Meth, Love, Gaga and the Perfect Illusion
By C.L. Frederick
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services, well over half of all gay men will battle chemical addiction over the course of their lifetimes. This incomprehensible statistic has left me unnerved and heart broken. As a gay man who has battled substance abuse, I understand the reality, but making sense of the fact that such a large percentage of gay men are affected angers me beyond comprehension. Of all the drugs bombarding the community, meth is unparalleled and reaching epidemic status within LGBTQ culture worldwide. Amphetamine use is alarmingly elevated for gay men. The gay population is well over 40 percent more likely than heterosexuals to engage in methamphetamine use. Vulnerable and at-risk gay men have become the perfect targets.
I was lying in bed, taking a much needed break from laundry and ‘coming down’ from a weekend of use when I heard it. The surprise release of Lady Gaga’s long anticipated single “Perfect Illusion” caught me off guard and arrived with the most ‘perfect’ timing. It dropped at a time in my life when I found myself using methamphetamine in greater intervals than I had ever used prior. I was a binge addict, but in grave danger of becoming a regular methamphetamine user. Scrolling through social media at breakneck speed with heart palpitating, I began to see countless posts referencing Gaga’s new song. Immediately I gave it a listen. Mother Monster was back, and I couldn’t have been any more excited. Initially I was taken with the rock fused track and gutsy, powerhouse vocals, but then my heart, my soul, my brain froze on one melodic word: amphetamine. Did I hear that right? Did Gaga JUST allude to and reference methamphetamine? It took a few replays to confirm and I was left in complete shock. Restarting the song from the beginning, I listened to it in its entirety. Moving past the use of ‘amphetamine’ and finding two possibly layered stories in just this one song so brilliantly engaged me. The two competing themes I interpreted in the song were one of a lover coming to the conclusion that their relationship was a front, an illusion. The other was that of an individual filling the love void in their life through drug use; specifically that of methamphetamine. By song’s finish tears were flowing down my cheeks like waterfalls, and my being was paralyzed. It took all my will to confront the precise reason why I experienced the song so emotionally. The song caught me off guard and I wasn’t prepared for the curveball thrown my way. I felt as though Gaga wrote this song specifically for me.
A few days prior, I had used, in hopes of numbing the depression I was experiencing. I was struggling with the same issues most gay men have been struggling with for millennia. Gay men lack the natural guidance in life that straight individuals take for granted. There has been no path for us to follow. No foundation with which to build our futures on. We do not grow up being groomed to one day meet a same sex partner, get married, father and raise children as a gay man, watch our families grow, and one day come full circle by seeing our children complete the cycle. Not to mention having to grow up with bullying, hate, ignorance and discrimination due to being a gay man, it’s no wonder substance abuse has always been rooted in the gay experience. While coming down, I experienced psychosis. The first time I had ever questioned reality. The hallucinations, caused by days without sleep and excessive use, dealt with the thought that my life was not real, a ‘Truman Show-esque’ reality.
Sparing details, I was not well, and was struggling. The song did what no one and nothing else in my life had been able to do. It spoke to me, challenged my thinking, and enabled me to feel that someone understood. I was beside myself realizing that Gaga put so much thought into a song. Could it be that she cared so much about the methamphetamine issue and in turn crafted a song that spoke to my subconscious? It bridged the gap between my brain and addiction. I had a breakthrough and understood why I was using. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and felt the power of hope again. It was my motivation to finally make changes, to fight harder, and not give up on the only meaningful dream I have had in my life. To have a home life complete with the best friend husband, beloved children, and the ultimate status symbol: the white picket fence. I will build that damn fence with my own two well-manicured hands if I have to. It’s more than a symbol to me, and will always be a reminder of how far I have come. I can’t predict the future. I have no way of knowing if a family life is in my cards. What I do know is that NEVER again will I give up hope. I will never again rule this out as impossible. I will hope until the very end if I must. Numbing my pain by using will never be the method I seek out to cope.
The day after I heard “Perfect Illusion,” I contacted my doctor. We set up therapy, support groups, and began investigating treatment options. It was all terrifying, but I was committed to healing and going into recovery. A few days later I found myself being inspired by yet another hero of mine, Demi Lovato. She and Gaga were a one-two punch on my life when I needed it the most. While researching addiction treatment centers, I stumbled upon an article online detailing how Lovato partnered as co-owner of The CAST Center in West Hollywood; the rehabilitation center that she attended. As someone who has been so transparent with her addiction and treatment, I was moved beyond words to discover her generosity, respect, and support for the program that helped her overcome. I ended up messaging CAST, and literally within minutes, they called me. We spoke for at least an hour. They wanted to first make sure I was safe while coming down and to also answer my questions about their center. It seemed tailor-made for me, and I found it to be a strong rehabilitation center.
The CAST Center worked for days trying to get me in and to work with me on finances. With great care and consideration, the CAST Center made a suggestion and informed me that there was a rehabilitation program aimed at the LGBTQ community—specifically, methamphetamine users. It was called The Pride Institute of Eden Prairie/Minneapolis, Minnesota. I took some time to read up on the Pride Institute and their program. I was beyond impressed, and decided that it would be the best for me to deal with my addictions and how it specifically relates to LGBTQ individuals. I had hoped that I would better understand what I was going through and to have others going through the same situation as I was to relate to and learn from. A day and a half later, I was admitted to the Pride Institute. The CAST center checked in with the Pride Institute to make sure I safely arrived and kept involved in my treatment. These two rehabilitation centers saved my life. Gaga and Lovato have helped me begin the monumental process of saving my life. Its proof that one’s voice can truly inspire and make a difference. Reality is that rehabilitation programs can’t automatically take away someone’s addiction. Reality also means that once leaving treatment an addict is highly likely to use again, to relapse. I did and it was a powerful kind of guilt and shame. Some might look at that as failure, but I don’t. I needed to relapse to fully comprehend the value of believing in hope.
I wasn’t expecting a song to be the catalyst that finally got me into rehab. I am awfully thankful that this twist of fate occurred. Many times over, the addict is looked at as being ‘less than.’ Stigmas, pity, and disgust seem to rule society’s view of addicts. Lady Gaga offered her hand to addicts through the use of song and let us know that we will never be alone. A beautiful and important gesture so brilliantly executed. Nearing completion of my rehabilitation program, I am filled with hope, and I now have an army of coping skills to help me combat cravings. I understand my triggers, and am prepared to fight off relapse any and every time it tries to make its way into my life. My family and friends loved me enough to be a part of this journey and were open to learn in order to better understand addiction. They too are now strong enough to help me fight back at addiction. I was struggling to see any hope in my life, or to believe again that my dreams could come true. I couldn’t see that I was deserving of being truly loved and valued. I now whole-heartedly see that, and better yet, I believe it.
Gaga truly is a living legend, and has left a lasting impact on humanity. Sometimes the simplest gifts can mean the most. With that said, the words ‘thank you’ seem the appropriate gift from me to Gaga. Thank you for using an ‘illusion’ to save lives like mine. The song was in no way designed to be the cookie cutter automatic number one hit that so many prefabricated and exploitative artists of today focus on putting out. It is a challenging and rare song that not only drops a new sound onto the pop landscape, but also has social significance. It is a daring song that will never get the credit it deserves; but then again, Gaga never asks for credit. She has paved the way for new sounds and socially relevant music to become more acceptable in the future. I am forever in debt to heroes like Gaga, Lovato, The CAST Center and The Pride Institute. ‘Perfect Illusion’ ends with the words “somewhere in all the confusion, you were so perfect. You were a perfect illusion.” Those words perfectly sum up my relationship with meth. Using temporarily took the pain away. I was left bewildered and questioning my reality from the psychosis of ‘coming down.’ It became that dysfunctional, abusive and codependent relationship that is just too difficult to break away from.
Addiction is no cakewalk and I continue to struggle. Even though I have good days where I feel like I am conquering my addictions; I still have rough days. I never set out to be a methamphetamine addiction poster boy, but I am proud of myself for being transparent and visible during my entire addiction experience. I hope it will affect people and will shed new light on our understanding of addiction. Even just a few years ago it was rare and nearly unheard of to talk about methamphetamine addiction. It was stigmatized as affecting individuals living on the outskirts of proper society. That stigma was completely wrong and did a tremendous amount of damage.
The use of the drug spread like wildfire. As the drug spread so did HIV. Gaga and her song “Perfect Illusion” have affected me beyond comprehension. “Perfect Illusion” has been a gift to me. A gift of life. It has inspired me and unexpectedly gave me hope. The idea of a song connecting methamphetamine use as filling the love void was a powerful motivator for me. My dream has always been to find true love and have a family of my own. I needed to hear that love is not an illusion; it is real. I am hopeful that because the song was my motivation to seek out treatment, to make changes, and to believe in hope that I will continue to overcome. I believe I will grow stronger every day, but also realize that there will be setbacks mixed with rough days. Maybe those rough days and relapse experiences will motivate me and fellow addicts to use setbacks as leaning experiences to remain sober. I believe in hope again and I can now better protect myself from using. “Perfect Illusion” proves the power of song and has given me a fighting chance against my addiction.