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How will you celebrate Pride?
by Beau Burriola - SGN Contributing Writer

Every year at Pride, lurking just behind the colorful and festive costumes and celebration, there are still the old struggles Seattle's Gay community faces. Behind the parade of perfection are our very real human lives, complete with the real struggles we still have. With each year, there are more stories of the personal battles that Gay folks face.

"I was 28 years old," says TJ, starting to tell me his story. "I was dating a guy in California. I lived in LA for four years. After we started dating, right before we moved in together, I found out he was a dealer and so after dating him for a while - having never touched any drug in my life except a little pot - I said to myself, 'Hey, you know what? I'm 28 years old, my life is going all right, I want to see what this is that everyone is so gung-ho about.' Some may say that was a mistake that lasted 10 years."

Crystal meth is not new. It's fast becoming one of those huge parts of our Gay history that we are all developing a necessary detachment from, the same sort of detachment we sometimes feel when someone mentions the Holocaust or 9/11; sure, we know it's terrible, but we focus less and less because we can't spend our whole lives looking down.

Today, though, there are more Gay men than ever who have gone from being active meth users to becoming peer-recovery support volunteers, reaching out with understanding and without judgment in a peer-support network stronger than we've ever seen.

One of those volunteers, TJ, who used meth for ten years, explained to me why meth is still a big deal.

"Crystal meth is really bad in the Gay community because of what it is used for: It is used as a way of finding acceptance for a lot of people, whether a social acceptance or a sexual acceptance. It is a way for those who are having a hard time of finding a place to fit in to find a false sense of security that when they do meth, it will get rid of the issue."

"It knocks down inhibitions so that when there are things people want to try sober, but can't try sober, they go and do it when they are high. The negative is that most people take it to the extreme - they find out they are HIV+ because of unsafe sex, they put themselves in danger because they go into a situation because they don't realize that the person whose space they are going into has ulterior motives. It's bad. It's really bad."

His story is familiar, carrying pieces of the stories of friends I used to know. Listening to him makes me think of them.

"Within less than a year from starting the drug, my life went into a turning point where it was hitting rock bottom. I was literally just about on the verge of living on the street. A lot of people, it takes them years to have that kind of disaster in their life happen. A friend of mine realized things were going as bad as they were, and popped me on the Amtrak train, paid my way, and got me back to Seattle."

Sitting across the table from me, Toby "TJ" Noon looks to be a powerful figure. After a recovery that started on January 1 of 2007, he has become a peer volunteer, a strong community volunteer, and most recently, Washington State Mr. Leather 2008. He is poised and passionate, anxious to get his story out there.

"I was very fortunate not to have a constant struggle with it," he tells me about his recovery. "It was very easy for me. I've broken down and cried, not questioning why I am so fortunate, but it is hard for me to be in a place in my life where I'm not even trying and then there's these other people, really good friends, who are struggling. That's why when I made a commitment to run for Washington State Mr. Leather. I did it to show that it is possible and there is hope in getting sober from crystal meth - it is absolutely a possibility."

TJ's pride comes from an organization called Strength Over Speed (http://www.strengthoverspeed.org), a three-year-old peer recovery organization for Gay and Bi men in Seattle which promises "No judgment, just information and personal stories to help guide you."

Unlike the 12-step format, SOS provides emotional mentoring and support for men in the earlier stages of their recovery without promoting one recovery path over another.

"You can never make somebody do what they don't want to do," TJ tells me, "but you can give people the tools they need."

For those guys out there using, SOS offers guys who understand.

How would TJ recommend guys flirting with partying or recovery celebrate Pride this year?

"There is a new thing called the Peer Recovery Network that has some events in a safe environment over pride weekend," he said.

The Peer Recovery Network, a new collaboration between several local organizations, is a new resource in Seattle. You can find out more through the Multifaith Works, Gay City Health Project or Seattle Counciling Services.

So, with all the ways to party this year, how will you choose to celebrate Pride? For guys like TJ, there's no question.

Beau Burriola is a local red-headed, freckly, Queerer-than-thou writer getting prouder every year. beaubrent@gmail.com

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