HIV Diary: Crystal Casualty

5.30.2005

By Robert Levithan

My best friend's ex is in rehab for crystal meth. He is not a person I would have chosen to have as a part of my intimate circle, but he was my de facto brother-in-law for a decade and we spent dinners and holidays and traveled together. We became close in the way of family. And then we lost him to Tina. There were underlying issues of depression and self-esteem, but the glamorous dance music world also made this seductive drug all too easy to get.

As a therapist, I have worked with men under 40 who attribute their heart attacks, strokes, loss of teeth, and other premature infirmities to their crystal addiction. These old/young men are the walking wounded of an epidemic. I am so afraid that my ex-brother-in-law will become one of them. He survived the onslaught of HIV, and now that hard-won victory could be sabotaged. Does he know that crystal damages the production of dopamine, one of the brain's pleasure chemicals, or that it can cause permanent psychosis, or that it is usually cut with Drano and battery acid, among other harmful substances? Let me repeat: Drano' Battery acid' I can only imagine what that can do to immune functions'

I believe in personal responsibility and accountability'and I also believe that as a culture and as a gay subculture, we have reponsibilities to each other. As part of crystal use, most men I speak with have had unprotected sex, risking their lives and those of others. How can we deal with the despair and internalized homophobia which, in part, fuels this drive toward oblivion?

First of all, we can be frank about the risks. We can also use a harm reduction model: If you want to get high, don't use crystal. There are less dangerous recreational drugs. And we can be compassionate and work to help relieve underlying causes: prejudice, internalized prejudice, and the pull toward unquestioning conformity in our culture.

I'm praying that my friend's ex stays clean (this time), that he can change his relationship to people, places, and things, and that he can get the counseling and support he needs to take back his life. We only get so many chances'

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