After my ex-boyfriend and I broke up at the end of 2010, I declared the following year to be a year of partying and celebration of being single and free. So I decided to check out a few circuit parties. My ex-boyfriend and I had traveled around the country and attended circuit parties together; now it was time to experience it on my own.
I knew that at some point I would have to give up drugs altogether. I knew this because I had been using drugs for about 10 years and my life had gradually gotten worse. I was stuck in the cycle of using, craving, swearing that I would never do it again, and then restarting the cycle every two weeks.
I grew up in Malaysia in a family of alcoholics. My uncles, my aunts, and my grandfather all drank to oblivion every night. My grandmother did not drink. She and I were close.
Among the many scars of an alcoholic family, the memory that stands out the most is one of my uncle who drank so much that he had a stroke which paralyzed him from the waist down and erased most of his memory. His family had to care for him until he passed away years later. His love for alcohol was greater than his love for his family.
I didn’t drink because I didn’t like the taste of alcohol and I didn’t want to turn out like my aunts and uncles. Casual drug use, however, was a different story. When I moved to New York City in 1999, I met a couple in an AOL chat room who I became intimate with. They would invite me over on the weekends. One of them was a drug dealer, and they introduced me to ecstasy, special K and hallucinogens but never meth. They knew how addictive it was. They showed me love and kindness, comfort and sexual exploration. This was the entryway into a deeper longing for intimacy and connection.
..While in San Francisco in 2001 for a conference, I met someone in an AOL chat room who asked if I partied and if I would like to try some crystal meth. I knew what meth was, but had no idea how addictive the drug was. Eventually, I caved in and spent the next four days up. I never saw the world the same way from that point on. Crystal took away my anxiety, my fears, and my inhibitions.
When I returned to New York from San Francisco I met someone at a bar who I started dating and who was also into the party scene. This new relationship escalated my drug use. We moved in together into a tiny studio apartment on the Upper West Side weeks after meeting. It was only a matter of time before I lost my job when the Internet bubble of 2001 popped. This allowed me to spend more time at home using and partying with him. Sadly, I found out that the person I was living with was still with his partner. He was using me for drugs, sex and a place to stay. Such deception! We were through. I asked him to move out shortly thereafter. He harassed me every day, sometimes calling me 20 times a day.
It was at this time I decided to come out to my Mom who still lived in Malaysia. I told her that I was still her son and I loved her. We cried. She knew but still was sad. It was toward the end of the call that she said there were a lot of sexual diseases out there and she hoped I was taking care of myself. I told her that I was and we hung up. The following day, I developed 103-degree fever that I couldn’t get rid of for three weeks. Since I was sleeping 20 hours a day, my doctor asked me to come in for some tests. A week later, the doctor told me I had HIV. It was a devastating blow. The doctor advised me to start medication immediately. I had 193 T-cells and an 8 million viral load. I was very sick with fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, thrush, and discomfort. I was in the process of seroconverting. How did I get here? Death was not far away.
At this point I contemplated suicide, and how to do it. I was at home and recovering one day when I saw a bright light. It spoke to me. It was calm and soothing. It said you have a couple of choices: you can either continue down this road to more pain and death or you can choose a different life. The choice is yours to make. Some would call this a white light moment. This was about having compassion toward myself and a start towards a Buddhist belief and spirituality. I hadn’t connected the dots yet: sobriety and spirituality.
Two weeks later was September 11, 2001. I lived 20 blocks from the World Trade Center Towers. I was numb, unable to feel and still recovering from the seroconversion. I used crystal meth occasionally to help me not feel anything for the next four years. I became completely dependent on the drug. I thought about going to CMA but wasn’t ready to give it up.
I used crystal meth to stay up on nights and weekends playing World of Warcraft with friends until I discovered the needle. When I did, it became sexual. I lost two jobs and many potential relationships. Friends started worrying. They tried to help me but didn’t know how.
I was not only desperate, I was stuck in a repetitive cycle of using and despair. The drug was no longer a fun choice. It created more chaos and drama than I could handle.
I always had big dreams which included traveling around the world, but crystal meth bounded and suffocated me within the confinement of my apartment. I stayed up for nights and days, and suffered from paranoia, seeing shadow people, bloodshot eyes, and weight loss. I realized that I needed to find a way to change all this in order to live a happy, healthy life. I craved intimacy and connection. Crystal meth may have created a temporary relief when high but when I stopped using the depression, loneliness and hopelessness hit me, and took my self-esteem and self-worth along with it. This had to stop.
I asked my friend Stephen to take me to a meeting. It was on a cold Tuesday night and the meeting room was packed with other like-minded addicts! Being at that kind of meeting for the first time was very scary and intimidating even though my dear friend was there for reinforcement and support. Throughout the meeting a lot of people shared about their experiences, concerns and problems. Some stories were very personal and heartfelt. I heard my own story in someone else’s share. Since I had a lot of shame about my addiction, I didn’t think sharing my experience with a bunch of strangers was going to help solve my problems. But I soon realized that I didn’t have to take my problems and secrets to the grave. While I was very proud of myself that I actually went to a meeting, throughout the week I experienced a lot of internal conflict whether this was the right move. I wasn’t convinced that I was an addict at all. I thought an addict is someone who was homeless and jobless and required public assistance. On second thought … I was almost homeless, and I was jobless, and would soon require public assistance. I dragged my heels for another week before I decided to go to another meeting.
I used prior to going to that Tuesday meeting. I had two days of continuous sobriety but I went anyway. This time I went alone. It was very scary to be there by myself and I felt extremely uncomfortable. I did not want to be noticed or recognized. I made sure no one knew who I was. I didn’t raise my hand when asked if there was anyone new to the meeting nor did I introduce myself to anyone.
When I looked around the room, I noticed I was the only Asian guy. I felt out of place and convinced myself I didn’t belong. I didn’t understand some of the Twelve Step terminology that people were saying such as “sponsorship,” “fellowship” or “step work.” I kept myself calm by sitting still on the corner of the chair and breathing slowly. I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself. I made it through my second meeting and rushed out of the room as soon as I could. The third time I went, the person sitting next to me turned my way and introduced himself. He became my first sponsor.
In my first 30 days, I became friends with a handful of people. I kept a lot of things to myself as I was afraid to share at meetings, thinking that other people might judge me sharing my experiences. I had a false sense of pride and ego that prevented me from reaching out and asking for help. In my mind I was better than they were: I hadn’t hit rock bottom. I didn’t get arrested and I didn’t go to jail. I learned later on that sharing was the only way for other people to get to know me.
The first 90 days of sobriety proved to be the most crucial period for me. Crystal meth is a very potent drug. When I decided to remove this from of my life, I realized I needed to replace the void it left with something even more powerful: spirituality. I also decided to reintroduce meditation and Buddhism back into my life. That white light moment came back to me.
As I started to meditate again, everything that I had previously learned about Buddhism came back to me quickly. All the wisdom I had learned — the Four Noble Truths, the Eight-fold Path, the Twelve Dependent Arising, and Emptiness — started to become clear to me again as the fog of craving and using lifted. Buddhism became a very handy tool throughout my path towards sobriety.
I kept myself busy. I restructured my schedule to include more time for rest, Twelve Step meetings and the gym. I found that having a very regimented schedule was exactly what I needed. By introducing some structure into my life, it helped me focus on the things that mattered and kept my life simple.
I met with my sponsor weekly and he taught me about the principles of the Twelve Step program. He taught me how the program worked and how to work the program, and he guided me through reading the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. He guided me through step work in the same fashion that his sponsor had done it with him. We spoke on the phone daily. My erratic thinking began to settle a bit with the help of my sponsor’s wisdom and guidance, and I was soon able to tackle some major decisions in my life. One of those decisions was not to date as it would distract me from my path of self-discovery. I also decided to keep my life as simple as possible avoiding distractions and focusing only on sobriety and recovery.
Four months into my recovery, my sponsor and I parted ways due to a disagreement on whether I should also go to AA meetings. The reason I did not want to go to AA was because I didn’t identify as an alcoholic. Drinking wasn’t my problem. I will always be grateful to him for helping me stay clean and sober during this time. My emotions had been raw and my thoughts were unfiltered and undisciplined, but he began to help me change for the better.
I have learned that my experience and thinking isn’t very different from other fellows. I now consider myself an addict. My ethnicity has nothing to do with my recovery. The only requirement to be in a Twelve Step program is a desire to stop using drugs and all other mind-altering substances. For me, the willingness to stay clean and sober is also an important attribute.
After several years of sobriety, I continue to take an active role within the program and the fellowship. I chair meetings within NYCMA as well as taking on other service positions. I have held committee positions over the past five years on NYCMA’s Share-A-Day, an annual event where we bring workshops and out-of-town speakers to the New York City fellowship. I represent NYCMA as its Public Information Chair. I also sponsor fellow addicts and I reach out to newcomers in the hope I can help them stay clean and sober.