I Lost Everything That Proved I Existed

A gay man hopes the story of his crystal meth addiction will help save those still in the closet about their own drug problems.

By Steve Volk
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Feb. 9, 2005

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"Snorting Meth and Fucking and Dancing and Singing"

Dagenhart fell 33 feet and landed on sand. Doctors put 24 steel sutures in his head. He ached all over. But he lived.

A friend, J.D. Talasek, picked Dagenhart up at the hospital and took him home. "He was a mess," says Talasek. "He was just really difficult to look at."

A photographer, Talasek shot the black-and-white photo of Dagenhart (see p. 18) with his head shaved and the sutures protruding from his scalp. The photo is now the central image of the Philadelphia task force's first educational poster. "I figured he'd want to see that photograph some day," says Talasek, "to see where he had been."

Talasek saw Dagenhart through a number of crises, and marvels at the way his personality poked through the haze of crystal. "He could be very cold and manipulative when he was high," says Talasek. "But even when he spun these wild fantasies, they were usually about nonprofits he wanted to run, organizations designed to help other people. That told me he was worth saving."

Dagenhart called an old boyfriend, someone he hadn't seen since the worst phase of his addiction. "The truth is," says Dagenhart, "he was the one source of support I hadn't tapped out yet."

Jeffrey Auch and his new partner helped Dagenhart move his few remaining belongings from Baltimore to their home in Ardmore. Some 70 percent of substance abuse patients relapse in their first attempt at recovery. Dagenhart relapsed a few times in Philadelphia, and Auch had to kick him out.

"We hated to do it," says Auch. "When he wasn't using, you could see what a beautiful, intelligent person he is. But he used again, and we had a rule that he wouldn't."

Dagenhart moved from apartment to apartment, crashing with a boyfriend and people he'd met in recovery. He advertised his services as a "massage therapist," giving handjobs for money.

He spent many weekends at Club Body Center. "It was the same thing," he says. "I'd stay there all weekend, snorting meth and fucking and dancing and singing."

Finally, he lost an apartment in Center City and his landlord put all his belongings on the sidewalk. "I lost my Social Security card," says Dagenhart. "My birth certificate. I lost everything that proved I existed."

"I Feel Like I Found a Home"

Dagenhart kneels on a hard tile floor, working the bristles of a scrub brush around the edges of a toilet. He's on the top floor of a five-story house on Spring Garden Street, cleaning a client's bathroom.

"I enjoy it," he says. "When I go home at the end of the day, I've done something good for other people in their lives. And I like that."

Once Dagenhart hit bottom, he started working for a friend cleaning houses. Then he started his own business, Angelic Cleaning, which has dozens of clients.

This Thurs., Feb. 10, will mark his first year of sobriety. The 12-step program has been good to him. Because the Catholic Church's prohibitions against homosexual behavior prevent Dagenhart from embracing his childhood religion, he was recently confirmed at St. Luke and the Epiphany, an Episcopal church. "Philadelphia's been good to me," says Dagenhart. "I really didn't know what I was going to do when I got here. But I feel like I found a home."

There might be an element of penance to his new profession, because for years he took so much from friends and family and gave so little. Penance of a kind was also why he sent out such a dramatic and personal Christmas card. He wanted the people who knew him when he was high and selfish to hear that he had learned his lesson.

"I clean other people's houses now," says Dagenhart. "And even though I'm proud of where I am today, it's also humbling. I've really been broken down."

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