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January 25th, 2011

My Muscles, My Disease: Portrait of a Gay Drug Addict

There is a folder, tucked within a folder, buried deep in my computer files. I shouldn’t be looking at its contents, yet I can’t bring myself to delete it altogether. It is labeled MARCUS, and inside the folder is my disease.

Pool ColoredDuring my years of crystal meth addiction I went by the name of Marcus, at least to dealers and tricks and fellow addicts. It helped me determine who was calling my cell phone — those calling for Mark or Marcus usually had very different agendas — and Marcus even became an alternate persona as my drug addiction progressed.

When partying as Marcus, I felt confident and aloof. I took awful chances. I never met a strobe light I didn’t like or a box on a dance floor I wouldn’t jump on. A steroid-crazed gym regimen and the dehydration of drug abuse transformed my body into the low fat, pumped up gay ideal.

Photographs of that body, in full, preening strut, are the contents of the MARCUS folder. The pictures were my calling card for online sex-and-drug pursuits. They suggest nudity but are cropped modestly — although God knows that much more damning images of me surely exist in the dark corners of cyberspace.

Shipwrecked EyesIn one of the few pictures showing my face, I stand under a running shower — a pitiful Playgirl pose, spray nozzle in hand — with a blank face and shipwrecked eyes. The only emotion on display, just around the edges, is a dull fear.

My life was precisely as pictured. It wouldn’t be long before my drug use trumped my gym schedule, and my status in online chat rooms devolved from intriguing hottie to that crazy mess that doesn’t look like his pictures.

Since then, my recovery from drug addiction has helped me understand that the Gay Strut is key to my disease. It is a sly porthole back to raging insanity.

MarkTorso2008 - Copy - CopyExplaining all this feels idiotic. What vanity I possess, asking you to gaze upon my former, overwrought beauty as I complain about the consequences. It feels like an invitation to tell me how much healthier I look now, or that recovery is “an inside job.” I know this. I’m just sharing the curious road that got me here.

My recovery depends on healing my mind, body and spirit. At the moment I’m two out of three.

My spirit is happy today. My smiles are joyful and plentiful. My mind is clear, although I don’t kid myself, there are remnants of a brain pickled in methamphetamine for many years. But healing is underway, and my mind and spirit are enjoying the process.

Only my body lags behind, injured, resentful, and suspicious of the path to well being. I’m sedentary and stubborn. I relate being physically fit with something traumatic that once hounded and eventually ruined me.

I want to be healthier, and to control my weight and rising cholesterol. I need to fix this, I tell myself, but I’m afraid to fix this. There’s the potential that I’ll go back to a lifestyle more horrible than my expanding waistline.

Torso2008Crop - CopyIt’s good to get in shape again, I tell myself with sincere intentions. The treadmill is really taking off the pounds and I should start weight lifting again and hot damn, that muscle recall really works just look at my arms and I should buy new tank tops and work out even harder and get steroids prescribed again and what’s wrong with hanging out at a bar shirtless and shooting pool and sure I’ll do one hit of that, thanks, and man this body of mine would look damn hot at a sex party right now and who’s your dealer and do you have needles…?

Getting back in shape is an easy call. Except my mind puts physical fitness on the same crazy train as my drug addiction.

There is a solution. There always is. And I’m working on it. The fact I acknowledge my insanity is a good start. Now I can begin the process of teaching my body new tricks.

There are traps on the road to recovery, as anyone getting clean and sober will tell you. I’m much better at seeing them clearly than I used to be. But the vigilance it requires is a full time job.

I get afraid that a dangerous choice might look perfectly innocent. Or be a reasonable part of life. It could be a healthy choice, even, at least for you.

But sometimes, my very reckoning can look as pretty as a picture.

———————————————————————
I felt obliged to show some of the Marcus photos, but have cropped and altered them into something less decadent. Any similarity to pictures you may have seen in online chat rooms is purely coincidental. This topic is also something I’ve done my best to separate from my series of fitness videos with expert Nelson Vergel. Why burden the guy with my insanity? Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll share this. — Mark

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17 Responses to “My Muscles, My Disease: Portrait of a Gay Drug Addict”

  1. Charles Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 10:12 am

    “There’s the potential that I’ll go back to a lifestyle more horrible than my expanding waistline. ” What a disturbingly wonderful summation of a very interesting dilemma—the road to addiction is paved with hard abs. The most interesting writers I think are those who take you to a place you’ve never been and perhaps do not understand. Mark, this piece is yet another excellent example of how your introspection takes us somewhere we’ve never gone—and hopefully will never go.

  2. Jims_Whim Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 10:40 am

    I can relate to this on SO many levels, Mark. I’m constantly afraid of that ‘slippery slope’ of looking better leads to acting out and returning to the same behaviors that got me into this beautiful mess I call my life these days. Thanks for sharing, for putting into words, so openly & frankly, one of my own great fears.

  3. Lain Benjamin Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Mark, sometimes simplicity is best, so simply, Thank You. It is said that sharing is part of recovery. Your vividly painted windows into your past and present helped me look at where I am today in my recovery. Like you, I too “Get afraid that a dangerous choice might look perfectly innocent, or be a reasonable part of life.” Sex is the 800lb. gorilla in the room for me. I am so happy that there are others like you who understand.

  4. Matthew P Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Wow, this is so fitting for me to see today. Yesterday, I went to my gym for the 2nd time since I re-instated my membership on 1/17. I decided to do my lower body lifting yesterday and 30 minutes of interval cardio on the elliptical machine. About 15 minutes into my cardio, I had a recall of my recent relapse back in Feb of 2010. The idea in my head was, “I am so going to look as good as those guys in the T.I.M. videos I watched while tweaked out. I wonder if maybe this time I could just stop after that first quarter I can get from “Adam”. It would be so great to get laid.” Thank you, Mark.

  5. Gerry M Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks for the piece Mark. Yes, we need to know what triggers us so that we don’t go back down that road. For me I am amazed at what is “healthy” behavior and what is a slippery slope in my own life back into insanity even in my sobriety. In other words, what am I justifying as borderline okay and what is just plain denial. For me, I have found that yoga in any form is one of the best ways as a man over 45, to get the exercise and spiritual growth at I need. It truly is a mind/body/spirit connection. Kundalini yoga breathing has also helped me to quiet my mind and focus my thinking toward new goals and dreams. It has worked especially well when I returned to auditioning for commercials and shows this past fall. I’ve learned to create new memories in the place where I had ugly experiences.
    Thanks again for an insightful piece.
    Gerry M.

  6. Mike Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    It would be so easy for me to suggest something that would be seen as spurious, no matter my serious intent. Peace to your Heart, Mark. Yes the fear of fitness is real. Switching into a behavior that is knowingly addictive for you is tough — for anyone. You CAN do other things. You don’t HAVE to live at the gym.

    Every moment you start to do something is what counts. So start. Pick an activity. Yoga. It is the Holistic regimen of most note. Horseriding. It heals with the power of the Horse and it allows that great connection to Earth and Sky. Rock Climbing. You and Nature. Start. Every step is a start, so keep stepping. The journey of a Thousand Miles begins every day with just one step.

    Most importantly, Thank You for giving us this writing. Unconditional acceptance is what all of us are looking for. You are well on the way to unconditionally accepting yourself. Your story is heartrending. Thank you for sharing you with us.

  7. Randall Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Loved your piece Mark. I was “Todd,” back in the Day.

    “Getting Buff Triggers my Addiction” — That’s my new excuse to avoid the gym for 2011. Thanx, you’re the BEST. I no longer WANT a Nice Bod, just to be “Normal” (whatever THAT Means).

  8. Ron T Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Wow, I had never thought of this aspect of recovery/trigger. When I was actively using, I could never make it to the gym and it was torture to try to go hungover and and a result, I was never in good shape. With recovery, I was finally able to reach most of my fitness goals and found out that now that I had a nice build, the “then I’ll be happy” mantra I had used for so long wasn’t true. And the whole “inside job” thing made sense.

    Now I think I am reaching some kind of balance between the two and I hope you can too.
    Love you Mark, Ron

  9. Trampas Graham Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Thank you for telling your story. I wrote to tell you that there is hope. What has helped me a great deal is realizing that I am not my body–I am a spiritual person living in a body–and have somehow accepted that my spirit is much more important than physical health. This helps me not only with my past, but my present as well. When I am overdoing it at the gym, for example, or when my blood test results are not optimal. Many conditioned triggers to relapse when I look or feel good (or think I look good) have been replaced, thanks to years of mental conditioning and spiritual fitness. I rarely envision myself as a prime peace of meat, but as a Spirit dwelling in a body that can be damaged by my mind if I allow it so. I am no longer as vigilant about my workouts, and many tell me that I actually look much better without the juice–the ‘roids. I am also writing to remind you that this too shall pass. You will overcome such mental traps. In fact you’ve already begun the process of changing such mindsets by setting them to paper. Thank you again for you honesty and courage, and for sharing it with the rest of the world.
    TGraham, Ft. Lauderdale

  10. Brian Says:

    January 25th, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Dear Mark,
    Reading your blog reminds me of myself in the years of my disease. Mar. 20 I will be celebrating 5 years clean and sober. As you know it is an Inside Job. I, We have come a long way, I am now 53 years young. My mind body and soul seem to be in sync… Finally. Like I said, we could talk. I wish you the Best, you have a great site. Love in Sobriety,
    Brian
    Newport Beach, CA.

  11. Carole Ann Says:

    January 26th, 2011 at 12:43 am

    Another excellent read. I am reminded we all have our “slippery slopes” and staying safely away from them takes energy, awareness, and strength….all of which you possess. I always look forward to reading your blog and this one was no exception. Waiting for the next one.

  12. Don Says:

    January 26th, 2011 at 12:59 am

    You are very brave for telling your story and many will benefit from understanding your journey. However it seems like having a background of addiction and promiscuity is a fairly common thread amongst people who are HIV+. I almost feel a bit ripped off since I never experienced either of those scenarios and still ended up acquiring the virus. Not that I need to experience those scenarios but maybe it would have been nice to have known the party before having shoulder the inherent responsibilities of living with HIV.

    I’m compelled to assure you, Don, that “what you missed” was people like me acting like insecure victims of the gay sexual revolution. I treated my sexuality like a baseball trading card, and I’m still trying to repair that damage. The character you displayed then will surely help your journey now. — Mark

  13. doug m. Says:

    January 26th, 2011 at 11:08 am

    The courage to share openly, and the willingness to be honest are blastingly displayed here in Mark’s post. The ones – like myself – who have been thru the fires a number of times know how “one day at at time” this whole recovery process is…
    ..but for this 24 hours, I’d say Mark has “got it”.

    cautionary, but full kudos…
    …doug m.
    11/11/04 odaat

  14. Subversive Librarian Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 11:33 pm

    God, Mark. This is one of your best posts. There are so many layers here. I’ve read it three times and I keep getting something new from it. Most of all, you’ve done a wonderful job of describing the whole “cunning, baffling, powerful” thing. I also like that you’ve raised the issue of body image. Excellent stuff.

  15. Subversive Librarian Says:

    January 29th, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Oh… and your eyes in that picture are just haunting.

  16. Gary S Says:

    February 1st, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Some food for thought, Mark.
    I think a lot of us have addictive personalities. And those of us who have this, when we do things we do, we do them to extreme and excess. So, I know for me, it’s about making the right choices on engaging in behaviors that are healthy. Addictions to working-out or playing sports, or reading and education can be very healthy. It wasn’t until my addictive tendencies trickled over to playing with drugs and excessive drinking that it became apparent that I HAD AN ADDICTIVE PERSONALITY. It was thereafter that I realized I had to choose to what things were okay to allow myself to become addicted.

  17. Chris Says:

    February 3rd, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    I’m a former meth addict myself.. I completely immersed myself in the life.. I sold it, turned tricks, etc.. no real job, and everything I did completely revolved around meth. Looking back, it was a combo of self destructive curiosity, as well as desire to be thin that fueled my addiction, as well as the endless sequence of stranger than a david lynch film moments… and of course, sexxx. so much sex. This went on for years. 2+gram a day addiction. I started out a 23 year old, 6’4 270lb beef cub, and ended up a 29 year old strung out psycho.. I weighed about 180lbs, and looked like the posterboy of schizophrenia, and was in a horribly abusive relationship..
    I moved back in with my parents in October 2008, and slept, for about a year. When awake, I ate. like a pig. i got up to about 330lbs, and my triglycerides hit 450 or so! I’ve lost about 60lbs since August, and am just reaaaaaaaally glad to be off of meth!!! I do still drink on occasion, and I use marijuana (a cornerstone in successfully staying meth free for me), and I’ve finally embraced who I am, physically, and emotionally. I’m very excited about the future..My biggest issue at hand, is being able to comfortably have sex, without meth.. I get suuppper anxious, and crazy self conscious!!! I used to be A DYNAMO.. but even casually seeking out.. casual sex, is an overwhelming trigger. I really appreciate your sharing, Mark!!!
    *cheers to the future!!*
    -Chris

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