This article by Mario @Londondiaries2 previously appeared in FS Magazine, a publication of GMFA, here..
It started rather innocently, when I decided I should broaden my horizons by setting up a profile on a dating site. “It’s manageable,” I thought, in denial.
Within days, I’d filled my diary for weeks, even with double bookings. I am a polite man. I don’t turn people down and, besides, I need to feel alive. I’d do anything to obliterate the sense of isolation I often feel. Hours would merge into one. As a result, I’d spend entire days surfing the application, leaving a track here and a wink there. I’m not alone in taking my phone to the toilet, right?
Incidentally, sex doesn’t even interest me. Sex is my way to make contact. I crave intimacy, so much so that I compromise with anything. This is how drugs entered my life, in disguise. “Let’s chill”, someone possibly lonelier than I eventually would suggest. I was far too happy to oblige.
One night, in a moment of clarity, I looked around and didn’t recognize where I was nor, could I remember how I got there. I was sitting on the floor, wearing nothing but a pair of black boots and red socks. The stranger beside me was telling me of the time he was double fucked. According to him, an awesome experience: “K helps and so does G but don’t take them together or you will slip into a coma!”, he told me helpfully, as if we were discussing the interaction between aspirin and Paracetamol.
I left soon after, before the next wave of high could sweep me like a tsunami. Once outside I boarded a bus. I was high, horny, and needy. I looked outside, where I spotted a person walking toward the bus stop I had left behind. As he stared at me, I got off at the next bus stop and ran back, hoping to charm him over. “Hi, do you wanna suck my cock, I live nearby”, I said, as a way of introduction. He was willing to follow. However, after a close examination I decided I didn’t fancy him enough. I stumbled away, pleased with myself for maintaining my standards even while off my face.
At last, I made it home, where I started cleaning my flat in a frantic attempt to wash my heart. It’s quite remarkable: the messier my private life the cleaner my apartment. I spent hours scrubbing every surface. By 6am, I had nothing else to polish. However, I was still high, wide-awake and engulfed in frenzies of hyperactivity. Defeated, I sat on my sofa, realizing I was still wearing my boots. As I took them off and aligned them to the wall, I asked myself where I was going with my life. Nowhere, by the look of things.
There and then, while looking for someone other then myself to blame for my behavior, I decided that I had to get rid of the main source of sleaze in my life – my online profile. This had to go before it took over my life, and my health. In two months I’d managed to pick-up chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
I logged on my profile where I found 21 messages waiting for me, 21 potential boyfriends. At times, it’s the delusion I love the most about me. “If I click on any of these messages the moment will pass” – I thought. There it was ‘Delete Profile’, which I clicked. Nothing happened. An additional window opened. It asked if I truly wanted to delete my profile. It gave me the option to go back in to its comforting arms, where I belonged until my membership would expire.
I clicked on ‘Delete Profile’ again but it redirected me to another page, to a list of my ‘buddies’. They would surely miss me and would be devastated to see me go. I didn’t know any of them, and yet the suggestion that these people could remotely care about me was enough to make me doubt my actions.
It’s human nature. We need validation and attention. In order to belong we Photoshop images, falsify ages and fabricate an appealing image that only remotely matches who we really are. Still, I clicked on ‘‘Delete Profile’ again and at last, my alter ego, ‘Hairyhunk975’, was no more.
It was obviously ludicrous of me to believe that by deleting an online profile I would resolve all the issues that took me there to start with. “You seem to be here quite often” – the nurse at my GUM clinic commented many months later, in what I instantly filed in my brain as the understatement of the year. He then handed me a leaflet, suggesting that perhaps I should consider using their free counselling services.
This is how my mentor, a heavily pregnant woman, entered my life. For weeks, she listened to my story, leading me to find the answers I had within myself all along, but that in the past I wasn’t prepared to acknowledge. I will cherish forever the memory of my mentor sitting in front of me like a Buddha in disguise, caressing her belly as she’d witness my life unravel before her eyes. How ironic that the only human connection resulting from my drugs and sex filled binge came courtesy of the straight, female health care adviser at the GUM clinic.
In truth, I was roaming in the dark. Self-destruction develops over a long period. It goes undetected for years as it chips and chips at the edges of your soul while you get on with your life. It’s like a heavy snowfall that freezes your senses, turning your brain into white slopes. Then one day something shifts, the temperature rises, the balance breaks and the avalanche of emotions that follows has the power to destroy your entire world, along with your reason.
"Besides wearing a condom, a key factor in preventing an infection is to respect yourself."
It seems that gay men are prone to darkness. Perhaps it is our history. Centuries of persecution, of being outcasts, may still play havoc with our ability to accept ourselves. We try so hard to impress when, in fact, we should simply live our lives enjoying the ride.
Our ability to conceal evidence of any struggle is outstanding. Regardless of the circumstances, in public we always hold on to a façade of sparkle. It is when we close the front door behind us and we strip off, standing naked with nowhere to hide that the compulsive behaviors kick in.
Some people end their day with numbing their senses while drinking at home alone. Others binge on sweets, biscuits, and cakes, eating their guilt away. Some OCD, while others go out every weekend without fail, bringing a new meaning to adjectives such as ‘recreational’ and ‘social’. The ones like me surf the internet and live a virtual reality that sometimes morphs into real life with disastrous consequences.
What links us all is our inability to enjoy our own company, to take an honest look at our lives and face our own ghosts. Therefore, we go off the rails as a means of procrastination. As we do so, our sense of self-worth plummets to such levels that we begin to indulge in behaviors doomed to generate long-term consequences.
Any health adviser in the land will confirm the link between HIV infection among gay men and risky sexual behavior associated to drugs use and low self-esteem. Besides wearing a condom, a key factor in preventing an infection is to respect yourself.
I’m not perfect. Sometimes, I need help, and there is no ignominy in it. The shame would be if, out of pride, I wouldn’t admit that my life had spiraled out of control. Many free services out there can help not only to give shape to your ordeals but also to acquire the tools needed to deal with your problems. Honesty is key to this process.
Eventually, I reached a place where I felt I could simply be. I know the room for relapsing is always there. However, now I’m able to manage my destiny. When the craving comes, I can choose to wait, and then wait some more, until my heartbeat slows and I can breathe again, feeding my brain with oxygen and my heart with hope. As I do so, the moment will pass and I will be safe until the next instance, always around the corner. It’s down to me to remember who I am, where I come from, and what I want.
Ultimately, I pray. I pray to find the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change, to have the COURAGE to change the things I can and the WISDOM to know the difference.
SUPPORT: Chemsex support at 56 Dean Street: for gay men who use drugs for sex. Walk-in appointments Tuesday evenings, Thursday afternoons and two Saturday afternoons each month. For details visit www.chemsexsupport.com.
ADVICE: For advice on reducing the harms related to chemsex, visitwww.gmfa.org.uk/saferchems.