Life After Meth

A Town Square Opinion

by Chad Upham
Published on June 1, 2006, 12:00am | Comments

When five o'clock arrived on Friday afternoon, my 64-hour vacation began. First priority: to hit the Internet for a hot guy to host. Perhaps 12 hours later, perhaps 18, when the vibe changed, I'd leap to another locale. Sometime in there I might wander the streets around Dupont Circle trying to catch an eye, or hover in a bathroom stall (or barge in uninvited). This was my independence -- my freedom and right as a gay man to check out from all responsibilities by ''getting lost'' in insatiable pleasure.

This was my life until one day last July, while high on crystal meth, I took it upon myself to speak out in the community about my party lifestyle and the growing crevasse that threatened to sever my ''personal'' life from my professional ambitions.

For weeks I had noticed a diminishing ability to focus on graphic design projects at work. Caffeine-fueled ''crash'' days were spent fluttering between software applications with the same obsessive click behavior that consumed my weekends of profile hunting. When not checking my inbox every few seconds, I was in the bathroom examining the sores on my mouth, speculating whether anyone else might notice them. Those were long days and sweaty, restless nights.

The party-and-play scene had been a natural progression for me following years of thrill-seeking in chat rooms, locker rooms, bathrooms and dark corners. I came out through the Internet; I gained confidence in my sexuality by strutting in a towel. In dark corners I found release from the responsibilities of school, work, family and relationships. My gay identity was linked inseparably to hook-ups and the adrenaline rush that accompanied them. Mine is not a unique story. Our sub-culture perpetuates this reality in every avenue, from our magazines, to our pop-up ads, to the jokes on our sitcoms.

In 1998, my dad scorned my homosexuality for the rampant immorality associated with the lifestyle. A 21-year-old newbie, I declared, ''I can't help it. I just like guys.'' I remember him disgustedly saying that gay men have an average of 40 partners a year. Little did I know that, less than eight years later, I'd be racking up dozens per month.

After crystal meth became a regular part of my liberated sex life, condom use was fully discontinued out of erectile futility. My flippant rationalization regarding the risk of HIV infection: There are pills for that. After all, I didn't invent sex, I didn't invent crystal meth, and I didn't invent HIV. It's not my fault if I get sick and pass it on to some other sucker.

On the sleepless night last summer when I decided to expose my budding chemical addiction in a tell-all e-mail to family, friends and co-workers, my singular motivation was a belief that I could design a public awareness campaign more effective than the cheesy ads I had seen in magazines or on bus stops.

Four days later, in a heart-pounding spectacle, I planted myself on 17th Street for three hours on a Thursday night with a T-shirt and banners reading ''I use crystal methamphetamine.'' My message was simple: Let's talk about this publicly, because I know I'm not the only one.

Metro Weekly printed my story the first week of August. The Washington Post followed up in the Health section in November. My personal website, tracking this ''Hurricane Tina," received thousands of hits from around the world in the months that followed.

Many called me courageous. Others reminded me that I must do this for myself, not anyone else. True to my conviction, I shamelessly marched forward into notoriety.

What has become of my crusade?

I haven't used crystal methamphetamine, or any other drug, since July 25, 2005. My alcohol intake has been drastically reduced to no more than a few sips over the past 10 months. My weekend vacations were replaced with support groups, studying for my MBA and watching television. From the nightlife perspective I have gone from "scene" to unseen.

Amid the drastic lifestyle changes, I secretly wonder how long it will last. You can take the boy out of the club, but you can't take the club out of the boy. Or can you? Along the way I have found a degree of contentment tempered with the fear that I'm growing up. As my ex put it, ''You've gone from whore to bore.'' No longer do I feel compelled to hook-up with everyone who is willing. In fact, I have had one partner since Jan. 1, a new world record. And honest-to-God, I'm happy with my life and decisions.

Nevertheless, I bear an idealistic hope to change the gay community (by passing out stickers and writing this article) from a euphoric disco, toward the satisfying normality I have experienced since giving up crystal meth -- and much of what is considered to be ''gay life.'' Such evangelical notions are not unfamiliar to me considering my religious upbringing. You can take the boy out of the church....

Somewhere between freedom and responsibility lies a healthy balance. Weaning myself from an unhealthy lifestyle of toxic drugs and unprotected sex required a hard-line approach. But I'm not done living yet. What I hope for is a gay community that is known for wellness, fulfillment and care. A place where I am really accepted just the way I am. If "gay" equals "whore," then what am I now? Whatever I am, I know I'm not the only one.

Chad Upham is a graphic designer and anti-meth activist in D.C. He can be reached at chad@chadupham.com.


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