Ask the Dawg

No, I’m not attempting to pull an Ann Landers. But I received an e-mail from a friend that was like several I’ve received lately. I thought I’d write about it.

Dear Michael:

I have sorta become involved with someone who it would appear has a serious crystal problem. Who knew? 🙂 It was a chapter that was missing from my portfolio of disasterous relationships, so i felt compelled to fill it in. But the bottom line is that, beneath all the shit of the addiction, I can still see he is a sweet, lovely, gentle guy and I hate to just walk away. Since you are my inside track to addicitions of such a flavor, is there really nothing else I can do to help? I mean, it feels like desertion of a really decent person in serious trouble.

It was like smoking cigarettes. Nobody ever likes their first cigarette. But if you persist, against all wisdom and evidence, smoking becomes your new, clingy friend; if not exactly good for you, then at least very dependable.

I didn’t like crystal the first couple of times I tried it, snorting a bump on a South of Market dance floor very late at night, a friend of mine showing me with his finger how to rub the residue along my gum line. It gave me the energy and drive to stay longer, to move more, to sweat more. But later I’d lay wide-eyed in bed, anxious, heart pounding, unable to fall asleep.

I think it was the third time that did it, sitting in a car with three other men outside a South of Market club. They showed me how to flick the lighter under the glass pipe, to wait for the smoke to form, and to suck it into my lungs for a split second (any longer was supposed to be dangerous, imagine that!) and then release the smoke. The bitter chemical film covering my tongue; someone handing me a bottle of juice to clear the taste. My pounding heart and our laughter filling the car, an overwhelming feeling of power and sex. Driving with these new, barely-familiar friends to my house where I put on a CD of house music that I still find difficult to hear to this day. I shared my stash of GHB with them. Another round with the crystal pipe; opening the living room window so we could blow the smoke outside. Then back in the car (driving while intoxicated, who, me?) and down to the Power Exchange, my first time in a sex club. The crystal and the G forming a chemical atmospheric perfection that I would never be able to duplicate again; the energy and the power and the sex, the sharp edges rubbed from everything; every man that passed a shadowy figure of potential. I wouldn’t touch anyone that night; I just watched, the vicarious thrill pumping juice through my veins; porn playing on a big-screen TV in a musty, thin-carpeted room tucked around the corner, honest-to-god pup tents set up in a gymnasium; boys walking by carrying dixie cups full of lube. Two men clutching each other in a flourescent-lit, poorly equipped weight room.

Again back into the car and now on to the Pleasuredome (my breath constricting with these memories, I have to pause now and look out the window at the overcast San Francisco sky, the pale houses stacked together on the green hills, the dark line of minor mountains behind them) where we danced on a half-empty floor. Later as I stood off to the side I could not stop moving; the drugs and the music synchronized in my bones like black magic; me unable to resist the bass, my eyes flying over the boys around me, again and again. Hours later emerging into the fucking sunlight, wanting sunglasses to shade my dilated, tweaking pupils as a boy leaning against his white Mercedes bore holes in my body with his eyes.

We weren’t finished. We drove to an after-hours club, some dark ruin of a bar in the Tenderloin that didn’t seem to have a name. As we walked in, a bus passed us and I caught the eye of a man dressed in a suit on his way to the office. He gave our motley group an amused once-over before turning his gaze away. Twenty people in the bar, my friend disappearing into a bathroom stall with a boy he just met, me finally wanting to go home, to get the hell out of there and to get back to my bed, sleep or no sleep. Driving home after letting the others off, hands gripping the steering wheel, and underneath my shame was a throbbing excitement, having glimpsed the city’s underbelly for the first time, the desire to shed “good boy” for awhile. I had already begun planning how I’d call my dealer and ask not for the Ecstasy, but for the crystal instead.


“Once inside a neuron, methamphetamine causes that neuron to release lots of dopamine. All this dopamine causes the person to feel an extra sense of pleasure that can last all day. But eventually these pleasurable effects stop. They are followed by unpleasant feelings called a “crash” that often lead a person to use more of the drug. If a person continues to use methamphetamine, they will have a difficult time feeling pleasure from anything.”

That was the beginning. There is a good two years worth of more scandals and stories. I would spare you from them but I keep writing about them, little by little, as the doors unlock and the regret fades into a need to understand. But not today.

To sum it up: the shame turned to fear as the months passed and I began to realize that I could not stop. I tried every goddamned week. I’d snort or smoke the last of the powder (visions of gasoline and drain cleaner emptied into a bathtub ringed with grime) and by this point I was such a tic-ridden wreck that I often threw it out, into the swirling toilet or once, following the final rehearsal for a play, into a gutter in the Mission district). This would be a Sunday, or a Monday. I was bartending by this point, so normal business hours didn’t apply. And I would quit. And I’d suffer the crash, the darkest depression, the inertia and the hopelessness and the dwindling afternoon light. And by Wednesday I needed it again. I needed it to breathe. I rarely made it past Thursday before calling the dealer again.

I could not stop for my boyfriend. I could not stop for the play (for which I received very mixed reviews in a role that one critic said had more lines than Hamlet). I could not stop for my job. I could not stop for my dying mother. When I finally slunk into the rooms of AA I still could not stop; I’d get twenty days and then use, I’d get twenty-eight days and use.

What changed? I gave up. I was beaten down into a state of total despair, of what they call “incomprehensible demoralization”. I had come into AA with the notion that I didn’t need to do what everyone else did; go to meetings everyday, find a sponsor who’d help me work the steps, ask for help. My individuality was still so crucial; I needed to be different from all the other drunks. Terminal uniqueness, they call it. Finally, after yet another night of reckless despair, I slunk in; hung over, tweaked-out, hopeless. I turned to a friend who had asked “how are you?” and replied, “I don’t think I can do this.”

He found me the sponsor, who I refer to as Bearbait on dogpoet. And the next time I wanted to use, the next time I felt completely alienated from everyone and everything, I called him instead. And somehow the urge disappeared. I called him everyday. We began working the steps. And little by little the days stacked up, one upon the other.

I’ve been sober a little over two years now. I’m not an expert in addiction and recovery; all I have is my experience and my observations of other people’s experiences. There are people who have stopped without the help of 12-step programs. All I can offer is my experience.

I don’t think it’s possible to get sober for anyone else. I’ve seen people try, and they always fail. I think someone needs to lose nearly everything before they have the willingness to try something new. Benjamin Franklin said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” The half-baked attempts to cut back, to control, to modify one’s drug intake; doomed from the start. We are very stubborn creatures, raised to believe we are all masters of our destiny, that we can control other people, circumstances, events. The fallacies that kill us.

Some people need to lose everything; love, jobs, homes, cars. They need to end up in jail or institutions or dead. I’m a bit of a lightweight; I needed to have only the threat of homelessness before I came into AA. And even then I needed to lose more hope before I finally changed.

Crystal is epidemic; Like AIDS in the eighties, we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Crystal is so highly addictive. People who may not have become alcoholics are brought down by crystal. I am haunted far more by the visceral, throbbing memories of snorting and smoking crystal than I am by my drinking memories. I can be around alcohol quite easily. I doubt I could stay in the same room with crystal.

There is still such a stigma about needing help. Some people who are not addicts think that everyone should be able to control their usage. If I hear one more bitchy queen get on her rickety, glitter-stained soap box to tell us why she’s so fierce because she can control her drug use, I’m gonna start bitch-slapping. Such opinions are akin to a healthy person telling a cancer patient “You’re sick? Get a life.” Grrrr.

Yes, this is an issue I am passionate about. I rarely preach on dogpoet. I can’t stand preaching and soapboxes. But I’m going to ask those of you who think that everyone can just “control” their usage to think about it, think about the repercussions; who are you helping? (That is, if helping is even a concern of yours)

I was telling a friend recently that the media depictions of AA meetings are all wrong: they’re always dark and grey and depressing, and there’s always the mocking of “Hi, my name is…”. That hasn’t been my experience. Meetings are jovial, boisterous, full of laughter and yes, sometimes tears. Not because of despair. Because all of us in that room have visited the antechambers of hell, and have returned, and are busy creating better lives. Yes, sometimes I miss drugs. Sometimes I want to get really fucked up. But now and then I get the kind of high that is sustained, that is pure and overwhelming and I don’t have to pay for it the next day or the next week or the rest of my life. Oh yeah, and as Bearbait once said, “Sober sex can make your toes curl.”

What can you do? You can tell your friend that you love him no matter what, and that you will help him get sober, if that’s what he wants. But addicts are master manipulators; they will squeeze every ounce of compassion and money and love out of you as long as it helps them stay fucked up. Don’t buy into the excuses and the lies. If you need to, cut him out of your life. Maybe the loss of friendship or love will be the final straw. Or maybe not. Unless a man is willing to surrender, he will always find a reason to use; to celebrate or to console. Always. Always. If he questions whether he’s an addict or not, challenge him to go 30 days without using. This is a list of questions that may help someone decide if he is an addict (substitute “drugs” for “alcohol” in the questions)

If he does go for help, it may be a long journey before he finally “gets it.” It took me at least a year. Many friends of mine found the structure of a treatment program very helpful.

If you have a problem with co-dependency, read some books, go to Al-Anon meetings, find support from people who’ve been through it themselves. I’m not going to lie to you: the odds against the addict are staggering. Of all the people who got sober the same time I did, there is only a small handful left. The good news is that many who leave do return, and they try, again and again, and many of them do finally get it.

If you know someone who is sober, ask them if they will talk to your friend (in person is the most effective). That is, if your friend is willing. There is something about one addict talking to another that seems to work where other attempts fail: one alcoholic helping another is the basis of AA’s success. It was crucial to me to have men and women in my life who had been through it, too, and who had survived. They gave me hope; they showed me that it was possible. The power of example is much stronger than words. And here I am, with so many words. I will leave them with you as my little offering. I don’t know if they will help.

My life when using drugs was so tiny. Now I must struggle to keep up with an ever-widening life; with days that spill over with joy, pain, and possibility. I must learn, each day, how to get out of my own way.

///

Although cystal may have been my “drug of choice” (believe me, it chose me) I ultimately found that the best sobriety in San Francisco was in AA. Other cities and regions of the country may differ in that respect. Some AA meetings are much more open to drug addicts than others.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous

Crystal Meth Anonymous

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