22nd November 2018, Stu Fenton

Gay & Empowered

At the recent Chemsex conference in Berlin, we heard from so many practitioners and also veterans which is the name given to those of us that have successfully navigated our way through our own Chemsex experience and come out safely the other side.

My position in the alcohol and drug addiction treatment industry is both as a professional and a veteran myself, and one thing that stood out to me is that many other veterans saying to me how challenging it can still be to navigate sex, the club scene relationships romance, etc., while maintaining sobriety or a harm reduction styled recovery.

I spoke on the first day when I had an opportunity to the larger audience about how— as a personal and individual—I still like to go to nightclubs circuit parties, sex parties and often socialise with people who are high and enjoying recreational drugs. I explained how I don’t feel tempted to use myself and can enjoy these environments without being triggered.

Several veterans spoke to me over the course of the Chemsex conference and asked how I managed to do this. I really believe that beyond our own personal recovery there is a state that can be achieved that allows us to be strong, empowered individuals who do not have to judge others for their drug use and yet still engage with them without putting ourselves at risk as well.

When I responded to some of the people asking me how I do this, I realised that a great deal of my experience had come from my time in treatment facilities 15 years ago when I was getting sober from crystal meth and GHb. I believe it boils down to the focussed building of self-esteem, learning how to set internal and external boundaries, integrating cognitive behavioural therapy and elements of acceptance and commitment therapy/mindfulness, developing a sense of self and identity through psychotherapy and developing a deeper understanding of how I am a valuable yet fallible human being—and that is okay—and it is my flaws and uniqueness that make me who I am.

Most of this I learned in treatment and also practised in treatment and then took into my psychotherapy sessions year after year in my recovery.

It was on the flight back to Thailand from Berlin that I realised how incredibly important residential treatment can be for working on the issues that contribute to Chemsex.

Martin Viehweger, who spoke at the conference and who is an activist and sexual health physician in Berlin said that, “People want to use substances to test their limits and exceed them in order to break out of the normality and dullness of everyday life,” and, “Many wanted to create intimacy, closeness and trust with other people or overcome their shame.”

These are some of the reasons given for men engaging in Chemsex and additionally to avoid loneliness, boredom and a desire for intimacy.

I read I identify with these reasons and through my recovery and ongoing psychotherapy gradually uncovered these issues worked on them and found strategies and tools I needed to overcome them.

At Resort 12 we are seeing many individuals seeking recovery from the Chemsex phenomenon. I’m pleased to say that long before I sat listening in Berlin to the results of studies and the wonderful work that healthcare providers are doing all over the UK and Europe, I realised our program is definitely providing what is needed to recover.

Our process groups help clients identify their weaknesses and strengths when being intimate and personal relationships, our didactic groups help the guys develop healthy bonds that are not sexualised.

Daily I see gay men supporting each other in groups and in their spare time, laughing together, connecting and reflecting their strengths and weaknesses thus creating greater self-awareness and better self-esteem, challenging each other around their boundaries reflecting back to each other what they see thus creating stronger identities.

I believe it is in these environments that we first rely on our external supports and strategies and the words of our peers and then as we move further into our recoveries we learn how to integrate that which has been built and reflected by our peers into ourselves so that we do not need to use drugs anymore but we can be strong enough to be around them and the people that use them and enjoy all that life has to offer in our vibrant gay scene. It is a slow rebuilding and it is methodical – this has been my experience. And it is possible. What I love about my life today is that I can engage with my recovery friends as well as the gay world at large not triggered and able to stand strong in my identity and I could not have done this without residential rehabilitation.

Resort 12 was in part borne out of discussions ignited by the Chemsex problem in the UK and Europe so it only makes sense that all that is offered here acts as the antidote to the pain and hardship that Chemsex can often cause.

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