Playwright Matthew Lombardo’s Essay Coming Clean For “High”

Matthew Lombardo

This essay was written as a playwright’s note for his play High, opening this week at the Parker Playhouse.

On the afternoon of June 2, 2007, I woke up in a filthy and disreputable hotel room on 43rd Street in Manhattan. The lower half of my body was lying on a floor mattress while my upper torso and head was facedown on the soiled, multi-cigarette burned carpet. Sleeping next to me was my then boyfriend-slash-drug dealer — a man as tortured as he was beautiful –a trail of bloody syringes, matches, and some empty crack baggies separating the two of us in bed.

I wish I could say that I don’t remember how I got there. That I can’t recall the shame or disgust that accompanied my last fifty-eight day binge. But thankfully (and also regrettably) I do.  What still remains unbelievable is how I sunk so low in so short a time.  I mean, I never touched a drug for the first 36 years of my life, which being a gay man living in New York City is quite an accomplishment. But then almost immediately, something went terribly wrong and my life spun harrowingly out of control.

I rolled my aching body completely on the floor, summoning every ounce of energy to pull myself up into a standing position. The hotel room was still dark, having previously taped tinfoil to the windows and hung blankets on the curtain rods so not even the slightest hint of daylight would ever creep inside. I stumbled over the radiator on the way to the bathroom and turned on the unforgiving overhead fluorescent light.  And it was in that very moment that I believe I truly saw myself without fantasy or filter. For I now was unquestionably and indisputably — a drug addict.

Looking back at me in the mirror was someone completely unrecognizable.  What was once a well-built frame of 185 pounds was now a shadow of itself weighing in at a sickly and frail 137.  There were sores and scabs all over my face and body, the toxins I had ingested wildly trying to escape through my pores. My arms were unsurprisingly covered with bruises and my skin color was that of a startling greenish-grey. There was no denying what had happened to me — and I could no longer make excuses.

As a fit of tears ensued, I became as angry as I was inconsolable. How could something like this happen to me? I came from such a respected Catholic family, received good grades, and never got into any trouble. In fact, my Mother always demanded if there was ever drinking or drugs at any party I attended I was to come home immediately: and the ironic thing is — I actually would! So how was it even remotely possible that this All-American Boy from Wethersfield, Connecticut was now plagued with a life-threatening drug problem?

I suppose I blame it on Aquaman. Not the cartoon but this guy I met in Los Angeles one September night in 1999. I had just finished having dinner with friends and didn’t feel like going back to my hotel room so I stopped into one of the local bars on Santa Monica Boulevard. As soon as I walked in I literally bumped right into him – and it was definitely one of those “take-my-breath-away” moments. For if Aquaman had suddenly come to life and began walking amongst the living, this guy would definitely be him (without the flippers for feet of course).

It happened faster than I embarrassingly care to admit. A handshake led to a drink which led to a kiss which led to him walking me back to my hotel. All those years of Catholic schooling clearly not having any affect on my moral fiber. Once we arrived at my room, I immediately shifted into “hopelessly desperate and pathetically romantic” mode: dimming the lights, lighting the candles, tuning the radio to 103 point schmaltz. Everything was beautiful and perfect. Until he pulled out 3 grams of crystal methamphetamine from his front pocket.

There are moments in life we wish we could do over. That we could wave some miraculous wand over a messy situation and it will suddenly become clean again. So we are free to make another choice. A better choice. I did hear myself tell him that I didn’t want to do drugs and moreover, that I didn’t want to be with anyone who did. So when he grabbed his coat and started heading for the door, I must have suddenly reneged on my previous declaration.  For there I was – about to engage in something that would forever change my life.

As he began the ritualistic preparation, I could hear my mother’s voice telling me not to do it and to come back home. I saw the visual flashes of my own brother’s addiction and all the pain it caused him and our family for decades. But mostly, I could feel the spirit of my father who passed away years earlier, hoping his soul would not be present to witness the embarrassing humiliation that was soon to occur. It was all there – but none of it mattered to me. I simply was tired of being alone and at this moment was willing to do anything for companionship.

That’s how it started.  And from that very first hit, I was hooked almost immediately — just like they warn you about in all those public service announcements. What I soon became was just another statistic. I ended up broke and homeless. My friends had abandoned me. My family wouldn’t answer my calls until I agreed to go to treatment. And the career that I worked so hard to achieve was now over, for my reputation had become that of an insane and hopeless junkie. That’s where that one night of making a poor decision led me– straight to a world of closed doors and isolation. And it was all sadly justified.

Of course I cursed God for allowing this to happen. I mean, where was He during all of this? And why had I been abandoned? For if God really did exist, he would certainly make Himself known and help me in my hour of need. It was at that time when suddenly the duct tape holding the blankets on the window peeled off, taking a portion of the tinfoil with it. The sun was positioned in such a way that afternoon that it bounced off the mirror — and the bathroom was now not only filled with light but a prism of color.

A coincidence? Divine intervention? A drug-induced hallucination? I don’t know. What I do know is that when I got down on my knees that afternoon and asked God for help, I was somehow safely and miraculously delivered into a nearby hospital where I began treatment. And with almost five years now of being clean and sober, I see that day as my “spiritual awakening” – a mystical and sudden change in my thought process and behavior which has led to my recovery.

I know the odds are against me. That only 1 in 3 will survive and recover. And with crystal meth addicts the odds get even worse. For there’s only a staggering 6% chance of recovery after 5 years of continuous clean time.  So I certainly have my work cut out for me. But what keeps me clean today is simply what medical professionals surprisingly all agree is the most effective: A Belief in a Power Greater Than Oneself.

And so it is within that, I introduce my new play HIGH as a testament to the Power of Faith and the Belief in Miracles.


High plays Feb. 29 to March 4 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth Street in Holiday Park, Fort Lauderdale.  Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $46.50 – $66.50. Call (954) 462- 0222 or visit


For feature story on the play, click here.

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One Response to Playwright Matthew Lombardo’s Essay Coming Clean For “High”

  1. Pingback: Lombardo Play “High” About Addiction Gets Resurrection Tour With Kathleen Turner | Florida Theater On Stage

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