Chris Taylor runs a private practice dealing with a variety of issues including those around dependency and addiction: taylorcounselling.co.uk. He also works as a volunteer for two counselling organisations based in the North West. In this series he shares examples of cases he has come across in his professional life.
“I first met Matt about eight months ago, I remember asking him what he wanted from counselling and how he felt it would help him? “ I want somebody who will understand me and were I am coming from. I don’t want to be judged, just understood”!
He told me that the services available in Manchester made him feel uncomfortable: “All they want to do is change you so that they look good. What good is that to me? I like my K, it makes me feel good about myself. I have the money and I’m not doing anybody else any harm, am I ”?
Matt’s story was certainly far from unfamiliar to me. Most counselling services use “Motivational Interviewing” which tends to concentrate on finding a reason to change your habits of drug use rather than focusing on why the person is using drugs in the first place. The question I think we should all be asking, however, is ‘what’s your story?’ not ‘why do you use drugs?’ Only if we, as counsellors and therapists, are prepared to listen will we be in a position to help.
It is over simplistic to merely put drug use down to enjoying yourself. It always masks other unresolved issues such as low self-esteem, lack of confidence, abuse, loss and grief, to name but a few and in men this picture can also often get much darker and altogether more complicated.
Amongst a lot of men there exists deep, uncomfortable feelings of disgust and loathing for the kind of sex they want and how they feel about themselves afterwards, which applies to both gay and heterosexual guys. Feelings of guilt and shame are often accompanied by thoughts that this is the type of sex their parents would disapprove of; that their actions and desires aren’t wholesome or healthy. “What you do is dirty and disgusting”. These thoughts and feelings are all too common and perhaps, inevitably, lead to feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing and, occasionally, suicide.
On the flip-side, drugs such as GHB/GBL, Mephedrone and Ketamine can strip away any feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, while at same time ramping up the libido and stripping away any inhibitions. However, this can leave individuals feeling emotionally vulnerable, unstable and unable to trust their own judgement. A precarious emotional position to be in.
This is, of course, a price many men are more than happy to pay in order to lose the inhibitions they often feel deny them the life they want to lead. One important point too often missed is that it’s not about drugs, it’s about feelings and emotions. Matt told me “this is not about enjoyment, it is about survival”.
I asked Matt if he felt comfortable telling me more of his story? “That’s what I’m here for! I was invited to a sex party organised by some well off guys living in North Manchester a few years back. It was one of those invitations you could’nt refuse. I was told there would be free drugs as long as I had sex with these guys. No problem in those days. I would do almost anything to score some drugs, any drugs, though I liked slamming best (injecting Mephedrone). You get such a good feeling from it, makes you horny as hell and lasts a good long time”.
“All in all it went on for five days, slowly slipping into a mass of exhausted ashen looking guys who hadn’t slept for days, just living off Dunns River [a nutritional milk supplement] and sweet fizzy drinks. It’s when you’re tired and vulnerable, that’s when the mood swings to come on. Feelings of guilt, self disgust, paranoia and panic. That’s often the time people end up in hospital or dead”.
As our time together progressed I began to see another side to Matt. I saw a small lonely boy who found it difficult to make friends, so he would spend hours on his chopper bike watching the trains go by near his house. When I asked if he was able to tell his parents that he was lonely his reply was direct and somewhat chilling. “No, they wouldn’t have understood. I was of no interest to them. It would have been different if it was either my big brother or little sister, but I was the one they just weren’t interested in.”
This unhappy story was in fact, the beginning of Matt’s awareness of who he was and almost from this point onwards, he stopped running and started to accept who he was, and that who he was was actually an OK guy; someone who did not always have to hide behind a misty, drug-induced haze of forgetfulness.
Suddenly receptivity was the name of the game; all the pain, frustration and anger he had stored up for so many years came flooding out. Receptivity was closely followed by an almost frightening self awareness, accompanied by a devastating honesty . “I don’t want to feel that way any more. What have I been doing to myself all this time?” We explored other options and other ways of looking at things. No longer was his life guided by the inflexible polar opposites of good and bad. Other options began to occur to Matt, options by his own admission he had never noticed before. In our final session together I reminded him, as I remind everybody I work with, to “be kind to yourself and remember you are not alone”. By having the opportunity to talk for the first time about his issues and how they affected him, they lost their hold over him. Once Matt felt able to expose his worst anxieties to the light of day the power they had over him for so long simply evaporated, leaving him free to get on with the rest of his life.
It would be all too easy and convenient to dismiss the rise in so-called “recreational drugs” as simply a gay thing, rather like AIDS was dismissed in the mid-70s, but that would be a mistake. All the indicators point to the use of these drugs increasing dramatically in the foreseeable future. Figures published in July 2014 suggest drug use by gay and bi men is likely to be 25% higher than amongst straight-men however, this is inevitably a very rough guide to the situation. Factors such as the ease of obtaining these new drugs, use of internet sites to find sex parties and drug dens all fuel the fire. It is worth remembering new substances are arriving on the drugs market of time, suggesting that this is certainly no time for complacency and denial.
In the interests of client confidentiality names and identifying details have been changed for the purposes of this article.