The Sidewalk Sisters

The Flamingo Resort in Miami’s South Beach is a guarded compound where 10,000 gorgeous people live and practice the art of being beautiful. Bentleys, Lamborghinis, and Ferraris are as common as minivans to soccer moms. Within the guarded gates protecting the three glass towers are grocery stores, hair salons, dry cleaners, a restaurant with lounge, a multimillion-dollar health club and imported sand beaches surrounding the swimming pools which face Biscayne Bay and the Miami Skyline. Being beautiful has privileges, being wealthy and beautiful have entitlements most people can’t even imagine.

I live at the Flamingo with my partner and two pugs in a spacious apartment overlooking the South Beach skyline. Considering we are not rich or beautiful makes one question how we got here. The truth is we worked with a realtor when we relocated from Southern California and took the place sight unseen. If you think flawless looks and wealth will get you places, show up with an 850 credit score and watch how fast the red carpet is rolled out for your arrival.

From my balcony, I see them, just outside of the protective gates that separate the Flamingos population from the rest of the world. Always together, always huddled on a concrete slab just off the sidewalk facing Bay Road. I call them the “Sidewalk Sisters.” One has the Hollywood good looks that you see in every glamour magazine with naturally blonde hair and facial features that make you want to stare at her. Everything about her says privileged wealth. I imagine her family tree consists of only beautiful women who gave birth to wealthy men’s children to create her.  Ugly or poor would never be allowed in her gene pool. But she wears her beauty like an albatross and does everything possible to downplay it. There is nothing remotely feminine about her. She wears a man’s military haircut and a ring through her nose. Her wardrobe consists of hoodies, ball caps, and men’s jeans. Her look is militantly hostile and never once has she ever spoken to me as I walked past. This woman hates men, and the hostility is palpable. All you have to do is look into her large brown eyes to feel her rage. Her body language says it all. She sits and rocks wildly as she stares at her iPhone endlessly hammering text messages. This is a woman so far off the grid that you wonder what transpired in her life to push her over the mental edge or if she might stab you walking past her on the sidewalk.

The other woman is the polar opposite of the blonde. She’s as unattractive as the other is beautiful, with skin as black as night and hair that looks like she used a power tool to cut it. Nothing about her matches the criteria for the Flamingo Resort. Anyone could mistake her for homeless, and it would be an honest mistake. Like the blonde, her wardrobe consists of hoodies, faded jeans, and dirty Nikes, but this woman never shuts up. She talks “at” everyone who passes with a manic pace that is almost startling. She has mastered the art of sounding like a 1980’s valley girl. Anyone from Southern California will know exactly what I’m talking about…. there is no pause, no punctuation just an endless rambling that goes from topic to topic with no explanation or reason. When she talks “at” you, you get the sense you’ve suddenly walked in a movie which started long before you got there. All you can do is agree, smile and keep walking. The black woman chain smokes Newports while talking on a cellphone and texting on another. Her blonde counterpoint is equality engrossed in texting, but she never says a word. The rage in the blonde’s eyes lets you know the black woman is hers and to keep moving.

The Sidewalk Sisters are an unlikely duo for glamorous South Beach but they are businesswomen supplying a product the gay community craves… crystal meth. Gay boys from a neighboring “Gayth Hotel” seek them at all hours of the night. Just like a smoker seeks a 7-11 convenience store in the middle of the night when he’s out of Marlboros. Well-dressed glamour boys find their way to the Sidewalk Sisters for the product they crave. All communication is via text, no words are exchanged. Money is dropped below a Sago Palm, and a tiny package is retrieved. It’s like an ATM transaction that dispenses insanity.c03c6be4f0095c245eb39101824f59a7

The gay community is the largest consumer of “party” drugs. Though crystal meth is by far the most popular party drug, a lot of gay men and women combine their meth use with other drugs. A few of the substances commonly combined with meth include Special K, Poppers, Viagra, GHB, and Ecstasy.  One of the most concerning trends in the gay community is “speedballing.” When someone mixes sedatives and uppers—drugs with opposite effects—the results can quickly throw body systems into chaos. While meth and heroin are often combined, the most popular speedball cocktails in the gay community include meth and GHB or Viagra. The problem is that many users aren’t aware of the life-threatening dangers associated with speedballing. What’s more, newly released data also reveals that the combination of crystal meth and Viagra can escalate HIV production in the brain. Though meth is a destructive force in every demographic, it’s particularly damaging within the gay community.  The most pressing concerns are based on data that indicates crystal meth can potentially help promote a virulent strain of HIV (dubbed the HIV “SuperVirus”) and/or severely reduce the effects of life-saving HIV medications.

 So is there any hope for long-term recovery? Absolutely. The program with the highest success statistics is the Matrix Model. Recent studies show a 75% sobriety rate for stimulant addicts who stringently followed the program. Recently, I became certified by the Matrix Institute to train counselors with clients struggling with meth addictions.The Matrix Model is a combination of treatments that works especially well for methamphetamine abuse. The program lasts four months, purposely coinciding with “the wall,” the point at which the brain begins to truly recover from meth damage. It also responds to current research, which states that memory and thinking skills continue to deteriorate for months after people stop using. Long-term treatment is the only answer.

The Matrix Model combines behavioral therapy and counseling to help users cope with the depression and anxiety that comes with meth withdrawal. It also teaches them to avoid relapse by explaining why cravings happen and how to respond to them positively. There is also group therapy and Crystal Meth Anonymous support so users can help one another deal with their shared difficulties.

Counselors educate patients and their families on the effects of meth to deter users from future use and help their loved ones understand the disorder and how to help. They also help users learn about issues related to alcohol, marijuana, and sexual behavior that coincide with meth abuse. All information is delivered in small pieces because meth abusers may have poor short-term memories due to brain damage.

The environment is highly structured, counselors put much time and attention into establishing relationships with patients that allow the two groups to collaborate on treatment. Drug testing and contingency management help to contribute to this structure. After the four months are through, people graduate to nine months of social support with other users.

One study found that people in the Matrix Model were sober for longer periods of time, provided more meth-free urine samples, and stayed in treatment longer than people who were in other forms of treatment. Another, a study of 978 recovering meth abusers, found that 75% of them were sober six months after completing the Matrix Model program. The proponents of the Model state that the remaining 25% could be helped by an inpatient program, like a therapeutic community or hospital stay, before adding the Matrix Model to their recovery regimen. Most importantly, there is no guilt or shame associated with the program. If a person relapses they evaluate what they didn’t do and learn tools for future success.

So as night falls on South Beach, I will see them like every other night. Two women lost in a world of addiction killing themselves and anyone who stops at the Sago Palm. They are offering death on an installment plan to a community desperately in need of help. Sadly, so many will become nothing more than statistics of self-destruction and death. What a tragedy to be remembered in time as the one who didn’t survive. It doesn’t have to end that way.  Feel free to contact me if you are struggling with addiction. All you need is a hand to lead you out of the darkness.

This is my journey… this is my life.

Rob Cantrell