I came into CMA very much against my will after nearly 10 years of daily crystal meth use and living a life of insanity. Using had been really fun at first, but it soon became a daily repetition: using, looking for sex and more sex, more using and more sex, until I’d pass out. I never fell asleep, I always passed out.
When I got into recovery, I had some vague notion that my life could be better, but what I really wanted was to stay out of jail and to not die—simple requests. I was facing multiple felony charges for possession. I overdosed on GHB and passed out on the sidewalk. When I woke up many hours later, I was handcuffed to a gurney at Bellevue Hospital.
I was broken in every way: physically, mentally, and spiritually. My physical collapse came from my daily habit, poor diet, not going to the doctor, rarely brushing my teeth, repeated STIs, and not taking my HIV meds for years. Mentally, I’d lost all connection to life outside of my dark and narrow using routine. I had very little idea what was going on in the world, with my family, and for what was left of my non-using friends. I’d completely lost touch with who I was or the things I used to care about. Spiritually, I was empty. I had no love, no connection to nature, beauty, love, music, theater, art, or anything beyond my daily primal needs.
I was also totally broken sexually—it just didn’t work! After having so much sex for so long, it had almost become meaningless and repetitive. I rarely had the desire to get naked with someone, and when I did, I had trouble keeping an erection. I also believed I couldn’t get off without thinking about past using experiences.
My early recovery days were challenging and messy. I had so much anger pent up inside, because of all the damage I’d done to myself and others. I was broken financially as well, living on public assistance, smoking two packs of cigarettes a day, paying for them with my one remaining Discover card. I certainly put my food stamps to good use, eating everything in sight after years of not enjoying food, and was gaining a lot of weight. So many addictions! My self-esteem had never been lower and I felt anything but sexy.
People in CMA kept telling me that it was going to get better and that I should work on “giving up the bad habits that were going to kill me the fastest.” I remember thinking, How is this possibly going to work? How am I going to fix my finances, my legal troubles, my health, my weight, and all these broken relationships? But mostly: How am I ever going to stop obsessing about crystal and about all the “buddies” I was with for so long?
At around six months clean, after a lot of meetings and a lot of Second and Third Step work, I suddenly realized it had been several days since I’d thought about using. And later that week I found I was able to masturbate without employing any of my using fantasies. This didn’t seem possible. I remember the day I walked into one of my regular meetings and shared that I thought I’d lost the desire to use. After years of daily use and obsession, this seemed miraculous!
Gradually, things started to feel a bit better and I became more hopeful. I stopped fighting going to meetings as much and started to look forward to them and especially to fellowship after—eating at diners and talking about all kinds of stuff we generally didn’t discuss at meetings.
One of those things was sex. At fellowship, we talked a lot about sex! War stories, horror stories, and some “glory days” stories as well. A lot of the sex talk was about past experiences, but much of it was from fellows who were actually having sex.
I started to feel a lot of familiar feelings of envy but also a kind of peer pressure to have sex. If these guys are having sex, why aren’t I? Yes, I was feeling horny again to a small degree, but to a larger degree I had FOMO (fear of missing out). It had been six whole months since I’d had sex with anyone. That was the longest I could remember going without sex. Maybe I was becoming what they called sexually anorexic. I’m in the prime of my life, I thought. I’m only in my mid-40s and I should be having sex again!
But the thing was—I was scared! I was scared to have sex without drugs. Scared that it would be weird and awkward and clumsy, or that I wouldn’t be able to perform.
I started to share about this with my sponsor and with other people who’d been around for a while. One old-timer came up to me at a meeting after my share and said, “Honey, how much sex have you had during your life? You sound a little dramatic. Would it kill you to give it a rest? I mean, it’s not gonna fall off. It’ll still be there when you’re ready.” He then said, “How about if someone gave you permission to not have sex for a while? How about if you took this time to concentrate on working on other areas of your life?”
Something clicked. I felt this real sense of relief. I made the decision to take a break and not actively look for sex for a while.
After about fourteen months sober—and, for all intents and purposes, celibate—I ran into someone in recovery from out of town I used to have sex with. He was clearly interested in getting together again. I kind of panicked and called my sponsor. Should I have sex with this guy? In those days, I asked my sponsor about many decisions in my life. I hadn’t built up enough trust in myself or my motives. He asked me to look at my intentions and expectations. If they seemed to align with the sexual ideal we’d worked on in Step Four, then having sex was probably a good idea.
So we did. I’d like to say it was amazing, wonderful, and mind-blowing, but it wasn’t. It was awkward and strange, and I was in my head a lot, feeling very self-conscious. The best part of the experience was that he felt the same way and we discussed our awkwardness. We were able to relax and enjoy the body contact we were both craving after such a long time.
From then on, sex became a discovery for me. I was relearning what and whom I liked and didn’t like. I allowed myself to explore my sexuality and do what I wanted to do, but with a clear intention of not being with people who were using or had been using. This wasn’t so easy for a 48-year-old man. I found I had to be clear with people about being clean and sober every time, including having a discussion about poppers.
Another boundary I discovered was that, for me, I had to be honest with my partners about my HIV status. At first, I felt it was hard enough to hook up with guys who weren’t using. Why did I have to tell them my status if we weren’t doing anything risky? I wasn’t just misleading, there were times I lied about my status and that didn’t feel right anymore. I decided I needed to be honest and if they rejected me then so be it.
I also realized I didn’t have to have sex with people I wasn’t attracted to and I didn’t have to continue to have sex if I wasn’t enjoying myself. Again, that pressure to have sex came from a fear I might upset someone or a completely irrational fear that I’d never have sex again! So I realized, at my ripe old age, that I enjoyed sex more when I’m actually attracted to the guy!
I’m grateful to CMA for giving me the space to discuss my sexuality freely both in and out of meetings. I’ve been able to share all my struggles and successes, warts and all, without feeling judged for my choices. I attend other fellowships, too, but CMA is my home because you get me. I can talk about anything here. My friend says CMA is “one-stop shopping.” I learned here that living without sex for a while won’t kill me, but I can’t live without hope, love, and support.
It’s been a long, and in some ways, very slow recovery. I never thought I could feel as good as I feel most of the time. I have dated a bit in recovery, mostly short-term connections, many of them a lot of fun. I’ve explored all kinds of sex and intimacy again, and through these relationships I’m learning more about myself and what’s important to me.
One fear I haven’t been able to totally let go of is that I’m a hopeless case who is too damaged to be in a long-term relationship. I can work on accepting that. But I’m often reminded that I never thought I could live a day without crystal meth. I never thought I would be employable again. I never thought I’d have a full life with a job, my family, friends, and love and hope. Who am I to say what’s possible?