Surviving Two Epidemics: AIDS and Meth
[ none ]

I thought I had a right to get high; that I deserved it for all my pain. I figured any gay man who suffered through the 1980s needed to medicate. Living in West Hollywood as a young man, I was dodging bullets in a war zone, busily planning memorials and attending town halls while hoping to God I wasn’t next. My prayer was answered but came with a price—watching scores of men die around me.

Pop a pill. Snort a line. Check your nose and visit your friend in the ICU. Maybe others found healthier ways to cope, but I wasn’t equipped for the onslaught of mortality, the preachers on television proudly announcing the evidence of God’s wrath against people like me, the dire news that no medications could combat this plague and my own HIV-positive test results. I couldn’t comprehend my emotions, much less face them. So when treatments improved years later and the dying abated, I felt entitled to celebrate.

Pop a pill. Smoke a bowl. Stash the drugs and get back on the dance floor. That’s when I knew I was a drug addict. When any occasion qualified. Whether we were dying or living, I was high. Maintaining a functional existence slipped away, just slowly enough not to alarm me, as if the drugs were quietly sneaking out the door with my life. And along with it, all those broken promises it made about euphoric deliverance and endless nights of pleasure.

There wasn’t a single event that brought it to an end, because the truth is my recovery from drugs has been uneven and imperfect. Through the help of professionals and fellow addicts, I have slowly gathered the tools I need to remain clean and sober. Vigilance. Patience. And more honesty than is ever comfortable to me.

For the last 10 years I’ve been climbing back out of a hole I had finally stopped digging. I’ve managed to locate the man I had once hoped to be. I have found my joy again, which is truly the guiding emotion that helps me remain clean. I have come to terms with surviving AIDS and for living when so many worthy men did not. I have forgiven myself for having such good fortune and responding to it by sticking needles in my arm.

Today, my health and recovery are primary to my daily life. I have regained gifts and talents that had laid dormant for many years, and I use them in the service of others.

As a writer and HIV activist, I’m known for my sense of humor. But I’m dead serious about my addiction. I don’t want to go back there. I love this life too much.

Mark S. King is the author of A Place Like This, his memoir of L.A. during the dawn of AIDS. Visit his blog at

 «  Return to previous page
 »  Send to a friend

Leave a comment:

showing all comments · Subscribe to comments
  1. JIMMY PALMIERI posted on 10/15/2013 01:36 AM
    Thank you Mark, for always being so honest, and helping so many by all that you write. !
  2. Vernal Scott posted on 10/15/2013 02:15 AM
    Hey Mark, many many thanks for sharing . It is crucial that we tell our stories, and I share mine in my book, God's Other Children - A London Memoir (Amazon). You are a survivor and a champion. More power to you! x
  3. MIchael posted on 10/15/2013 05:40 AM
    I can relate.
    As an addict I have learn to face my demons without the mind numbing experience of the sex & drugs world I retreated.
    The other part of the story for many of us POZ guys is the connection to other survivors through sex. My story took me down the PnP road that almost destroyed my relationship, -- the one connection I maintained with sanity. For me the only way to put down the pipe, was to stay away from the online hook-ups and clubs, where I measured my self worth by how long or how extreme I could have sex.
    For some, sex can be a celebration and joyful way to celebrate life, but far too many of us confuse sex with intimacy, and disconnect from the real world.
    Its nice to be able to celebrate my survival in the sunlight, rather than the darkness.
  4. Michael Mitchell posted on 10/15/2013 06:30 AM
    Congratulations, Mark. You have a life second to none.
  5. Jeffrey Francway posted on 10/15/2013 07:28 AM
    What about those who have experienced all of what you said to find their lives to be slowly deteriorating each moment of every day from health issues that have plagued me since I have stopped using? Health issues that have become more complicated from the addiction? I was feeling peace and happiness but find myself slowly losing all of what I have gained from recovery to losing the ability to live with complications of health due to my addiction? I am totally exhausted trying to cope with multiple health issues happening all the time. My body is wore out! My spirit is breaking. I am tired!
    1. Mark S. King posted on 10/15/2013 03:39 PM
      @Jeffrey Francway I hear you, Jeffrey. I've dealt with health issues myself since getting clean that were probably masked by my using. I can only encourage you to seek out the help you need, medical and otherwise, and know that you are not alone in this. All my best to you.
  6. Jim posted on 10/15/2013 05:42 PM
    AWESOME. I have lived the same life. Sober is way sexy!
  7. Tom posted on 01/30/2014 08:09 AM
    So many times we relive what it was like for us in addiction....Even today I am ashamed of what I put friends and family through and my bosses who knew but did everything they could to keep me employed...Your story is "OUR" story....truly me the strength I need to keep going..
showing all comments