There and back again

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com September 11 2005 11:00 PM ET

“It was a
euphoria,” says Emory Etheridge of his first
experience with crystal methamphetamine. “It
was amazing.” Real Worlder Chris Beckman
remembers thinking simply, This is really great! New Yorker
Mike, while high on crystal, experienced “the
most productive day at work that I’ve ever
had,” while San Franciscan Alejandro Diesta felt like
“I could do anything.”

As I sit here
among my stacks of letters awaiting response, videotapes
awaiting screening, and books awaiting reading, with the
little computer bell ringing to alert me to another
e-mail awaiting an answer, I can see the appeal of a
drug like crystal. It’s more than mother’s
little helper: It’s hours of pure joy, energy,
and self-confidence in chemical form. If I were
burdened not just with work responsibilities but also with
the loneliness and self-doubt of a lifetime of being
told I was evil for being gay, how much more appealing
would that magic powder seem?

Problem
is—as the brave men in our cover story
learned—the cost of temporary euphoria may be
permanent. Etheridge has resigned himself to never
again having sex as good as the sex he remembers on crystal.
Diesta’s energy boost was followed by
“paranoia, hopelessness,
and…incomprehensible demoralization.”
Portland, Ore., resident John Motter ended up with a
prison record.

No wonder a
Tennessee ex-addict says in Beckman’s book,
Clean, “Methamphetamine is a drug of the
devil.”

Saying no to
selling your soul to crystal—or, even more bravely,
wresting your soul back from its clutches—is
about more than just a person’s workload,
relationship dramas, or childhood traumas. Partly
it’s that “nature versus nurture”
debate in a new form: Are some people biologically or
psychologically predisposed to addiction? Or, as one
friend in recovery suggested to me, is meth the one drug
that can turn anyone into an addict?

While the
mainstream media seem obsessed with meth’s
destructiveness, with law enforcement, and with
legislative intervention, we at The Advocate
think they’re missing the big story. The solution to
the meth epidemic is not in harsher punishments or
mandating prescriptions for Sudafed. It’s
within each and every addict.

If we can learn
what makes us vulnerable to addiction and—by talking
to those in recovery—what makes some of us
finally realize we have to break the cycle of drug
abuse, we can learn how to reach susceptible men before
they destroy their lives.

Researchers such
as Jim Peck are looking for drugs to help ease the harsh
withdrawal symptoms that come with giving up meth, but they
know there will never be a silver bullet. Recovery is
a mysterious mix of rediscovering hope and dedicating
yourself to finding new ways of responding to
life’s ups and downs. It’s about coming to
terms with your own pitfalls and establishing
conscious strategies to sidestep them.

And it’s
about finding the strength to look euphoria in the eye and
say no, thank you.

We’ve only
just begun to learn how to help gay men escape the crystal
ship. Activists around the country are testing new campaigns
all the time to dissuade their fellow queers from
taking that deadly wrong turn. But everyone’s
journey will be much more productive if we stop a moment to
listen to those of us who have already been to the brink and
back again, to hear from them the lessons they can
offer to those of us still teetering on the edge.