Sexual Health Feet Bed LR 006

Content warning: This article discusses sex.

Nebbie* had known for a while that his use was becoming problematic. He was unable to have sex without being high, his physical health was going backwards fast, and he’d burnt through $100,000 of his parents’ money.

So, in 2019 when he saw an ad for ReWired on Grindr, it was just a matter of the right place and the right time.

“I must have looked at it on one of my bad days and decided to just go, yeah, just put your name down. And that's step one. Understanding that there was a billion steps to come.”

At that time, ReWired had just begun being piloted in Auckland after the success of a similar programme in Australia. The eight-week peer support programme is specifically for gay and bisexual men who use meth during sex (e.g. PnP) and want to change their relationship with the drug.

Nebbie had considered other support groups, but he had gay friends who’d found them uncomfortable, unable to truly share how their meth use interacted with their sex lives. But at ReWired, Nebbie found it much easier to open up.

“I felt so comfortable being amongst peers. While their stories are different, there’s a massive underlying issue of intimacy and other key aspects in life that we struggle with. I found it much easier to open up.”

When he’d begun using meth seven years earlier, Nebbie thought he’d be able to keep it in check. “My mentality around it then was ‘I don't think I'm going to be addicted. I've had it before in the past, I didn't crave it.’”

But over time the drug became a more persistent part of his life, driven by its inextricable link with sex.

Coming out and moving to Auckland from a conservative rural town had been both ‘very liberating’ and ‘very scary’. Suddenly Nebbie wasn’t alone – the city meant he was part of a scene and a community where he was able to be himself.

It also meant drugs were far easier to come by. “As soon as I came to Auckland, the availability was ridiculous!” And because drug use and hooking up went hand in hand, a lot of the time the drugs were free.

Initially Nebbie would take MDMA, a drug he says made sex feel a thousand times better. “When I was with somebody and we had MDMA, the connection was unbreakable.”

It was only when MDMA became harder to find that he moved to using meth. “Looking back, I call it an aggressive drug. It makes you more tense. As a gay man, it heightens my sexual desires. An internal thing that just makes you really, really want something. And you will do whatever you can to chase that.”

For Nebbie, meth would fuel a cycle of jacking off, watching porn, playing with toys, scrolling Grindr and finding hookups that could last up to 18 hours.

“It lasts a long time… your focus becomes very narrow. You can open the dating app… scroll to the bottom, and after half an hour looking at profiles and messaging people and saying probably some weird things… you scroll to the top and you start again.”

When Nebbie first put his name down for ReWired, the goal wasn’t necessarily to stop using meth all together. “The first step was actually just understanding it. When I understood it, I could then actually make more of a decision.”

He says that one of the key things that he first got out of the programme was identifying and understanding his specific triggers for wanting to use meth, discovering over time that some of them were identical to other people in the group.

That shared understanding meant he felt comfortable discussing his triggers in greater detail and sharing strategies for how to avoid them.

Ben Birks Ang from the NZ Drug Foundation, who run ReWired in partnership with the Burnett Foundation, Body Positive and Odyssey, says it’s the peer support that makes the programme successful.

“What makes ReWired truly successful is it provides an opportunity for people who have similar experiences to connect and support each other. This isn’t about telling people what to do. If you feel understood you’re far more likely to feel supported and to make the changes you need.”

Nebbie agrees. The best thing about ReWired, he says, is “the community, the people. I just felt comfortable.”

The programme covers a wide range of topics over the eight weeks, including the effects of meth, intimacy and connection, sexual health and stigma, and strategies for reducing harm and improving wellbeing.

Ben says that the programme is first and foremost about reducing harm. “Anyone who wants to reassess their methamphetamine use is welcome. For some people, going through the programme is about reducing or stopping their use, and for others it’s about reflecting and getting more information so that they can feel more in control.”

Nebbie says that after his first time through the ReWired programme, he started to take note of his use and triggers more consciously.

“After that, my use dropped significantly. I never had a plan to really stop back then. But… I got to understand my relationship with the substance, my triggers.”

He came back to the programme for a second round, and it was during this time that cutting out meth altogether became the best way forward. He says he realised he needed to quit when, at a particularly low ebb, he stole from a friend who was going through a hard time.

“I felt really bad about that. It got me kind of reflecting back on myself, got me realising that this is a person that I certainly do not want to be.”

It’s been almost three years since Nebbie last used meth, and since then he’s gone back to ReWired to tell his story and help support others.

“Hearing from somebody who's been through the programme and has stopped successfully for a period of time is really important for people who are at that beginning process of recovering.”

Nebbie says that one of the biggest changes is that he now thinks much more about the future. “When I used, I only saw the present. I only cared about the next few weeks. I see the future ten, twenty years ahead now.”

He’s got a supportive group of friends and he’s put his energy into a new job, where he’s been open with his boss about his story.

One of the main questions people in the programme ask him is ‘How do you have sex without drugs?’ He says that after nearly three years, his sex drive is returning to normal.

“I feel good about it. I feel like I want it. It’s not 12 hours of sex anymore, but that’s fine. It’s much shorter, but I’m happy with that.”

*name changed to protect his identity.

The next ReWired programmes begin mid-August in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

If you’re a guy (cis or trans) who has sex with other guys and wants support to review, reduce or stop your meth use, then ReWired is for you.

Visit ReWired.org.nz to register your interest

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