The New Year generally represents a time of new beginnings, but for the recovery community, it can be reminiscent of the struggles that individuals have endured in their path toward sobriety.
In hopes of preventing relapses and providing a safe alternative to New Year’s Eve partying, officials will host #Boom!, a drug and alcohol free celebration, on Dec. 31 at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium.
“It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for anyone,” event coordinator Robert Gamboa said.
He works as a prevention coordinator for the Institute for Public Strategies, and said the event is being organized through the institute’s community advisory board, also known as the West Hollywood Project.
The advisory board, comprised of members of local entities such as the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, AIDS Project Los Angeles and the city of West Hollywood, is focused on addressing drug and alcohol abuse in the West Hollywood area.
Gamboa, who also co-chairs the city’s Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, said the West Hollywood project hopes to host big events every six months for the recovery community or for individuals who simply prefer an environment devoid of drugs and alcohol.
In addition to #Boom!, the West Hollywood Project added a “sober zone” at LA PRIDE this year, he said. Gamboa said PRIDE is another event that tends to spur individuals into relapse.
In between major events, the group will offer other social activities that do not include drugs and alcohol, such as dodgeball events, Toastmasters meetings and chess matches, among other things, he said.
The San Diego-based Institute for Public Strategies has a contract with the county of Los Angeles to provide services that address the high levels of drug and alcohol abuse in Santa Monica, Venice and West Hollywood, all of which have higher drug and alcohol abuse rates than the rest of the county, Gamboa said.
“Our main focus is ultimately the reduction of alcohol abuse, meth use and substance abuse in general,” he said, adding that the initiative also offers safe alternatives to promote healthier lifestyles.
Gamboa knows the difficulties all too well, having overcome addiction first hand. He said his drug of choice was crystal meth, and he began the arduous task of getting sober in 2006. Gamboa said he didn’t fully achieve sobriety until 2009.
“It’s been a very rewarding journey to be sober,” he said, adding that it is generally considered to be a “miracle” when someone can stay off of crystal meth for six months.
However, now that he is on the other side of the equation, Gamboa simply wants to give people a safe place to go in hopes of helping them stay sober for another day. Perhaps, that way, they won’t hurt themselves or someone else, he said.
“It’s bad, and there’s a lot of suicide that’s association with getting sober from crystal meth,” Gamboa said. “For an addict, it’s easy to feel alone in the world.”
He said addiction appears to especially hit the LGBT community hard. Gamboa said that when people “come out,” they often believe that the only way to meet others is at bars and on “hook-up” websites.
“All of those lend themselves to exposure of drugs and alcohol and unsafe sex,” he added.
Gamboa said some LGBT individuals have “internalized homophobia” and “extra shame,” so drugs and alcohol provide a way to reduce inhibitions. He said meth has been “an extra way” to meet people.
“And I see that a lot, because I work with guys in recovery all day long,” Gamboa said.
While “coming out” can have impacts on young people’s home life, it can also affect older individuals who come out later in life and don’t “know how to be gay,” he said. Gamboa said older individuals generally seek out bars and websites as well.
“Very rarely have I seen anyone who has come out later in life who has not been exposed to drugs at some point,” he added.
While addiction is challenging at any age, #Boom! hopes to play a role in helping individuals get through the holidays, which often promote relapse through various celebrations, Gamboa said. However, anyone is welcome, as long as they intend to be drug and alcohol free on New Year’s Eve and are over 18 years old.
Gamboa said the idea for #Boom! spawned from Club Freedom, a “hugely successful” sobriety event that, for some reason or another, ceased to exist.
“So we’re bringing it back,” he added.
The event will offer a drag show, with a crown going to the winner; music by DJ Alexander; stilt walkers; a live painter; the West Hollywood Cheerleaders, who will offer a free drag clinic; a photo booth; outreach booths; a midnight toast with nonalcoholic apple cider; food; and a raffle with more than $2,000 in prizes.
The event will be held from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., and approximately 400 people are expected to attend. Space is limited, so reservations are encouraged. Gamboa said online reservations will not guarantee a space, but will include 10 raffle tickets. He advised participants to arrive early. Free validated parking will be provided at the West Hollywood Library garage.
#Boom! is a joint venture sponsored by the city of West Hollywood, the institute, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and The Tweakers Project. It is endorsed by the city’s Disabilities Advisory Board, Transgender Advisory Board and Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, as well as AIDS Project Los Angeles, Being Alive and The Wall Las Memorias Project.
“I’m very glad that the city council and so many advisory boards have stepped up to the plate,” Mayor Abbe Land said. “I think it will be a very fun event. A lot of people will attend. It’s really important that people have a place to be and not be left out of the celebration.”
To RSVP, visit tinyurl.com/boom2014. To donate to the cause, send an e-mail to email@example.com.
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