In the Mark Wahlberg sci-fi film The Happening, an alien invasion hits the east coast and causes people to commit suicide. The attack centers on concentrations of people and the telltale sign that it has arrived is an uptake in the wind. Strangely, in real life such a phenomenon does attack our communities. That mysterious wind is the scourge of recreational drug abuse.
Like the movie, this invader cannot be seen with the naked eye and the harm that is being done is not usually apparent until a great deal of damage has already been inflicted. The enemy attacks our psyche first and then our bodies. Also, like the cinematic enemy, drug abuse is fostered by groups. Not only do people take drugs with others but people participate together in a culture where drug abuse is common and is not stigmatized. In fact, if your mood is not significantly altered by drugs and alcohol it is hard to feel like one of the group.
Unlike a movie, there is not a star of this true story. There is no action hero who figures out who this alien force is and how to combat it. The cold wind just continues to blow and pickoff the vulnerable. Sadly, we become conditioned to it. Most of the people we know whose lives are destroyed drop out of the scene.
Others, who are in recovery, always wonder when the monkey they are carrying on their back will bite them again. And it all seems normal—even inevitable. Even as the ranks of the partiers are thinned by those who drop to the alien invader, the party rages on.
Worse yet, for each new generation the glamour of the altered state and the promise of ecstasy that it brings is appealing and alluring. The circuit parties, and the clubs that they have cloned, have become the ultimate ecstatic experience—beautiful people bonded together by their intoxicated state. It is hard for many young people to resist the tantalizing attraction that this scene offers.
On top of it all—it makes the sex feel better. People become conditioned to want the uninhibited feeling that they have when they are under the influence. Sober sex seems dull by comparison. In our intoxication, our hurts are soothed and our insecurities are swept away. We imagine that this is how utopia should feel. The consequences all seem distant; carelessness instead of caution rules. Unfortunately, one of those unintended consequences is often a life-long infection with HIV.
The action hero that we need is for the community as a whole to become a brotherhood of mutual caring and protection. Standards that are not set by moralizers who are scolding us, but by our collective wisdom drawn from having seen too many of the people we love brought down by this alien force.
In real life, as in Hollywood, we have the capacity to repeal the alien invasion.
Michael Weinstein is the President of the AIDS Health Care Foundation, now with South Florida offices, mobile testing units, and thrift shops, such as ‘Out of the Closet.’ They are also a primary sponsor of the AIDS Walk next month.