William was 26 and at a sauna recovery party after the 2000 Mardi Gras party when a guy from Los Angeles approached him and asked him if he would like to try crystal. William had no idea what it was. He was told it was like speed but a hundred times better, and he decided to take it.
He snorted the drug with the American and a Sydney guy, and it precipitated the most outrageous sexual experience of his life so far. The three men drove naked across the Harbour Bridge to a house on the north shore.
I felt totally disinhibited, he said. I had a couple of snorts over the rest of the day and I was out of it for five days.
We returned to a sauna. I lost all interest in practising safe sex. I felt off my tree. I didn’t eat for days. I couldn’t sleep or focus and was completely obsessed with sex. It was about novelty -“ a new penis every five minutes.
For William, the drug stimulated a desire for sexual immediacy, a need to be engaged in sexual activity.
He had no further experiences with methamphetamine for a year, until one night he met two guys in a pub. They both seemed interested in him, and straight up one of them told William he was HIV-positive. This didn’t really concern William, who had survived more than six years of living in Sydney and regular beat sex. Through good safe-sex management practices he was HIV-negative.
The three decided to go back to the couple’s place for a threesome. They decided to use crystal, but this time they would shoot it up.
I knew it was dangerous, William said. They showed me how to do it properly. They prepared the first hit in front of me and shot me up.
The result was intense. I had to lie down, he said. I was overwhelmed.
Another injection was prepared and given to him. He had not seen it prepared. As the men injected him, one said to the other, There goes another one.
When William left the house he went to a sauna and had unsafe sex with several men. He was out of control and sexually compulsive for a week.
About three weeks later, a large cyst appeared in his eye. His doctor ran a series of tests which concluded William was seroconverting.
From the rapid onset and inordinately high level of the HIV virus, the doctor suggested that William had been injected with infected blood rather than infected during an unsafe sex encounter. The men had used a dirty syringe.
I don’t know if I was deliberately infected or not, he said. But anyway, it’s not an uncommon story. That was my first injection of crystal meth. I just went home with two scumbags.
But William’s interest in the drug was whetted. He and a friend descended into a period of regular crystal use, shooting up two or three times a week and suffering from increasingly severe overdoses, the most dramatic occurring after his 30th birthday.
I felt absolutely terrified, he said.
My throat spasmed. Something was trying to get out of my skin. My visual field was 360 degrees. My chest started to spasm. I fell to the floor. I felt like I was leaving my body.
In an attempt to cool him down a friend poured ice over him. This failed and an ambulance was called. The paramedic tried to stabilise him.
William was taken to Sydney Hospital with a suspected heart attack. While tests were run to determine what was happening, he was given two litres of saline in a drip to dilute the drug in his body. He had not suffered a heart attack, fortunately, just a severe reaction to the drugs he was given.
In the wake of the overdose, a doctor told William he needed to stop. If anyone had said this a week earlier, it would have been ignored. This week it registered.
William was 30 years old and had nearly died.
This isn’t a fairy story with an easy ending. It takes about 96 hours for the drugs to clear from the body, but William suffered severe withdrawal and intense panic attacks for the next four weeks. He feared his live was in danger.
In these moments, it was as if he had overdosed again -“ his brain chemistry was completely awash. These moments would come in waves and without warning as if someone had flicked a switch.
It’s been a messy eight months since William’s birthday. He went to some crystal recovery support groups but didn’t find them helpful. An intense relationship with a psychiatrist has helped him find meaning in his life.
He meditates half an hour a day. He has given up taking any psychoactive drugs, including coffee, tobacco or alcohol. He has gone 35 weeks without crystal and is talking of returning to university.
This can happen to anyone, he said.
It doesn’t matter how ordered your mind is. If I’d been made aware of the full consequences, it might have been different. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of information about it. Especially the connection with increased HIV risk. No one told me how horrendously wrong things can go.
Some things are better left undone.