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Love After Meth

Love After Meth


Crystal meth devastates the lives of guys next door as well as the men who love them. Andrew NiCastro and his partner, Patrick Bristow, come forward to tell how they've outlasted the nightmare -- so far

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 LinksCrystal Meth AnonymousCrystalRecovery.comDanceSafe.orgLifeorMeth.comAlanon

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 naive 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 LinksCrystal Meth AnonymousCrystalRecovery.comDanceSafe.orgLifeorMeth.comAlanon

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