My descent into hell started by chance when I decided I should broaden my horizons by setting up a profile on a dating site. “It’s manageable,” I thought, in denial. I’d fill my diary for weeks within days, even with double bookings. I am a polite man. I don’t turn people down, and besides, I need to feel alive. I’d do anything to obliterate the sense of isolation I often feel when hours would merge into one indistinct passage of time.
As a result, I’d spend entire days surfing the app, leaving a track here and a wink there. Incidentally, sex doesn’t even interest me. Sex is my way to make contact. Craving for intimacy led me to compromise with anything, even drugs, which entered my life in disguise. “Let’s chill,” someone possibly lonelier than I eventually would suggest. I was happy to oblige. One night, in a moment of clarity, I looked around and didn’t recognise where I was, nor could I remember how I got there. I was sitting on the floor, wearing nothing but a pair of black boots and red socks. The stranger beside me told me of the time he tried double-penetration. According to him, an incredible experience: “Ketamine helps, and so does GHB but don’t take them together, or you may slip into a coma,” he told me helpfully as if we were discussing the interaction between aspirin and paracetamol. I left soon after before the next wave of high could sweep over me like a tsunami.
Horny and needy
Once outside, I boarded a bus. I was horny and needy. I looked out of the window, where I spotted a person walking toward the bus stop I had left behind. As he stared at me, I got off at the next bus stop and ran back, hoping to charm him. “Hi, do you want to give me a blowjob? I live nearby,” I said as a way of introduction. He wasn’t willing to follow. So I stumbled away and down the road. When I made it home, I started cleaning my flat in a frantic attempt to cleanse my soul. It’s remarkable: the messier my private life, the cleaner my apartment. I spent hours scrubbing every surface. By 6am, I had nothing else to polish. However, I was still high, wide awake, and engulfed in a frenzy of hyperactivity. Defeated, I sat on my sofa, realising I was still wearing my boots. As I took them off and aligned them to the wall, I asked myself where I was going with my life.
Nowhere, by the look of things.
There and then, while looking for someone but myself to blame for my behaviour, I decided that the primary source of sleaze in my life was my online profile. It had to go before it took over my life and my health. In two months, I’d picked up chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis on my way to perdition. If you decide to turn on some apps, switch off your brain, and live in a cloud hoping for the best, here is a tip. What they do with you, they do it with many other individuals too, especially if people say that they are h&h and into parTy.
I logged on to my profile to find 21 messages waiting for me: 21 potential boyfriends. At times, it’s the delusion I love the most about myself. “If I click on any of these messages, the moment will pass,” I thought. And then I say the option: “DELETE PROFILE”. I clicked it. Nothing happened. An additional window opened. It asked if I TRULY wanted to leave the online dating world. It suggested that I fall back into its comforting arms, where I belonged until my membership would expire in two months. I clicked on “DELETE PROFILE” again, but it redirected me to another page…my Buddies list. They would surely miss me and would be devastated to see me go. I didn’t know any of them, yet the suggestion that these people could remotely care about me was enough to make me doubt my actions. It’s human nature. We need validation and attention. Therefore, to belong, we Photoshop images, falsify ages and fabricate an appealing idea that only remotely matches who we are.
Still, I clicked on DELETE again, and at last, my alter ego, Hunk975, was no more. It was ludicrous of me to believe that I would resolve all the issues that took me there to start with by deleting an online app profile. “You seem to be here quite often,” the nurse at my GUM clinic commented many months later, in what I instantly filed in my brain as the understatement of the year. He then handed me a leaflet, suggesting that perhaps I should consider using their free counselling services. My mentor, a heavily pregnant woman, entered my life three weeks later. For two months, she listened to my story, leading me to find the answers I had within myself, but to which I hadn’t previously been prepared to listen. I will cherish forever the memory of my mentor sitting in front of me like a Buddha in disguise, caressing her belly as she witnessed my life unravel before her eyes. How ironic that the only human connection acquired from my drugs- and sex-filled binge came courtesy of the straight, female healthcare adviser at the GUM clinic.
In truth, I was roaming in the dark. Self-destruction develops over a long period. It goes undetected for years as it chips and chips at the edges of your soul while you get on with your life. It’s like a heavy snowfall that freezes your senses, turning your brain into white slopes. Then one day, something shifts, the temperature rises, the balance breaks and the avalanche of emotions that follows has the power to destroy your entire world and your reason. It seems that homosexual men are prone to darkness. Perhaps it is our history. Centuries of persecution and being outcasts may still play havoc with our ability to accept ourselves. We try so hard to impress when, in fact, we should live our lives enjoying the ride. Our ability at concealing evidence of any struggle is outstanding. Regardless of the circumstances, we always hold on to a façade of sparkle in public. When we close the front door behind us and strip off, standing naked with nowhere to hide, the compulsive behaviours kick in.
Some people end their day by numbing their senses while drinking at home alone. Others binge on sweets, biscuits and cakes, eating their guilt away. Some develop OCD, while others go out every weekend without fail, bringing a new meaning to adjectives such as recreational and social. Those like me surf the internet and live a virtual reality that sometimes morphs into real life with disastrous consequences. What links us all is our inability to enjoy our own company, take an honest look at our lives and face our ghosts. Therefore, we go off the rails as a means of procrastination. As we do so, our sense of self-worth plummets to such levels that we begin to indulge in behaviours doomed to generate long-term consequences.
Serenity, courage and wisdom
Any health adviser in the land will confirm the link between HIV infections among gay men and risky sexual behaviour associated with drugs use and low self-esteem. Besides taking PReP or wearing a condom when unsure of other people’s circumstances, a critical factor in preventing infection is to respect yourself. I’m not perfect. Sometimes, I need help, and there is no disgrace in it. The shame would be if I wouldn’t admit that my life had spiralled out of control out of pride. The NHS’s many free mental-health support services can help you acquire the tools needed to deal with your problems.
Honesty is key to this process. Eventually, I reached a place where I felt I could be. I know the room for relapsing is always there. However, now I’m able to manage my destiny. When the craving comes, I can make an informed decision and wait for as long as it takes until my heartbeat slows and I can breathe again, feeding my brain with oxygen and my heart with hope. As I do so, the moment will pass, and I will be safe until the next instance, always around the corner. It’s down to me to remember who I am, where I come from, and what I want. Ultimately, I pray. I pray to find the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change, to have the COURAGE to change the things I can and the WISDOM to know the difference between the two.
Editor’s note: Although this article is written in the first person, it is in fact not the story of our correspondent, rather an account told to him by somebody who has asked to remain anonymous.