Where to go for help in Seattle
by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
Crystal Meth is alive and well in the Seattle Gay community. It is a drug associated with everything from crime to the spread of HIV. If you are a Gay man in Seattle chances are you have either used meth before, know someone who is, or have, at the very least, heard about someone that uses.
In the wake of a drug-related death in the community, Seattle Gay News looked into what resources are available for people battling addiction. I didn't want to write about what crystal meth looks like, how it's taken, and so on. Instead, I chose to focus on the support that exists in our community in case you, or someone you know, needs help.
THE WORLD'S LOST BOYS
Tony Radovich, an outspoken well-known community activist and peer facilitator for Strength Over Speed (SOS), a peer-to-peer crystal meth recovery program for Gay men in Seattle, told me, 'My friend is missing. I have no idea where he is. I'm hoping he is in treatment.'
His friend, 'Anonymous' recently wrote:
Black rooms are calling
To men in leather coats
White labs are cooking up the silver ghost
The glass migrates under his translucent skin
And all the spiders wonder what we've got us in
I'm writing because I left town yet again in an attempt to get clean. I was
becoming something I was not proud of and needed to put my own foot down.
To be frank the last year has been a slow descent into a world I once sneered at,
for before I started using I only saw meth as a beast for trash; a play thing for
mediocrity. Looking back I think it was a fair statement given what I knew then,
but knowing what I know now it is nothing more than uneducated, ignorant fodder.
Had I taken the time to really look at all the men she swept out to sea I would
have understood that Tina's a siren whom will take anybody anywhere.
And how surreal the whole experience is! The using increases slowly, but surely,
as Tina's hypnotic drum becomes the melody of our life. We begin marching,
following, drifting along to her steady beat until day and night mean no
different. The smart ones see it eventually, the dumb knowing all along, the
ignorant thriving in a bliss of their own: regardless of whom and which there is
always the day every addict realizes the march embarked on isn't a new way of
life, rather just strains of our own heartbeat taken under siege. In the
slipstream of descent and despair we bend reality just enough to be reborn, held
in Tina's lovely and arcane arms as we fly away from reality and into Never Never
land; for it's in this reality of meth actualized that we are truly the world's
We strain, we flail, we live like shadows, we nail coffins to our friends, we
become savages, we feast on the fuck, we romanticize our writing, we dissolve our
morality, we thank our unlucky stars and watch the same overpass sunsets and
sunrises for days on end in hope of sobriety, or maybe just a couple
life-affirming/altering messages from the cosmos, the universe, God, ourselves.
Who the fuck knows.
'WE ALL MATTER, RIGHT?
Radovich knows that he is not everyone's cup of tea. He's built a reputation for not sugar-coating things, which can make some people uncomfortable. But whenever I speak with Radovich I get the feeling he isn't worried about 'some people.' He's worried about the 'lost boys.' The meth addicts. Their lives are uncomfortable. He should know - he used to be one.
'I choose to be close to the ugly for that is what feeds my soul,' said Radovich. 'It's what is inside that counts, not the ugliness we can see in the moment, yet that is what we choose to focus on.'
So, in an effort to help save lives ravaged by meth addiction, Radovich and SOS approach treatment in a nontraditional way.
'Negative media about meth perpetuates the stigma, and both active and ex-crystal users feel isolated or fearful of talking openly about their addiction or recovery,' SOS has posted on its website (www.strengthoverspeed.org). 'As Gay men in recovery, we felt compelled to diffuse those negative stereotypes and show that we can overcome our addiction and actively participate in relationships and within the community.'
'Our personal experiences with addiction and our desire to reduce the stigma we often face within our own community can help to portray a positive face to our communities, families, and friends who have been directly or indirectly affected by our methamphetamine use and those who are currently struggling with addiction,' said SOS peers.
According to Radovich, the LGBT community suffers addiction rates three times higher than our heterosexual counterparts. This is why he advocates for a better, more understanding community than what we currently see in Seattle.
'We can be so mean to each other sometimes,' he said. 'With all the shit going on in our world, what we say to each other as community members is so important.
'Can we not be mindful of our speech? What words we choose to say to each other?
'We as a community must learn to communicate, be present with each other, and look into
each other's eyes, and say, 'you matter.'
'We all matter, right?' he says, more of a statement than a question.
Strength Over Speed has been a conduit for men to come together without judgment for several years now.
'We are proud of our community partners like Seattle Counseling Service, Lifelong AIDS Alliance, and Madison Clinic at Harborview, among others,' said Radovich. 'Professionals are just one piece of the struggle. With addiction a much larger piece are us peers. We spend more time with each other - we interact and share intimate feelings, struggles, and fears as well as hope.'
'We all need hope a desire to excel, to belong, be validated, and to be loved,' he said. 'We are all connected in community.'
Radovich says that ignoring addiction and the people dealing with it 'serves no one.'
HOW TO HELP
There are some tried, true, and tested ways of communicating your concerns without judgment. SOS provided SGN with this link: http://www.strengthoverspeed.org/booklet_friend.pdf. This is a guide to communicating with people who struggle with addiction.
Through its weekly peer-led support groups, sober social activities, and community volunteer projects, SOS offers vital recovery support for Gay and Bisexual men, regardless of HIV status. This promotes positive health outcomes and reduces high-risk sexual behavior associated with methamphetamine use.
Strength Over Speed currently has four ongoing meetings in Seattle, all peer-facilitated. Meetings are held at Dunshee House, 303 17th Ave. E.
Project NEON (Needle & Sex Education Outreach Network) is a community-level HIV-prevention and intervention program that targets Gay and Bisexual men affected by crystal meth.
According to Aleks Martin, AAS-CDP, program coordinator for Project NEON, it 'provides free, judgment-free, and shame-free services through individual counseling and group treatment while meeting clients where they're at.'
NEON also provides education and consultation to individuals and programs interested in increasing knowledge and understanding of meth addiction, and provides active outreach through its NEON Peer Education team, who provide one-for-one needle exchange, safer use kits, safer sex kits including condoms, lube, and educational materials, and, most importantly, face-to-face support for men in the midst of meth use.
'Drug and alcohol use among LGBT populations often raise issues of shame and self-esteem as a minority population faced with civil inequalities and mainstream acceptance,' Martin told SGN. 'Specifically, meth use among Gay and Bisexual men can often affect critical issues as concealment, safer sex decision-making, isolation, coming out, and overall mental health and well-being.'
Martin says responses are mixed with meth. 'Some pride themselves that they're part of the weekend warrior clique, yet some are too embarrassed to come forward and seek help.'
What NEON provides is a unique avenue to identifying support, an alternative to traditional and often conservative routes to chemical dependency treatment.
'NEON recognizes that issues Gay and Bisexual men face are very important and unique to the population, and a harm-reduction approach and perspective can be the most uplifting opportunity to address imminent support and ongoing recovery,' said Martin.
For more information about Project NEON, visit www.projectneon.org. Project NEON is a program of Seattle Counseling Service, serving LGBTQ communities since 1969.
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