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February 23, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 08
 
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Crystal Meth Recovery: Look who's doing it
Crystal Meth Recovery: Look who's doing it
New 20-page booklet aims to help Gay men quit

With so much negative media about crystal meth, most men stay pretty quiet about their current or former use. Let's face it, the stereotypes are not flattering. But a group of Seattle men are boldly going public about their meth careers, and they want everyone to hear about it.

The HIV/AIDS Program at Public Health - Seattle & King County has just released a booklet called Staying Off Crystal. It's the first resource of its kind in the country in which real men candidly share their advice and personal stories about quitting and staying off crystal meth. Eight men from Seattle's "Strength Over Speed" contributed their words and experiences to reach out and talk to other Gay men like themselves. They hope to reduce the stigma of crystal meth and promote the message that recovery from crystal is possible.

The 20-page booklet outlines the specific stages of meth recovery and how to handle them. There are tips for reclaiming a sex life after speed and what to do if relapse happens. The booklet also offers special advice for couples, injectors, and HIV-positive men, along with a list of support groups and community resources.

Public Health produced the booklet as a resource for Gay and Bisexual men who have decided to quit crystal. By helping men stay off crystal, Public Health hopes these men won't fall back into situations that put them at risk for HIV infection, STDs, and other physical and mental health problems.

The men in Staying Off Crystal were motivated to participate for many reasons. Robert, the youngest of the group, simply wanted "to give back" to other guys just like himself. "I was once in that boat, and I want guys to know that it's OK to feel like they do and not to get discouraged. It may not seem like life will get better, but it will." All of the men wanted to share encouragement. "I got involved in this project because it was a way to gain some of my self respect back," said Gary Jenohn Thogersen. "I hope it will be a source of hope to those who feel that there is no way out of addiction. That is not the case. With patience, determination, and the realization that you are not alone, meth addiction can be overcome."

Strength Over Speed is a local group of Gay men in crystal recovery who organized last year to help themselves and other Gay and Bisexual men stay in recovery. Starting as one small treatment "aftercare" group, there are now Strength Over Speed groups five days a week. Nearly 70 men have attended at least one group within the past year.

Strength Over Speed groups are different in that they are facilitated not by professional counselors but by guys who have been there themselves. Nor do they require members to adopt any particular model of recovery. According to one facilitator, "Whatever works for you is great. 12-step, therapy, drug treatment, meditation - if it's keeping you off speed, we want to help you stay with it."

Flexible philosophy, individual acceptance, and genuine companionship seem to be why Strength Over Speed groups are becoming so popular. Members say they experience caring and support from other Gay men that they never had before or during crystal. "So many of us got trapped by meth because we felt alone in our own community," said one group member. "We didn't feel like we fit in or we were really hungry for some kind of meaningful connection with other Gay men. We obviously didn't find that in crystal, but we sure feel it now in these groups. I've never felt so sincerely cared about by other Gay men."

Staying Off Crystal also seeks to confront the stereotypes about men who use crystal. The cover photo alone shows that these men are not just young party boys or strung out, homeless addicts cruising the baths or alleys. They look very different, and you probably wouldn't think they were each addicted to meth at one time. "From what I've seen, this drug plays no favorites," said Jason Farmer, whose face and personal advice appear in the book.

None of them looks like the common speed user stereotype: a hazardous, depraved, and psychotic menace to be avoided at all costs. "Most crystal users are just normal guys who got caught up in something they never thought they would," says a group member. "When that happens, the Gay community rejects you, just when you actually need it the most. It's sad that Gay men can turn against each other so easily. "

The members of Strength Over Speed want to change that. They want people to see how ex-crystal users can be positive forces in the community who contribute and advocate for each other. They hope that as more men "come out" about their crystal use, maybe more men will reach out for support that could help. And maybe fewer men will start in the first place.

"It's time that everyone gets together to talk about what is going on," says Gary Jenohn Thogersen. "Too many are slipping through the cracks because no one wants to talk about the wreckage crystal brings to our community."

The booklet is available online at www.homohealth.org. For free print copies, contact Susan Kingston at Public Health at 206-205-6105 or susan.kingston@metrokc.gov.

A Public Health - Seattle & King County press release

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