expect a lot of bops and high energy. I want people to dance and have a good time.”
Ward Guenther, Whiskey Jam Founder, adds, “Red Bull has been enjoyed at Whiskey Jam since the very first night, so it's only fitting Whiskey Jam is enjoyed at Nashville's first Red Bull Unlocked. Looking forward to this!”
Red Bull Unlocked Istanbul
Photo courtesy of Red Bull
Local favorites including Pearl Diver, Tin Roof, Lipstick Lounge, White Limozeen, and more will join forces for one epic night. Full list of bars and partners below:
- The Dive Motel
- Lipstick Lounge
- Pearl Diver
- Play Dance Bar
- Rosemary & Beauty Queen
- The Stage
- Tin Roof
- Whiskey Jam
- White Limozeen
- Woolworth Theatre – Opening Fall 2022!
- Eleven Eleven - Opening 2023!
Date: August 21, 2022
Time: 6 PM – 11PM CT
Location: 1102 Forrest Ave, Nashville, TN 37206
Entrance: Ticked event
Rumble Boxing, the boxing-inspired group fitness studio, opened its doors for the first time in Nashville on June 20 at 609 Overton St, Nashville, TN. The hottest workout on the block is hosting its official grand opening from August 4th-7th with daily classes, membership specials, and prizes from local vendors. The new Rumble Boxing studio is currently offering a buy one class, get one free promotion for the Nashville community.
Rumble Boxing delivers 45-minute, 10-round, strength and conditioning group workouts, crafted around teardrop-style aqua boxing bags and high-intensity strength training circuits. This brings all fitness levels together to experience what Rumble is known for: combining the sweet science of boxing with high energy and positive vibes.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
This boutique fitness brand offers serious benefits like increased stamina and strength, with cardio that’s actually fun. The seasoned trainers at the new studio are thrilled to serve their local community while offering this fun, new modern approach to boxing and welcome members of all fitness levels to the Rumble family.
The new Rumble Boxing studio is owned and operated by Blake Baskin and Antonio Compton. With their background in the fitness industry, this dynamic duo is excited to bring their passion for boxing and group fitness to Nashville. As business and life partners, Blake and Antonio aim to create a strong community within their new Rumble Boxing studio and share their message of non-apologetic inclusivity.
Black and Gay-Owned Business
Rumble Boxing Store with Dolly Parton Mural
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“We own who we are, and this brand aligns with that perfectly,” said Antonio. “This is what we want to create and bring to this community: a fitness class that is designed for anyone and a place for people to be who they are. As a Black and gay-owned business, we want to help lower the division we see in the world right now. Our goal is to bring people together through Rumble, set everything aside, and have fun.”
To echo their message of acceptance and inclusion, Blake and Antonio commissioned a local Nashville artist to paint an 11 X 6-ft. mural of Nashville icon and philanthropist, Dolly Parton. The massive portrait features the country star in Rumble Boxing gear in the lobby of the studio.
The excitement and buzz around Rumble allowed Blake and Antonio to recruit top-tier trainers to head up the new studio, including Head Trainer Oronde Jones, a well-known celebrity trainer in the Nashville market.
Rumble Boxing Fitness Studio
Photo courtesy of Rumble Boxing Gulch Nashville
“Compared to other fitness classes, Rumble is a class you can truly get lost in for 45 minutes. With the dark room, you don’t have to worry if anyone is paying attention to you. The music is awesome and inspiring, and the beat drops right when you need it the most. Also, with boxing being a sport you can never truly master, you’re always improving and crafting your skill. On the floor, you’re consistently doing something new, which prevents you from ever hitting a plateau.” Said Oronde Jones about his favorite part of Rumble.
Rumble has massive brand loyalty and widespread appeal, partly thanks to attracting top names like Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kendall Jenner, Hailey Baldwin, Jason Derulo, David Beckham, and Kevin Hart to its studios.
About Rumble Boxing
Founded in New York City in 2017, Rumble is a group fitness concept delivering a mix (or combination) of boxing-inspired circuits and the transformative power of resistance training. Pro and amateur fighters glove up together, no matter their fitness level or skill, to reveal their inner fighter. The experience is a 45-minute, 10-round, full-body cardio and strength workout crafted around specially designed water-filled, teardrop-style boxing bags. Rumble was founded by Noah Neiman (former Barry’s Bootcamp Master Trainer, and cast member of Bravo’s Work Out New York), Eugene Remm (Co-Founder of Catch Hospitality Group (Catch Restaurants, CATCH STEAK, Lexington Brass), Andy Stenzler (Co-Founder Cosí, Kidville), and Anthony DiMarco (13-time IRONMAN, former Managing Director, Google).
Who would have thought that we would have to get through a pandemic in order to appreciate the small things we have, such as the ability to simply pack our bags and hit the road?
For two years, there’s been nothing left for us travel junkies to do but sit at home and try to find new destinations that we will conquer once we defeat what appears to be the biggest villain of the 21st century. But once that happens, hold your bags tight because we will be up for some of the most interesting travel experiences. Take a look at some ideas for your post-COVID traveling plans:
A Gay Cruise
One of the best options to have in mind when all of this passes is a good, nice and long (pun intended) gay cruise. Or cruise in general, for that matter. Bear in mind, social distancing will still be a thing in the post-COVID world. But COVID-19 likely doesn’t mean that cruises will cease to exist. On the contrary, though cruise ships will probably keep the number of passengers smaller than before, it is believed that they will become an even bigger hit in the following period, especially because they are all going to go a lot more environmentally-friendly. On the bright side, is there any better way of celebrating the end of the pandemic than by cruising around some magnificent seas, stopping by at great cities and having romantic dinner nights at nice restaurants?
A getaway in nature
On the other hand, there is always the option of stepping away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and spending some time in a place that’s not only healthy, but also beautiful. Some of the destinations that plenty of people will look for are the ones that can cater for both peace of mind and amazing things to see or do. One such destination is New Zealand, one of the greenest countries on Earth right now. Not only will you be visiting the magnificent country that gave us the beautiful Shire from Lord of the Rings; this is also a destination that’s excellent for everyone who prefers relaxing to partying. If you’re up for some partying, you will be able to hit Auckland, while if you’re for something calmer, there’s plenty of amazing places that you can see and visit.
Dancing Around at Pride
Pride parades are also events that you want to have in mind for the post-COVID world. Such events have always been quite important, but it seems that they are now more important than ever. The virus has canceled more than 75 Pride parades all around the world, which is one of the reasons why we must support the ones that will see the light of day once the pandemic stops. Truth be told, the upcoming Prides will perhaps be the best Prides ever organized. Give the gays a couple of weeks of quarantine, then let them outside and see what kind of party they are able to throw!
A road trip
If you’re, as well, waiting for the day to wake up and say “long gone are the days when we were not allowed to go wherever we wanted?”, and if staying at one place gave you a lot to think about, then your first post-COVID travel experience should definitely be a nice road trip. You can practically choose which country you want to tour, and you can either take your own car (you have probably missed it so much), or rent one at your destination. Australia is an amazing country for this, though, as it offers the possibility of seeing the Great Ocean Road, which is an amazing thing to see and experience. On the other hand, if you do not want or cannot leave your country, you can also choose to go on a domestic road trip – there are amazing things to see in your vicinity as well.
Holiday for a single guy
If you’re single, or you’re traveling someplace with another single friend, then you should definitely organize a nice vacation for yourself or for you and your single friend, and hit one of the best European cities. Europe has been greatly affected by the virus, which means that now it’s time to pay it back and get it back on its feet by traveling there and seeing all the amazing things it offers. Any city you choose in Europe – you will not make a mistake. Apart from being able to see great landmarks, you will also have the chance to have a drink at great gay clubs and pubs, and join unforgettable gay parties. And if the gay scenery is not your forte, worry not, as Europe indeed has to offer so many different and magnificent things.