I was not cut out to be a soldier, let alone an infantryman. I hated athletics and avoided physical education in school like the plague. I had never seen a firearm in my life. I had no great love for the outdoors. In high school, I regarded the military with contempt, fit only for brutes too stupid to know they were being exploited as cannon fodder.
My first brush with unmanageability came when I moved away, came out of the closet, and promptly made a mess of college. At the age of 23, I realized that I needed a kick in the ass to get back on track and decided the Army could best administer it. Why the infantry? If I was going to enlist, I might as well do real Army shit!
The Army did everything I wanted it to do and more. Because I was so unsuited to it, I had to learn how to work hard. And I succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, doing things I’d never imagined before: parachuting from airplanes, riding in helicopters, firing guided missiles at tanks. I excelled: I not only passed my physical fitness test, but maxed it out; I earned my Expert Infantry Badge; I became a leader. I loved the easy camaraderie of the barracks and being part of my platoon and company.
There was a cost. I had to step back into the closet and lead a double life, living in fear: of being discovered, being discharged, being rejected or even bashed by the guys in my unit. I learned to hide and deceive, eventually feeling that I myself was a victim. Little did I know I was laying the foundation for my drug addiction.
I arrived at Fort Myer, Virginia in 1998, as a squad leader in the Old Guard. I loved the high standards, the sharp perfection of our blue uniforms with shining, highly polished brass, our precision marching, and our manual of arms. I was thrilled, too, to be in Washington, D.C., a city with a real gay community.
As a sergeant, I couldn’t hang with the junior enlisted men in the barracks anymore. Most other NCOs lived in a different part of the city with their families. Fear of being outed kept me from getting too close with other gay men. I was lonely.
My first solution to that problem was sex. I cruised the bars, baths, and bookstores. I discovered online cruising. In spite of my active sex life, I was frustrated by my inability to be open. I acted out, seeking risky sex with strangers, sometimes not even seeing what my partners looked like. I briefly moonlighted as an escort.There was one man online I’d wanted to get with, but, for months, it’d gone nowhere, until he finally invited me to his apartment in Washington. I arrived, anticipating an enjoyable hookup. As I came into the bedroom, he offered me a couple of lines. Of what? Who cared? It would just add to the sex.
Suddenly, my clothes disappeared. An enormous, unquenchable desire for sex far in excess of anything I’d ever felt before filled me. I lay in bed, masturbating and transfixed by the porn on the TV. I’d wanted him to join me right away, but he was fixated on the computer, looking for more men to come over. He gave me my tweaker’s fantasy: a parade of partners throughout the night, culminating with the two of us. He told me he might have HIV. I begged him to infect me.
I left and never met him again. I had no idea what he’d given me. I had no idea how to find a dealer or even what I’d ask him for. But, the memory of that night was seared into my brain, and I knew that I needed more. I tried to find more of that magical stuff. But, it eluded me, and I eventually gave up.
I met my ex when he hired me as an escort on a business trip. We hit it off and kept in touch. I had grown tired of the closeted life I was leading in the Army, and I was clashing with my superior. Now, my ex offered me an alternative: life as an out gay man in Arizona. In late 2000, I decided to out myself and was honorably discharged but with a bar to reenlistment.
Initially, things went well. I went to university on the GI Bill and excelled. But my ex and I grew apart, breaking up in 2002. My life continued the same pattern as it had in the Army: professional and respectable at work and in the classroom, wild and crazy in the bars and baths. I had no real close friends but used the community to find sex. And then, I hit the jackpot: an attractive meth dealer. Neither of us wanted any relationship beyond one of sex and drugs. It was ideal.
From there, my life followed the all too familiar trajectory over the course of many years: a dawning realization of my drug addiction, failed relationships, too many relapses and the following rehabs by the boatload, a progression to smoking, then IV injection, HIV, STIs, an arrest, and homelessness. Above all, that crushing despair that I, who had once achieved the impossible and experienced unimaginable success, could barely apply for food stamps.
It wasn’t all a downward spiral. Each new step along the way taught me something. I went to my first rehab in 2008, where I was introduced to Narcotics Anonymous. I learned the importance of meeting attendance, step work, sponsorship, and service. I learned that if I wanted to stay clean, I needed a new way of life.
I became a long-haul truck driver in 2010 and was clean for periods as long as 4 or 5 months. From that, I learned the necessity of separating myself from harmful relationships—people, places, and things. I also learned how much I loved blue collar work.
Following a suicide attempt in 2014, I finally got serious, spending a week in detox, 2 more in another rehab, then 17 months at a facility in a rural part of Colorado run by a Christian charitable organization. There, I learned I needed immersion into my 12-step fellowship, that I could let go of my harsh resentments towards God and religion, and that physical fitness and exposure to nature were important parts of recovery. I also learned that I could survive both the death of my closest friend and a severe work accident without getting high.
But, once again, I returned to drug use. Often, I’d be in and out of the rooms repeatedly, picking up welcome chip after welcome chip, struggling to make it to thirty days, only to fall apart all over again. There were times I gave up altogether.
My bottom came in September 2020. I very quickly lost almost everything, both my home and my job. I was living out of an ancient Volvo my parents had given me with a storage unit and a phone they paid for. I lived off money from the government and what others would give me. I found a drug dealer to “work” for, making deliveries, collecting money, and doing odd jobs. It was the only job I could do and, even with my drug supply on the line, I was unreliable.
With the help of a social worker, I found housing. My roommate was another heavy user and seller. We got along well, as we encouraged and validated each other’s BS. I was using every day, always to excess, always pushing the limits. The amounts I injected grew to heroic proportions. The result of all this “partying?” Complete despair and hopelessness. Nothing had worked. I felt condemned to this existence until I would die.
And death was coming closer: the simple act of taking a pill to treat my HIV had become impossible. AIDS was this gay tweaker’s just due. I felt shunned and outcast because of my addiction and my age. I knew in the very depths of my soul that I was an addict. What I lacked was the hope that there was any path out.
While sunk in the deepest part of my addiction, I did get some breaks when the drugs stopped working thanks solely to my tolerance. I had all the pieces from everything I’d learned before, but I couldn’t put it together. Relapse always soon followed.
On September 26, 2022, that window opened up for me again. I was finally ready to be done and to ask for help. I attended my first 12- step meeting in years. I discovered our local LGBTQ+ recovery house. I got myself into rehab at the local VA hospital, where I stayed for 60 days.
I worked out a long-term plan, involving a refresher course in truck driving and online meetings that I could attend from the road. I ruthlessly cleared out my phone, deleting and blocking contacts of everyone who I used with, even any real friends. It hurt, but I deleted them anyway. Apps, profiles…if they’d been involved with partying, they were deleted. Any trigger that I’d addressed with meth, I removed from my life.
I got a sponsor and actually developed a real relationship with him. I try to call him daily, though I haven’t been perfect. I present problems to him and check in with him before taking action. I honestly tell on myself when I do something dangerous. I do step work, service work, and am active in several recovery communities. I also moved into sober living.
I’ve learned how someone else’s willingness to have sex with me is what gave me my sense of self-worth. I’m slowly and painfully learning to live without that. I’m becoming the man I want to be.
I’m at work on my second step. Finally, I seem to be internalizing that I can’t do this alone, but I can do this in conjunction with the help of others in the rooms, my current higher power. Today, recovery seems possible, whereas a year ago I had zero hope. I don’t know what comes next, but I’m eager to find out.
This is a return to a lesson I learned as an infantryman. No soldier can hope to win a war alone. My own skills, strengths, and force of will achieve nothing on the battlefield without comrades fighting alongside me. Battles are lost when men like me break formation and run away. Today, I stand shoulder to shoulder with you and count on you to stand with me in our mutual fight against addiction.