Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation
The majority of fast lane people I know have become HIV-positive over the years. They weren’t necessarily hardcore alcoholics or drug abusers. They didn’t always have unsafe sex. But, living at the edge put them in just enough danger to make them vulnerable to becoming infected. Like a moth to a flame, a life of constant stimulation, hot sex and being socially lubricated on substances pushed them over the line.
There are a lot of typical explanations about why people become positive or addicted. They were abused as children, they have low self-esteem, have addictive personalities, etc. These descriptions apply to many men who sero-convert, but not to all. There are plenty of attractive, high-functioning, self-assured people who turn positive. There are a variety of reasons. Sometimes it happens because of love. The desire for the ultimate intimacy leads to dangerous risk-taking. Sometimes people are not quite of their right mind because of drink or drugs. Or, you wake up some place and you don’t even know how you got there.
Wild abandon is the stuff of fantasy. It makes for great cinematic adventures. However, you know if you have seen The Hangover, you could end up with a tattoo on your face. When you hang with a group of friends who are united by the amazing times they had together when they were completely wasted, it is hard to resist. You become the stick in the mud. You know how dull it is to hang out with people when you are the only one who isn’t stoned.
It goes beyond the individual or groups of friends. The ultimate in gay life is often pictured as the massive circuit party that goes all night, enabled by drugs. The person who doesn’t partake feels left out. That life seems much more interesting than going to a movie and having dinner or playing a sport or doing volunteer work or being in a relationship.
Eventually it becomes one identity. Living at the edge and having all the amazing experiences that it brings with it defines who you are. You wonder if you give that up, what will be left? Will you be a boring loser?
Being bored is OK. Investing in education, career, friendship, family and community will pay off big time in your future. You may notice that a lot of the geeks from high school wound up doing pretty well. No one can make these choices for you. You can still have fun. Play the field. Enjoy your life. But, not on the edge; not becoming HIV-positive; not becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs.
The time to do a self-evaluation of what direction your lifestyle is taking you is now. Decide what risks you will or will not take. Decide if the way that you are spending your time is healthy for you. Decide if the group you are hanging with is supporting you to accomplish your long-term goals and to live a healthy life. Experiment with living fun without betting the farm and putting yourself in danger.