There, But For the Grace of God
I haven’t written recently; because I got a promotion at work and have been spending a lot of time showing the bosses that I am worthy of that promotion. Also, there have been photo shoots and family time and just a lot of reasons to not write.
Yesterday, though, right on my Facebook page, I was given a reason to write.
I read about a gay porn star who died in his sleep at the age of thirty. He had heart failure. I didn’t know him, though I might have been him. As a matter of fact, I know a few men who might have been him. By all accounts, he was a very nice man. He kept a blog that, I am told, was respected. And, apparently, he was a great porn star. I don’t know. I have never seen any of his films. My husband used to see him at the gym and says he never looked especially happy or healthy. My only exposure to the man was photographs seen online and in gay publications. It’s sad that he died. It is also his responsibility.
In his public life, this actor was always very forthcoming about his use of recreational drugs. I read that while doing research for this story. I also read that he was always very forthcoming about his use of steroids. By all accounts, online, his use of these two different types of drugs can be classified as abuse. So, when an (obviously) steroidal gay man dies of heart failure at the age of 3o and he has blogged, honestly, about his partying with drugs ranging from boutique to dingy, it serves absolutely no purpose to martyr him. I said just as much in my Facebook newsfeed yesterday, sparking a rather lengthy conversation in which people implored me to have a little sympathy, to acknowledge his disease, to recognize his pain.
Oh I recognize his pain.
In my life I have been addicted to alcohol, cigarettes, food, spending, sex, sloth, depression and even television. I haven’t been addicted to any hardcore drug, I’m not a hoarder, I don’t gamble and I don’t have obsessive compulsive disorder. We all have our demons. Mine were, specifically, booze, smokes and food. I spent our money until we were beyond broke, I hooked up with people in manners so unbecoming that I won’t print it on the internet and I once stayed in bed for almost 18 months. We all have our demons. I have been accused of being harsh on crystal meth addicts; it has been said that I don’t understand what a tough addiction that is to kick. My question is: why is my addiction any less valid than theirs? It’s just as difficult for the food addict to get control of their battle as it is for the cocaine addict. It’s just as challenging for the cigarette smoker to kick the habit as it is for a pill popper. We all have our demons.
I beat my demons. I won. I quit drinking over a decade ago, cold turkey. When I quit smoking, when I quit eating junkfood, when I quit all my addictions, I did it like a man: on the spot and without looking back.
Before the age of 21, I had 3 suicide attempts. Two people know about, one nobody knows about. I consider my suicidal tendencies to have been an addiction. After the last one, I told myself I wouldn’t do that to my family again. I wouldn’t wake up in the hospital with a frantic and worried mother and father, wondering why, how, what and all the other questions that go through the minds of the survivors of suicides. I never again considered suicide an option.
In my teens, I tried smoking hash. It made me so sick I vowed never again to smoke drugs. It didn’t last long and, during my freshman year in college, I smoked pot. It made me sick. I waited until I was 38 to try it again. It made me sick. When I was 39, I tried it again. It made me sick. So I don’t smoke marijuana; and it makes me mad because everyone always looks like they are having such a good time. So what. I tried crystal meth once (twice, to be exact) with an ex – a man I didn’t know was an honest to goodness crystal meth addict until months after getting involved with (and breaking up with) him. I didn’t feel anything. More to the point, it did not curb my appetite, which is why I tried it in the first place – I had been told it would; and I was desperate to lose weight (as I usually am). I have not been a shrinking violet in my life. I have done party drugs. I won’t list them but you guys know the ones of which I speak. Happily, I have never formed an addiction to any drug.
That includes steroids.
A year or so after I lost the weight, because I was training so hard and so often, I developed tendonitis in my shoulder. I was in pain all the time. I could not do a push up, a bench press, a shoulder press… I could not do much. Someone told me that steroids were created to help heal and that, if I did them safely, I could heal my shoulder, keep working out and pack on a little muscle too. I did some online research. I read about the way steroids are used in a combination, for maximum effect. I never did the combination of Decca with Testosterone – it seemed to be the one ranked as best for results; but it also seemed to be the one ranked as most dangerous for side effects. I did – I don’t remember – 2, maybe 3 cycles of steroids. When I became wary, I switched to oral anabolics. I never blew up like the stay puff marshmallow man. But I did see results. I didn’t always like the results. In my life, I have preferred to be CUT, rather than BEEFY. The drugs gave me muscle – but they also made me beefy. I have a bad case of dysmorphia – and if I can’t see my hip cuts and a flat tummy, I go a little crazy (or a lot crazy). I will feature some photos in this story that show the different stages of my body, so as to demonstrate for the reader how these drugs can change you, be they steroids or oral anabolics.
Both my trainer and my doctor had a tendency to ask me “are you on something?”, to which I always answered no.
Two years after ending my relationship with steroids, but while I was still taking these oral supplements that I bought online, I found a lump in my left breast. Terror stricken, I went to my doctor, who also happens to be a close personal friend. When he told me it wasn’t cancer, I had to stop him speaking for a moment.
“Say it again.”
“It isn’t cancer.”
I cried a little and then we went on. He told me that, because of my use of all these supplements, I had a hormonal imbalance. My body was no longer producing its’ own testosterone and was over producing estrogen. I was growing breast tissue. Furthermore, I had mild liver failure, kidney failure and was, now, pre disposed to heart failure. I was terrified and mortified. Terrified because I hate being ill – hate being out of sorts in any way; and because I want to live for as long as I can, as healthily as I can. Mortified because I DID IT. I did it to myself. I chose to do the steroids and supplements and I had organ failure. When I left the doctor’s office, a block away, I ran into Josh. He said how are you and I began to weep. On the corner of 48th and 9th, he held me and told me it would be ok. He is always there for me and he is always right. My friend and doctor put me on a drug that re-balanced my hormones and, soon, my organs were all like one o’clock again.
Imagine, had I gotten into the steroids that really pump you up. With my history of low self esteem, I could’ve been hooked justlikethat. As it was, I took mild steroids and internet bought supplements and, still, I had organ failure. I accept my part in that experience; and though I have never discussed it publicly (and, for the most part, I have not discussed it privately, either) I feel like today is the day to come clean.
Because I DID IT.
I read all these status messages about how sad it was that this man died. People want to call it tragic. I can’t. Literally, I cannot. Tragedy is when Nate Berkus’ husband was ripped from his arms by a tsunami and never found. Tragedy is children being kidnapped, raped, mutilated, murdered. Tragedy is developing a dabilitating disease and dying from it, when you have done nothing to contribute to its’ growth. Tragedy is a lot of things. Tragedy is not dying of something for which you have accountability. It is a hard line to take; but it is mine.
I am saddened by this man’s death. I am super sad for his loved ones. I am immensely sad for he and for anyone who feels alone and who feels that they cannot reach out for help. Like the 40 year old actor who committed suicide last week. Teen suicide is one thing – teenagers haven’t yet learned that they can survive it, overcome it and make meaningful lives for themselves. When a forty year old takes their life, it isn’t a tragedy. It’s sad but it isn’t a tragedy. They GOT what they WANTED. People need to learn that their actions have consequences. I don’t think it is right or fair to have a society left behind to build some false sense of martyrdom for people who die at their own hands. When I said that on Facebook yesterday, it lead to a stream of comments from people suggesting I have some compassion. It also lead to a stream of messages from people saying they felt the same way I did.
When I said, at the start of this story, that it could have been me, I meant it. I was THISCLOSE to entering the porn industry. I was in my early 40s, with no path, no goal, no ambition; I had worked hard to make myself pretty and people said I was, so I believed them. I needed a job and money and some adventure. A friend of mine who works as a bona fide porn star said “get to your maximum body fitness, get some pics done and I will help you get started.” I did both those things. I discussed this decision with Pat and close friends; everyone was supportive. Everyone except my friend Jason, who suggested I get a job at Starbucks. For a year I planned and worked for this and right after the photos had been done, Bobby said to me, very matter of factly, “This is a wrong choice. Think about how you and everyone we know reacts to and talks about people we know in the porn industry. ” And Guy said to me “You can’t unring this bell. You are turning down a path from which you cannot turn back. You’re a writer. One of the things you want, more than anything, is to be respected. Will people respect you for your writing, once they’ve seen you fucked on film?”
And that was that.
I’m lucky. I know I am. I managed to beat my demons. I lived. I got away from alcohol, cigarettes, over eating, over spending, indiscriminate sex, even hopelessness (well.. I may still battle depression from time to time). I have people around me who love me and who I love – people I can turn to and say “will you hold my hand while I get through this.” I have a good relationship with the God in whom I place my faith; and I have a good relationship with myself.
And a part of that relationship with myself is ACCOUNTABILITY. I take my hits. I admit my faults. I fix my mistakes. And I don’t ever ask to be lauded for them – I expect to be held accountable.
I believe that one of the reasons for peoples’ reactions to this man’s death is that he was so young and so beautiful and he was their porn idol. Only he wasn’t. He was a man. He was fallible. Yet many gay men have difficulty walking outside of the narrow hallways of their homosexuality; and because of their idolatry, they are not able to see that this man, this flawed human being, is gone because of the choices he made. It’s sad, yes. He is to be mourned. He is to be remembered and thought of with compassion. He is not, though, to be made into some golden calf to be worshiped, forevermore. As a man who met an unhappy end in a life that was (I hope) filled with promise, he can serve a better, a higher purpose than being some physical beauty to gaze at and sigh. Some lesson must come out of his death. Some gay men must be allowed to look at this history with clear and honest eyes and see and say “I do too many drugs”. “I don’t want to die”. “I’m going to make a change.” I’m not saying they should quit partying (I’m certainly not going to); but I AM saying they can dial it back. I am saying they can reach out their hand for help in any area of their life that brings them any kind of despair. I am saying they can make choices based on something more than a desire to escape.
They can make choices based on a desire to live.