By David Heitz
A crystal methamphetamine epidemic continues to rip through the Southern California gay community, where crystal meth has emerged as the drug of choice among gay men.
Many guys first try meth and designer club drugs such as “X” and “Special K” at the famed White Party in Palm Springs, one of the hottest so-called “gay circuit parties” in the nation.
These parties are at venues where fat-walleted, young, urban, gay professionals indulge in drugs, drinking and sex. These are often weekend getaways from their stressful corporate lives.
I found addiction on this circuit in 1997. No doubt I was already an alcoholic at that time. But it was on the circuit where other men would give me ecstasy, and we would dance together all night. When the “X” wore off, the meth came out, and the party went on for two days straight.
So many gay men tumble down the meth ladder, from being on a fabulous gay night club dance floor to being a frightened shut-in staring out the peephole of a filthy Hollywood apartment.
Life doesn’t have to be that way. There is a welcoming rehabilitation center in Palm Springs called Michael’s House where you can get past these confusing and often desperate times in life.
Many gay men have lived traumatic lives, particularly those from rural areas, and become overwhelmed when introduced to the indulgences of the big city.
The years of young adulthood can be a make-it-or-break-it time in the lives of gay men transplanted from other parts of the country to Southern California. Most of the drinking and drugging that turns problematic, whether it be on the circuit or for those who drink alone, is the result of some sort of underlying issue.
Who Is This Person I Am Becoming?
It can be very stressful to work in the demanding jobs that are often required to maintain a privileged Southern California lifestyle. Burning it at both ends can become a problem in and of itself.
As gay men, when we become introduced to the drugs, we may feel propped up by the increased feelings of self-confidence, sexual stamina, general euphoria and, over long-term use, massive weight loss.
But then things begin to happen that you wouldn’t even want to share with your best friend. So many “I can’t believe I did that” moments. Sure, there’s some fleeting fun along the way. But for so many – and I waited a good 15 years after my circuit party days were over to get sober – we realize that we need help only a year or two into it.
The circuit parties like those held in Palm Springs also pose strong risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. When people are high, they are less likely to engage in safer sexual activities. Since the advent of the once per day HIV prevention pill PrEP, many gay men no longer use condoms. But this still puts them at risk for other infections, including gonorrhea and syphilis.
I got to see Palm Springs and the White Party from two different ends. Not only did I experience them from inside the parties, but also as an editor at The Palm Springs Desert Sun. Reports of drug overdoses while the White Party was in town were not uncommon.
When It Stops Being ‘All About the Music’
Everyone liked to hug one another on the dance floor and repeat the mantra of the circuit being “all about the music.” But for so many, it became all about the drugs.
With help from a licensed therapist who has experience in counseling LGBT people, the issues surrounding why the drug use transitioned from “escape” to “addiction” so quickly can be explained. Getting off drugs, even if it is withdrawal from sustained daily meth use, can be made at least safe and somewhat more comfortable in a controlled environment. You can then begin to talk about how it all got to be so out of control. Once you learn how to manage your personal triggers and understand the underlying issues that cause you to use, sustained sobriety absolutely is possible.
Moving beyond an active drug addiction and into a life of sobriety, particularly if you also are facing infection with HIV or an STI, financial woes and everything else that can result from what I have described here, will be a challenge. But it can be done, with help from the comprehensive treatment program and specialized LGBT track at Michael’s House. In idyllic Palm Springs, right where the debauchery began for so many of us, the healing can also begin.