Love After Meth

By Joe Okonkwo

Originally published on Advocate.com January 31 2005 12:00 AM ET

Andrew's Story
In the middle of my life, I am surprised to
discover that I am the bad guy. I have been selfish,
unfaithful, disloyal. I have hurt others, used
strangers, done shameful things to preserve my secrets.

I am 40 years
old. I have spent much of the past five years a slave to
crystal meth. It still calls out to me, despite the loathing
I now feel. Unlike the many others I have tried, this
drug has a distinct voice: the voice of thousands of
men, wanton and sinewy and accessible. The drug still
calls me to join their brotherhood, to be initiated all over
again into their cabal of wrongful oh-so-rightness.

I caused
monumental damage and hurt. My lovely partner, Patrick,
suffered the knowledge of my infidelities and
witnessed my mental, physical, and spiritual decay.
But I was unable to resist what crystal offered, that
beautiful, sensual comfort in my own skin. When the torch
hit the bowl and the hissing vapors were inhaled, all
fear, self-loathing, sorrow were suddenly eradicated.
My body, of which I am often severely critical, was
perfect.

As with most of
my addicted brothers, crystal, for me, was linked
inextricably with sex. It was terrifyingly easy to find
others like myself online. All you do is create a
profile that contains “party” or
“PNP,” meaning “party and play.”

These parties are
not the cake-and-candle variety. “Party” is
the euphemism for a cluster of speeding,
clenched-jawed, sweating men who have been reduced by
crystal meth to the status of rutting animals, each
aware only of his own distorted desires. But there was a
temporary illusion of closeness that felt strangely
comforting to a man like me, who grew up afraid to
show affection for male friends, because I was afraid
it would telegraph the secret of my orientation.

I had snorted
methamphetamine in various forms. It was extremely painful,
so I did it only rarely. Besides, my job as director of
global production for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah
Foundation had required intense focus and global
travel. But I’d left that job and was experiencing my
first bout of extended unemployment when a friend
introduced me to the art of smoking the crystals
instead of crushing and snorting them. The incredible
high guaranteed that I would try this again, and I did. Day
in, day out. I began to disappear for hours . I started to
manufacture tapestries of lies to keep Patrick off
balance. He doesn’t use drugs, so he was easily
deceived.

For a time, the
lies caused me pain. But lying became second nature, and
the chemicals effectively dealt with any guilt. I spent more
time orchestrating my next score than looking for
work. The fact that Patrick was now supporting us
barely registered in my now one-track mind. I began to
siphon money out of our accounts to fuel secret sex and drug
binges. As I sank deeper into the world of the
tweaker, Patrick grew suspicious, the money well began
to dry up, and I began to compromise myself in
increasingly demeaning ways to obtain the drug.

Why
couldn’t I stop using? Was it a question of deficient
character, some flaw in the weave of my moral fiber? I
stopped caring what the answer might be. The molecules
of what had been Andy had gradually slipped out of my
lungs through the pipe stem and into the ether, replaced
with molecules of similar appearance but faulty
design.

At one point,
unable to procure the drug, I experienced a free fall back
into reality. I hit hard. In the throes of this depression I
finally told Patrick a tame version of the truth. He
insisted that I go to 12-step meetings, and I attended
about three before I scored and started my descent all
over again, exercising additional caution to cover my
tracks.

I was soon a
zombie, alternating between manic anxiety and euphoria,
sweating excessively, thinner than I was in high school. I
was cautious about undressing in front of Patrick
because my legs were covered with red speed bumps,
many of which I had hacked at, in the obsessive way of
the tweaker, until they refused to heal. When Patrick
confronted me one day, I denied using. Unfortunately,
he had found my stash: drugs, pipe, torch, and a
recent addition: a syringe.

Patrick,
understandably, asked me to leave to give him time to think.
What happened next is a disgraceful blur: a trip to my
dealer, a sleazy motel, stacks of pornography, and a
three-day crystal-and-GHB binge that I was hoping I
would not survive.

But survive I
did, and I emerged from that seedy, smelly room three days
later and checked myself into rehab. I’m not sure I
wanted to live; I simply knew I wasn’t able to
die.

I made many
friends in rehab, even with sores on my arms and a
butane-lighter burn on my forehead. The comfort zone
abruptly shattered when Patrick attended a group
session and explained to all my new friends and their
families that I had stolen money, slept around, and was the
most selfish man to ever walk the face of this earth. I saw
jaws drop and eyes turn to stare. There was no hiding
from this stored pain and anger, which has since
become known as Andy’s “truth enema.”

I wish I could
say that that trip to rehab straightened me out. But a
year later I relapsed with a vengeance. I told myself it was
OK if I didn’t engage in infidelities; instead,
I soaked up Internet porn like a sponge. Eventually,
psychosis set in. I heard voices in running water,
talked to people who lived in the trees behind our house. I
returned to rehab, but I was asked to leave for
swearing at the facility director.

I developed
meningitis, then peritonitis; my appendix began leaking but
I was too tweaked to notice. The appendix ruptured; I
almost died of toxic shock. It took six gallons of
fluid to clean out my innards. I was in the hospital
four weeks. On release I stayed clean for just a few months.
Even the ragged scar running the length of my belly
didn’t make me question my loyalty to crystal.

And then,
miraculously, out of nowhere, deliverance. I finished a
binge, and I knew I was done. I threw away the pipe
and told an understandably skeptical Patrick that I
was now done with this chapter in my life. It took
months for him to even begin to think I might be telling the
truth. It was as if the underground current I’d
been surfing for years suddenly broke surface and
spilled me out into daylight.

I have no
explanation for this sudden renunciation of what had been
the strongest influence in my life. What I do know is
that I am blessed. That I have been allowed back
inside the circle of grace that Patrick represents
amazes me. That he can separate the Andy he fell in love
with from the Andy I became is incomprehensible. But
it’s one of the reasons I respect him more than
any other man I know.

Crystal meth
targeted me because I lived self-consciously, self-absorbed
as only the truly insecure can be. So many of us carry the
remnants of shame and self-hatred that growing up gay
in an intolerant society creates. Crystal is so deadly
to us partly because the first hit can simulate a
well-being that would take years of therapy to create.
Sadly, it is an illusion.

Occasionally,
without warning, I remember the faces of other addicts I
crossed paths with—zombies wandering the halls and
stalls of a bathhouse, speed freaks slamming in a
porn-flickering bedroom. I sometimes cry when I think
of these men I touched but never knew. I see beyond the
glassy eyes and into the person trapped inside,
desperate, scared, holding on to what little is left,
knowing there will be less tomorrow. I want to help
them, and I realize suddenly that they are me.

For now, I am
saved.

Related Links

Crystal Meth Anonymous

CrystalRecovery.com

DanceSafe.org

LifeorMeth.com

Alanon

Patrick's Story
Andy had been unemployed for a few months after
the dot-com he produced for went belly-up. The
moodiness and frustration he’d been exhibiting
seemed explainable. Why he was taking it out on me, however,
was not clear. After a weekend in Oakland, Calif.,
with friends, he seemed tired, irritated, and at times
even mean. This wasn’t the Andy I had known for
seven years.

I hadn’t
really been exposed to drug addicts and their
behaviors—at least not to crystal meth addicts.
So Andy’s nocturnal hours, mood swings, and
sometimes impulsive actions seemed more indicative of some
sort of mood disorder to me.

As I was
pondering the situation, the thought popped into my head: I
wonder if Andy’s a drug addict? How naïve I was,
in retrospect. Just an hour after that odd thought
crossed my mind, Andy told me that he was in fact a
drug addict and that he had binged in Oakland.

I was either
psychic or stupid.

He was feeling
sick. So was I. I took a deep breath and laid down the
law. I told him he had to start a 12-step program
immediately. I told him that he was risking losing me,
our home, our pets -- everything. He seemed to grasp
the gravity of the situation and vowed to do everything I
asked, or rather demanded, of him. I believed him.

He started going
to meetings the very next day. I watched carefully for
“signs,” whatever they might be. I went to
Al-Anon meetings myself but failed to grasp the real
tenets of the program. I was angry, vindictive, and
controlling. I was going to make him stop this. I became
more of a parent and less of a partner. As you can
guess, it didn’t help either of us.

It had been many
months since my mandate that Andy attend the program. He
had continued with it for a while but then found numerous
excuses to avoid going to meetings. Things seemed back
to normal to a degree. His mood was more stabilized,
and he was nicer. There were still
“all-nighters” on the computer and occasional
periods when I couldn’t account for his
whereabouts -- but there was always an explanation, and
it was always feasible -- at least to me.

Then I found the
stash. He had put his lighter, butane refill cartridge,
crystal, and a razor blade under a drawer in our bathroom.
Just as the thought that he might be an addict came
out of the blue, so came the instinct to look under
the drawer. I wasn’t in the habit of looking in
odd places, but something told me to do it. I was instantly
saddened and angry and embarrassed for being so stupid
as to have believed him.

I confronted Andy
about my findings. He claimed that it was an old hiding
place. I told him I’d seen the same lighter just two
weeks ago on a coffee table. He was busted. His
demeanor changed.

Instead of acting
like an innocent man wrongly charged, he was defiant
and calm. This was the “drug” personality. I
told him he had to leave the house for a week for me
to think. He told me that I should be the one to go. I
reminded him that my name was on the mortgage. He left. I
was shaking in disbelief. What had I done wrong? How
could he be doing this? It felt like there was a third
person in the relationship bent on destroying us. The
Jekyll-and-Hyde effect was in full swing.

The weekend after
I kicked Andy out, I was furious, depressed, raging,
crying, terrified, and confused. I pretended not to care if
he killed himself at that point. I didn’t know
where he went, and I turned my thoughts to protecting
myself. I hid my family heirlooms at friends’
houses for fear he would come back and steal them. I worried
constantly that the police were going to call. I went
to Al-Anon meetings and vented my anger at him. Kind
faces with more experience merely smiled reassuringly
and neither judged nor condoned my fury.

I prayed for any
sign that life would return to normal. In a blessed
coincidence, I saw Andy driving one day, many miles from our
home. I knew he was alive. I told myself I was glad
only that the car was OK.

A day later he
called me to get our insurance information because he was
checking into rehab. I gave him the group number and wished
him luck. I was punishing him with coldness for
screwing up my life.

At almost the
hour he checked into rehab, I got a job on a film that
would be shooting the entire time he was in there. My
schedule would be six-day weeks of 14-hour
night-to-morning shoots. I was also left alone to
prepare our house for sale. There was very little of me left
at the end of each day.

This was when
Andy called to ask me to participate in the family meetings
at the rehab center. I was furious that after all I’d
been through, he was asking for more—and at a
time when I had little to nothing to offer. But I
went.

I attended the
first moderated family meeting, in which addict-patients
got to apologize or express their feelings to their
significant others. I sat stone-faced as Andy promised
to make it all up to me. We were allowed to respond
after the addict’s profession of determination. I let
it rip. I had always been private and not one to air
the dirty laundry. But in that moment I told Andy that
I didn’t trust him, that he’d been
unfaithful (news to his mother, who sat next to me), that I
thought he was manipulative and abusive and every
other word one can use to describe someone they hate.
I told him that he’d forced me to resort to dishonest
tactics just to get to the truth. When I said I’d
seen his lighter a week earlier on the coffee table, I
was lying. The sickness of this was not lost on me --
lying just to get to the truth.

Andy seemed to
also realize that this was a watershed moment in our
relationship. My polemic became known in his rehab clinic as
“the truth enema.” I told him in front
of his peers and family that I did not want to live
with him -- that when our home sold, we’d be looking
for different places. He was stunned by my
“strength.” Ironically, I was
intoxicated by it. A doormat no more. Something worse. I was
a dictator.

Once I realized
that I had been punishing Andy for being an addict, I
changed my entire approach. I had loved this man for a
decade. My initial, and perhaps necessary, overkill of
self-protection gave way to a more loving manner of
dealing with “our” problem.

It took many
months for this punishing approach to give way to a more
balanced one. Through my time spent at Al-Anon, I finally
heard some more of the subtle and loving messages that
had eluded me during my angriest months. Going against
the tacit yet clear (silence can convey so much)
advice of my program friends, I let Andy back into my life.

I would not
recommend this to anyone, just as I would not recommend my
previous approach. It’s too personal. I knew one
thing: I could live by my decision and, if necessary,
extract myself from the situation again.

So I asked Andy
to live with me again. We recombined households. We set
boundaries; honestly, some have been maintained and others
eroded. It’s not perfect in a clinical sense.
But as I watch straight couples divorce over seemingly
minor differences, I can’t help but think that
commitment counts only when you need it—and
that’s when it’s the most difficult to
maintain.

We can’t
profess our love in our church, but that doesn’t
matter to me too much at the moment. In my heart I
married this man long ago. He may relapse again. In
fact, statistics say he will. But I no longer define
him by an addiction he has to grapple with. I take measures
to protect myself. I champion his daily triumphs of
not using. I demand no less of him than if he
hadn’t had this problem. I have more tools to deal
with a relapse should it occur. I thank God I never
tried that evil little chemical that is destroying so
many lives in our community. I work daily to make our
story end better than the countless tragic ones I’ve
heard.

Related Links

Crystal Meth Anonymous

CrystalRecovery.com

DanceSafe.org

LifeorMeth.com

Alanon