Inside Sex Workers’ Struggles With Addiction: ‘I Used to Be the Last Person My Family Would Call’
In a year where we’ve lost so many porn stars to drugs, sex workers open up to Aurora Snow about their personal battles with addiction—and how they overcame it.
Drugs. Overdoses. Suicides. Dead porn stars. Life in the entertainment industry can be as dark as it is glamorous. Criticism that comes from being in the spotlight is unavoidable, especially if the word “sex” is used to describe your occupation; and for those that already suffer from depression or addiction, the added scrutiny might become unbearable. Being in the adult entertainment industry can be as isolating as being an addict.
In the space of less than a year, the deaths of half a dozen women in the adult entertainment industry have made headlines. But there was no real discussion about the addictions that claimed their lives, maybe because they were porn stars and that was just what was expected.
Adult actresses Olivia Nova and Olivia Lua, both in their early twenties, passed away less than two weeks apart in January. Lua was seeking treatment at a rehab facility when she died; Nova’s body was discovered in her own home, and according to a coroner’s statement obtained by RadarOnline, alcohol abuse was fingered as the cause of death, along with “recent cocaine use.” Adult actress Yuri Beltran, 31, passed away last December, about a week after 23-year-old August Ames committed suicide, and not long before Shyla Stylez passed away in her sleep from a suspected overdose. It wasn’t until April of this year that Beltran’s cause of death was publicly confirmed by the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office, who labeled it an accidental overdose from the opioid hydrocodone (in other words, Vicodin).
No greater message about the impact of addiction, no nationwide soul-searching, was extrapolated from these womens’ deaths; rather, much of the response was what you might expect: well, she’s a porn star, of course she did drugs. And while Ames’ tragic suicide, which did not involve drugs or alcohol, was used to leverage awareness about cyberbullying (of which she was a victim), it’s becoming increasingly necessary to have these same conversations about addiction and its myriad victims. Drug overdoses killed over 72,000 Americans in 2017 alone, according to the CDC—a number that has increased twofold over the last decade, with the sharpest increase being from last year.
Garren James, the man behind Cowboys 4 Angels, the male escort company featured on Showtime’s Gigolos, is all too familiar with fame, fortune and drugs. And he has the mugshots to prove it. “I’ve kept it hidden for so long,” says James. “I’ve finally come out of the closet now that I’m 10 years clean.”
James recalls how isolating his behavior was back then and his warped perspective—how he justified his addictions, and felt it was OK because he wasn’t hurting anyone but himself. Family and friends knew better, but what could they really do? Getting arrested was meaningless; he’d post bail and go right back to what he’d started. For James, the turning point became the one time no one was there to bail him out. He was forced to endure a 10-month detox in jail, which James now calls “lucky,” as he’s not sure he could have made that choice—to go clean—on his own.
Running a male escort service allegedly aimed at women only, James endures a fair amount of criticism. These days instead of turning to drugs, James has a new vice: coffee. Tending to his sobriety has become a daily habit—if he’s not actively giving back he’s thinking about what he can do to help someone else. That’s how he keeps himself in check. “Addiction doesn’t care who you are, from Park Place to park bench,” says James. “There’s no magic wand. The only person who can really understand an addict is another addict.”
The problem, though, is that few are willing to openly share their struggles with addiction. He remembers what it was like when no one trusted him. “To visit my mom, I’d have to go to the back porch like a dog to say hi. I’d stay out there and she’d maybe give me a sandwich or something,” recalls James. “That hurt and that was a good thing. If you’re sitting in a lonely place, it’s time to do something, it’s time to reach out.” Until that conversation happens, people will continue to overdose, silently struggling with their addictions—which is why James wants to have this talk, why he’s finally willing to shine a spotlight on his own struggles with sobriety.
Recovering alcoholic Randi Newton left the Midwest to become an actress but wound up working in a New York strip club for over a decade. In that environment, much like other forms of the adult entertainment industry, no one cared if the pretty girl got blackout drunk, and there were few consequences when it became regular behavior. Newton struggled with severe depression and suspects she self-medicated with booze. “I knew I was either going to drink myself to death or stop drinking altogether,” says Newton. “Anytime you work at a club they want you to help sell alcohol, you are almost encouraged to drink, however I would black out at work. I was never hungover because I was constantly drunk! I even gave up coffee because it killed my buzz.”
After a decade of alcoholism, Newton realized she wanted to live more than she wanted to drink, and checked herself into a medical detox outpatient facility. “I was over 30 and I was working at a strip club when I got sober and I wished there was someone cool I could relate to,” says Newton. “I used to be the last person my family would call if an emergency happened, now I’m the first. They know I’m not drunk passed out somewhere.”
Now a sober companion and writer for addiction and recovery site The Fix, Newton has set out to be the person anyone can turn to with their problems. As a sober companion, Newton is hired by families, friends, or the people themselves who are struggling with sobriety—her goal being to help them get sober in the same environment they plan to live in.
When constantly fighting the battle of addiction is considered winning and surrendering means losing something you’ll never get back, it makes recognizing and promoting months like Sober October that much more impactful. Raising awareness can start the conversations that may one day save lives. Sober October isn’t about just giving up alcohol for 4 weeks—it’s about making conscious choices, exercising control over one’s vices and reflecting on how those vices impact our lives and the ones we’ve lost.