Dan O'Neill

Singing Through the Silence of Crystal Meth Addiction

Filed By Dan O'Neill | May 08, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
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In early spring 2002, Jimmy Garza used methamphetamine ("crystal meth" or "meth") for the first time, in a casual situation and out of a "morbid curiosity." He was a 32-year-old, local gay man that had abstained from drug use his entire life, and ironically, was helping a homeless meth-addict off the street, when the guy convinced him to give it a try.

But that's all it took for him to become hooked and send his life into a tailspin. Before his addiction, Garza was living an ideal life, by most gay men's standards; he owned a three-bedroom house, two cars, and had a $60,000-a-year job with America Online. But that rapidly changed as his new addiction began to take hold, consuming everything important to him and ultimately leaving Garza with a hollow shell of the life he once had.

Meth addiction shatters lives, especially within the gay community. It is estimated that meth use is 20 times more common among gay men than the general population. Even worse, according to the District of Columbia Public Schools - Youth Risk Behavior Survey, local GLBT teenagers are 10 times more likely to have tried crystal meth by their senior year in high school than their non-GLBT peers; and because individuals cannot predict in advance how addictive crystal meth will be for them, one time may be all it takes.

Over the two years following the first time he used crystal meth, Garza's three-bedroom home shrunk to a one-bedroom apartment that he cohabited with a roommate and several other, young homeless meth-addicts. His life became smaller and increasingly insular, as his personal wealth, health, motivation, and relationships were all sacrificed, in order to feed his addiction. By December of 2004, he was homeless, his Jeep had been repossessed, and he had been fired from his job. And then, when it seemed there was nothing left to lose, he lost his freedom, when two Fairfax County police officers entered his apartment to find him and is roommates in the throes of getting high.

As the police handcuffed Garza, he realized he had hit rock bottom. And it was only then that he began the steady climb to recovery and the slow path to rebuilding his life. Just imagine if someone had intervened or if Garza had been able to get help before he began his precipitous decline. That might have made all the difference. But sadly, Garza's story isn't unique, as it continues to unfold in the lives of countless young men around the country. In the gay communities of San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York the crystal meth epidemic still runs rampant in the shadows of meth-awareness billboards and highly visible media campaigns in gay bars and clubs.

Garza and other local gay men recovering from crystal meth addiction contend that despite recent efforts to shed light on this issue, the silence surrounding this closeted epidemic in Washington, DC is what sets it apart from other cities. That said, 'silence' seems to be a prevailing theme for crystal meth use, regardless of where you live. Once thought to be immune to the crystal meth crisis as it raged out west and throughout much of Middle America, DC is swiftly becoming a very hard-hit region of the country. In 2006, the Whitman-Walker Clinic reported that crystal meth had become the primary drug of choice for those entering its addictions service programs, topping even alcohol use. In 2000, zero meth labs were identified in this region (Maryland, Virginia and DC); a number that grew to more than 80 in 2006, as the crisis continues to expand.

It's easy for us to dismiss this issue as a problem only for those who've made the wrong decision to use the drug. But truthfully, we all struggle with addictions in one form or another, and fortunate are those of us who've never encountered that first, casual experience with crystal meth. Health experts estimate that 22 percent of all gay men have tried crystal meth at least once - just as Garza had (See: Osborne, D. 2005. Suicide Tuesday: Gay Men and the Crystal Meth Scare. Carroll & Graf: New York). Furthermore, a recent San Francisco study found that 15 percent of gay/bi men has used crystal during their most recent sexual encounter. Those using the drug put themselves at two to three times the risk of contracting HIV and other STDs. We owe it to ourselves, our community and the next generation of gay men to warn of the devastation that crystal meth can cause in their lives.

As such, the members of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington (GMCW) will make a bold move this summer to break the silence surrounding this problem - through song. GMCW will feature Through a Glass, Darkly, as part of its June show about friendship and recognition that our lives and relationships are worth both celebrating and saving. On this latter count, Through a Glass, Darkly, an award-winning and Emmy-nominated production created by Michael Shaieb for the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, explores the life of a meth-addict, Sebastian, and how his addiction affects both himself and lives of those around him.

Event: Through a Glass, Darkly
Venue: Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University (730 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052)
Dates: Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 3 pm (ASL Interpreted)
Tickets: http://www.gmcw.org/season/throughaglassdarkly.php

The production's three characters represent archetypes of the crystal meth epidemic: the struggling addict that sees meth rapidly destroy his life; the individual who tries the drug for the first time; and importantly, the loved one of someone suffering from addiction. Our hope is that everyone can relate to someone in this tableau of addiction in our community. Through this production, the Chorus aims to help prevent GLBT individuals, especially youth, from ever using crystal meth and to provide resources and support to those seeking to recover or to those whose loved ones are struggling from addiction.

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Through a Glass, Darkly has presented some obvious marketing challenges for the Chorus, like how to sell the idea that a musical production about crystal meth addiction can be entertaining. In truth, the show has a driving rock-opera, Rent-like feel that is balanced with more poignant ballads. It's sure to appeal to most anyone, and will take you on quite the emotional roller coaster. What's more, for the first act of the show, prior to Trough a Glass Darkly, the Chorus will perform a selection of songs about friendship, celebrating those who support the GLBT community through thick and thin.

So even though this production might not sound like your cup o' tea at face value, I can assure you that's it's something you don't want to miss. GMCW has taken on this monumental challenge because its mission goes much further than simply entertaining our community; it seeks to effect positive change in the lives of GLBT people and beyond. While the task of presenting a work about crystal meth is complex, GMCW is intent on telling this relevant story that cannot be ignored. Longtime fans and newcomers to GMCW shows can expect the same high quality production values that have built the Chorus' reputation in the past through sets, costumes, dancing and top-notch musical performances. With Through a Glass, Darkly, these elements combine to dramatize several gay lives with artistry, passion, sharp-wit, and heart. But this production needs your support to amplify its important message.

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Several local organizations are already helping in this effort. In particular, the Crystal Meth Working Group (CMWG) of the DC Center is sponsoring this production to help bring meth addiction out of the darkness to the bright lights of the stage. In supporting this effort, the CMWG will also raise awareness of the resources it provides to combat this scourge of of our community and help those in recovery. The combined efforts of GMCW and the CMWG could not be more timely, considering the severity of the current crystal meth problem in DC and its strong ties to the raging HIV, Syphilis and other STD epidemics now assailing the local gay community.

Once again, GMCW appears to be at the forefront of producing edgy, innovative, and relevant material, as in the near future, both the New York City Gay Men's Chorus and the Orange County Gay Men's Chorus also plan to produce Through a Glass, Darkly. And hopefully, with the lessons learned from GMCW and the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus before us, these choruses will be equally successful in bringing this important issue to light.

By serving as a sounding board to break the silence of crystal meth addiction in the District, GMCW stays true to its mission "to educate about the Gay experience." For sadly, today crystal meth use has become an ever-increasing part of our local Gay experience, and the onus is on us to turn the tide on the this trend. We can start by joining in this conversation and brining a friend. For who knows, Through a Glass, Darkly and the dialogue that ensues might make all the difference to someone in need.

Event: Through a Glass, Darkly
Venue: Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University (730 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052)
Dates: Saturday, June 6, 2009 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 3 pm (ASL Interpreted)
Tickets: http://www.gmcw.org/season/throughaglassdarkly.php


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Dan

Kudos for such an eloquent and powerful post. And, thanks for shining a light (and "cranking up the wattage") on this chronic and horrendous affliction.

Thanks for posting this, Dan. Drug and alcohol addiction are silent and rampant menaces in our communities, so much a part of the "culture" that we often dimiss or minimize the impact.
I was the lone transwoman in a 12-step meeting mostly populated by gay men in West Hollywood a few years ago, and I was moved and amazed at the devastation of lives and bodies that "Tina" leaves in her wake; I had no idea. It's a special challenge to stay sober in a world that is all about the bars, parties and clubs, and that cuts across the entire GLBT spectrum. I look forward to seeing this someday.

Thanks for the article. As a point the Miami Gay Men's Chorus performed this two weeks before the GMCW. We also had members of Crystal Meth Anonymous in the lobby with a table of members, information and help to any of our audience who might need help/assistance. We also screened The Twin Cities version for our members in hope that we could provide a source to those who might be effected by this terrible problem. We had sold out audiences and I was personally approached by audience members, thanking us for giving voice to an issue that sometimes is very secretive. I know we helped save at least one life by our concert.
Sandy Allen- Membership Chairman MGMC