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There and back

There and back


"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.

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