MY ASIAN UPBRINGING AND HOW IT HELPED SET THE STAGE FOR MY ADDICTION
My name is Fendy, and I am crystal meth addict. I grew up in a small town in West Java, Indonesia. My three siblings and I were all raised by a single mom. From the time that I was very young, my dad was never around long enough for me to have any sort of relationship with him. Later, when I was a bit older, my uncle told me that my dad had left because he murdered a rival gang member in our hometown. My mom described my dad as irresponsible and said he’d left us because he had problems with gambling, alcohol and women. I didn’t know which of these was true because I didn’t know him well enough to care. My mom worked very hard to put food on the table and raised all of us the best she knew how. She hardly had any time for us because she was always working.
As the oldest son in the family, my childhood was full of adult responsibilities. After a full day at school, I would help my mom at the shop while my brothers got to go home and play. I was also a surrogate father to my younger brothers and was responsible for them.
From early on, I learned that being a good, responsible kid has its reward. My mom would buy new toys for me and food that I liked, and when there was extra money around, she would let me keep more change than any of my brothers. On the other hand, when I was bad, I would get punished and not get any kind of reward. Now, through working the 12 steps, I realized is the type of love I carried with me into adulthood, one based on a reward system.
STAYING IN THE CLOSET: LIFE FOR THOSE IN THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY IN INDONESIA
It wasn’t until later in my childhood that I realized there was something different with me. I always liked boys and avoid playing with girls. I remember I used to like this boy in my elementary school. I felt happy just being able to see him. We used to hang out almost every day, riding our bikes to the beach or any place else, just to get away and create our own adventures. We talked about everything from events at school to our dreams of what we wanted to do when we grew up. We were very close until our friends at school started making fun of us and called us “homosexual.”
At that time in Indonesia, homosexuality was considered a mental illness. It still is. The solution for every family is this: don’t talk about it within or outside the family. Pretend that it doesn’t exist. After the homosexual rumor about us started, he stopped spending time with me. A year later, I learned that his dad had moved him to a different school in a different town. I never got to see him again. I was sad and confused.
But then, I found religion. I started going to the Catholic church in our hometown and became active in the church. I devoted my spare time to Bible study and church activities. I wanted to show people that I was a good kid so that they would love me and respect me.
During my teen years, I always thought that I would end up getting married to a girl and have kids. I didn’t give much thought about who that girl would be. I figured my mom would pick her out for me, but that day hasn’t come yet. Until then, I would spend lots of time fantasizing about the guy I would be in a relationship with. That guy would be someone like John Stamos, my childhood idol from the TV show, Full House. I was always attracted to Hollywood movies and Western culture, even before I moved to America. Based on gay slang, I knew that would make me a “potato queen,” meaning an Asian guy who was into white guys.
COMING TO AMERICA: ALMOST STAMOS
The day I longed for finally arrived! My mom rewarded me with the ultimate prize for doing well in school, in church, and at home: the chance to study abroad in Australia or America. Of course, I chose America because of John Stamos.
This reward had previously been reserved for my younger brothers. Since I was the oldest son, I was obligated to stay and run the shop with my mom. I knew my mom needed me to stay, but I didn’t care anymore. I needed to escape and be with my John Stamos.
On May 3, 2013, 22 years after I moved to America, I married my John! Not John Stamos but John Walters. We got married at the city hall across the street from the New York Supreme Court in downtown Manhattan. Even though I didn’t get John Stamos, my John was the sweetest man ever and just as handsome as the actor I’d loved.
I felt that this was my American dream coming true: marrying the man of my dreams and living the life I want in America.
THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY AND THE PROBLEM OF ADDICTION
It seemed like a perfect dream, but unfortunately, many people in the LGBTQ community suffer from substance abuse and addiction. When I think of my marriage today, I cannot separate it from our drug addiction. I have learned to accept that drugs were part of our history together and will always be a part of our lives today and in the future.
In July 2005, while living in Atlanta, Georgia, I met John through a mutual friend. It was love at first sight. He moved into my one-bedroom apartment after our first date, and our relationship developed fast. He was a recovering alcoholic when I met him, and he told me that he went to AA meetings every night.
I thought he was perfect.
It was as if I didn’t hear the alcoholic part or simply just chose to ignore it. I didn’t have any idea what addiction was, and I never had any interest in learning about it. In my mind, it was his issue, not mine. I felt like I am not like my mom. She let my dad leave because he had addiction problems. I wouldn’t let my husband leave because he had an addiction. “I can fix him!” I told myself.
ADDICTION IN A LOVING RELATIONSHIP
At that time, gay marriage wasn’t legal yet, and my student visa had long expired. I had been staying in the country illegally for a number of years. I didn’t know for certain how we’d be able to stay together. Homeland security could find me and deport me at any time.
Since I could be deported at any moment, I thought it would be a good idea to just have an open relationship. I would come home from bars drunk and kiss John with the taste of alcohol in my mouth. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, even though I knew he was an alcoholic. I had my first understanding of what an addict is really like when he had a short relapse on alcohol – partly because of my behavior of going to the bars and drinking. When he was drinking, he would turn into a mean and angry person. He would stay in the other bedroom with the door locked and refused to come out. This was going on for about a couple weeks until he finally broke down crying and started going back to AA meeting. It was pretty scary, but it didn’t stop me from going out to the bars nor both of us from hooking up with other guys. John hooked up with other guys too.
A few months later, from going to the bars and after-hour parties in Atlanta, we met and started hanging out with guys who used drugs. Shortly after, we started our tour of circuit parties around the country. The circuit parties and getting high with party drugs like molly, special K, and GHB became my reward to myself for working hard.
Finally, gay marriage became legal and we got married. I figured this would allow me to stay in the country permanently, and we could start building our life together the right way; no open relationship, no drugs. However, by this time, we were too deep into our drug addictions. We couldn’t stop even if we had wanted to.
Three months after we got married, my husband confessed to me that he had been using crystal meth.
I had no idea what that was. I had to Google it to find out what meth was. So, instead of a wedding party, we checked John into rehab in Atlanta. I had never tried crystal meth. Seeing what it did to my husband, I told myself I would never use it. It was a dark time in our lives, and it became even darker after we moved to Los Angeles six months after John got out of the rehab center. Atlanta was too conservative and backward to me that reminded me of my own home town. I did not like Atlanta, so we moved to Los Angeles.
We packed all of our belongings into a twenty-foot U-Haul truck and drove it across the country from Atlanta to Los Angeles. We both discovered later that we both had been high the entire time we were driving the truck across the country. He was using crystal meth to stay awake, and I was using ecstasy. We believe our Higher Power was watching out for us, which is why we didn’t get into an accident. Neither one of us wanted to quit
A month after we moved to West Hollywood, I found out that he had started using crystal meth again. I asked him to leave our apartment, not knowing if he had a place to stay or any means to support himself. But what I really wanted was for him to beg me to let him stay so I could tell him to quit meth.
He packed his stuff into a small suitcase, and I watched him leave our apartment through my bedroom window. He kept walking away and didn’t look back. I said to myself, “Was it like this when my mom watched my dad leave us?”
TINA, BABY: METH ABUSE, COMEDOWN, AND ADDICTION
When he left, he also left a meth pipe with meth residue in it that I had hidden from him days before. And that was when I was introduced to Tina. I exhaled for the first time in a long time. Finally, I didn’t have to be responsible anymore. I told myself, “Who needs a husband when you can have Tina?” I was excited to date Tina. I fell in love with Tina. Tina was my best friend. And I hated her.
I never understood depression, nor having a connection with other people, until I came to the Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA) room. My idea of happiness back then was a well-paying job, a nice condo, a good-looking boyfriend, and the ability to travel around the world. If I can achieve all of these things, I thought, I will be happy and other people will want to connect with me and be my friend because of the things I have.
So, when my husband left me (after I asked him to leave), I started using meth to medicate myself after unsuccessfully tried to make friends around meth. I felt lonely and depressed. I thought I’ve lost my husband and my life has ended. There was only one thing left to do: I felt that I needed to kill myself and to hurt my husband in doing so.
Later, my twelve steps sponsor told me that is what we (recovering addicts) call insanity: the desire to hurt someone else’s feelings by hurting your own body . It is a kind of insanity that accumulates from the daily use of crystal meth. The loneliness, the meaningless sex, and repeating these things over and over without a solution. It’s a vicious cycle that all crystal meth addicts go through.
When I heard the news that Robin Williams had killed himself, I thought it was a sign that I should do the same. I thought it would be a great idea to jump off a cliff after a fun White Party (similar to Coachella for gay guys) weekend in Palm Springs.
Instead of jumping off the cliff, I met a guy who introduced me to the needle. I started shooting crystal meth during the White Party weekend and I loved it. I decided I would postpone my death, so I could shoot meth for fun. I met a tweaker who was also a dealer. He then introduced me to another tweaker. That tweaker shot meth to other people for money. They both needed a place to live in West Hollywood. I was living alone then. I also needed a continuous supply of drugs and someone who knows how to shoot meth. I told them that they could move in with me.
We became roommates. For two weeks.
WANTING TO END IT ALL: SUICIDE AND METH ADDICTION
After a few sex parties and shooting up crystal meth with strangers, meaningless sex, and feeling lonely again, but this time lonely and crazy, I made my suicide attempt. I took a lot of GHB and ended up at the ER in Cedars Sinai hospital, then went to a bed in a mental health institution in San Gabriel Valley for a few days under a 5150 hold. Being in there made me felt defeated, humiliated, and angry at myself. I checked all the boxes as a person with mental illness: gay, drug addict, and crazy. It was my rock bottom.
After they released me from the mental health institution, I started going to Crystal Meth Anonymous meetings. I really only started going to give myself something to do and also so I wouldn’t think about using too much. I kept coming back because I was listening to the other people in the group tell their stories about crystal meth. I found a connection in the room of Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA), and little by little, their stories became my stories. I started to see more similarities than differences.
I was not unique after all.
LEARNING ABOUT CRYSTAL METH RECOVERY AND SPONSORSHIP
I wanted to stop using meth, but I didn’t have any plan to stay that way other than going to the meetings. Besides, meth was my only issue and other drugs were not. I didn’t stop using pot and popper (inhalant) and didn’t have any sponsor. I was doing my own program that caused to relapse on crystal meth after being clean from it for close to three months. I knew then I needed to pick a sponsor because I needed to be told what to do.
I have met my sponsor, Doug L, through my husband John, back when he was still living with me. During my using time, I had agreed to meet with Doug to do his taxes one day, but I had forgotten what day we decided on. I had just woken up from an hour or two of sleep and had my morning fix when he showed up at my apartment. I was a mess, but I met with him.
He told me he had taken more than one bus to get to my place from the house he was staying. When I saw him, he was carrying a backpack that looked pretty heavy to me, sweating like a racehorse, but he sounded joyous, happy, and free. I was confused and jealous at the same time. What does he have that made him so happy? I thought. Whatever it was, I wanted it, and it was enough for me to ask him to be my sponsor nine months later.
MAKING A PLACE FOR CRYSTAL METH SUPPORT AND COMMUNITY
The truth was, up until this point, I was very hesitant to embrace the fellowship of Crystal Meth Anonymous. I hadn’t lost everything during my use. Not yet. I still drove a nice car, lived in a beautiful apartment in West Hollywood, and had career. I refused to acknowledge back then that my cashed-in 401(k) paid for my car payments and my rent. My professional work license was about to be suspended for failure to file and pay federal income taxes.
I didn’t want to hang out with the people in CMA room until someone in the CMA room said to me, “Why don’t you go to fellowship with us? We are your people now.” Hearing that made realized I was—and still am—a crystal meth addict and that, the sooner I accepted myself as an addict, the quicker the program would work for me—and the sooner my life would get better. And that is exactly what happened.
When I reached sixty days sober, I volunteered for the Crystal Meth Anonymous Convention. I met so many people and made a few friends. I went to meetings every day and each week. I met new people and made a few more friends. Within less than a year, I started remembering their faces and names.
My sponsor said to me, “You know so many people now.”
I smiled and responded, “Hm… Yeah, I guess I do.”
I met my best friend who, today, just celebrated double-digit sobriety today through the CMA room. She is a transgender Filipina woman. Her story inspired me, and her friendship saved me from wanting to use during my early recovery days and even now. I have heard amazing stories from many people in recovery that have inspired and uplifted me. The fellowship has kept me going even when I was feeling down because I know they will always have my back. I stayed in the fellowship of Crystal Meth Anonymous because I wanted to be a part of a community I loved that was also filled with people who loved me back.
A LIFE IN CRYSTAL METH RECOVERY
I am grateful for my recovery and my life today. The program has worked in every aspect of my life and has given me the tools I need to live a life free from crystal meth.
My husband and I traveled to Mexico for the first time together in October of 2017. I didn’t have any felony records and met all the requirements to become a US citizen in March of last year. Early this year, I was able to find a second job and cleaned up my financial wreckage that I created during the time I was using. Instead of cashing out my 401(K), I now have two 401(K) accounts to which I am contributing.
My husband and I just celebrated six years of marriage on May 3, 2019. As a couple, we don’t fight like we used to because we both work the twelve steps and know how to pause and find our part in every situation.
I go home to see my family in West Java, Indonesia every year in order to be present for my nieces and nephews. Although I have not yet told my mom that I’m gay and a drug addict, I came out to my younger brother and have been open with him about my addiction. This coming December, my husband will join me on my yearly trip to Indonesia for the first time. We know there might be uncomfortable questions and situations with our extended family, but we refuse to lie about our relationship and rob ourselves of the love we have received from those who support us.
I was able to find a second job and to clean up my financial wreckage from the time when I was using. Instead of cashing out my 401(K), I now have two 401(K) accounts to which I am contributing.
When John and I are not working or going to meetings, we’re being of service by sponsoring and working the twelve steps with sponsees, going to fellowship with other addicts, giving rides to people from the recovery house to the CMA meetings, attending CMA events, and passing around the CMA helpline cards. We’re being of service because service takes away our crazy thoughts and gives us purpose.
PROGRAM OF ATTRACTION, NOT PROMOTION
As the 12 traditions say, “This is a program of attraction, not promotion.” I have to want this program and not just need it.
Someone in CMA once said, “Create a life you are not willing to give up.” How do I do that? I do it every day by living in God’s will. Living in God’s will is to live with dignity and integrity, to be grateful for what I have today, to be able to find beauty all around me, and to pray for the power to carry that out one day at a time.
I stay sober today by carrying with me an imaginary basket filled with fruits of life that contain the following:
- Things that I must do like my job
- Things that I enjoy like going to meetings and connecting with other addicts
- Things that I love like tennis
- Things that give me purpose like service commitments and helping other addicts in any way I can
When I get to partake in and share all of these fruits with others, they prevent me from obsessing and giving in to cravings for the drug. They make my life full and joyful. The joy I feel now is the same joy that I saw in my sponsor: Happy, Joyous, and Free!
Author: Fendy Suandi