By Sailor Holladay
One of the hardest things I’ve done is high school step aerobics on mushrooms. Where was the sweat coming from, my body, my mouth or somewhere else?
I didn’t know how to come to school not high. The piece of land I lived on, strewn with busses, trailers, and porto-o-potties, was a place for holding rock concerts and outdoor raves, not for supporting me or the other kids living there in succeeding at school. The Valley was full of children doing whippets inside of tents that had lost their poles and men around campfires peaking on LSD while wearing sleeping bags as pants. There was no homework help. Instead we mixed solids and liquids and tried to feel something.
As a kid I was afraid all of the time. Some of the time it was that fear that pulses inside your butt, but most of the time it was the fear of getting caught even if I wasn’t doing anything worth catching. Drugs numb that fear, but then give you a legitimate reason to worry about getting caught.
Going to school and caring about it made my life harder at home. Whenever I tried to tell my parents new found information like grass was green and the sky was blue, they looked at me through the pot smoke with a blank stare, “Everybody knows the grass is blue and the sky is green, Sailor.” The rage that filled me got me out of there, if only physically.
When you’re exposed to drugs as a child, in utero, during conception, for generations before that, it feels impossible to untangle yourself from them, like a chemical umbilical cord. They follow you around, haunting you, daring you to stay sober, daring you to use.
My bottom was being 14 and agreeing to heating up my also fourteen year old girlfriend’s heroin because I thought her asking meant she loved me.
My bottom was being 15 with my 6 year old and 11 year old brothers and eating the pot brownies our parents gave us.
My bottom was being 19 and my dad pressuring me to do ecstasy with my mom after not seeing her for three years because, “It will make you closer.”
My bottom was being 22 and thinking that if I took some of my client’s pills I could finally get close to my dad like I wanted. (I never took the pills.)
My bottom was being 23 and so high on alcohol and weed I would come home to my Tenderloin studio apartment and lock myself and my sleeping bag into my closet that had a lock on the inside. I silently thanked the prior tenant, because while I was maybe as paranoid as they were, I was not as thorough or industrious.
My bottom was being 23 and meeting my parent’s landlord at the Safeway on Market and Castro to pay him the rent money they couldn’t come up with, money I had because I worked fifty hours a week while going to school full time.
My bottom was being 24 and while coming off of ecstasy at nine in the morning, walking into my friend’s bathroom and thinking there was a dead woman in the bathtub, but she was just in a K hole.
My bottom was being 25 and coming down from ecstasy by smoking cocaine wrapped inside of cigarettes. Looking for that elusive love and acceptance through the flames.
My bottom was being 27, having a Master’s degree, biking in the snow to my $8/hour movie theater job, and getting paid twenty extra dollars to spend two hours sweeping and mopping the whole theater. I never let a soda of mine spill on a theater floor after that.
My bottom was being 32, working on another Master’s degree, setting up and then cleaning up after women’s lube wrestling. I made the lube out of this powder that when water was added, turned into a clear gel usually used to help horses give birth. Post-wrestling, it wasn’t clear anymore.
For a year and a half when I was 24, I woke up at on Saturdays at 6:30 a.m., walked to Starbucks and bought a green juice and a maple scone on the way to the group home. I worked at the group home from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m., had a break to get a burrito and bus it to the bar where I worked from 8:45 p.m. until 2 a.m. This schedule was too precarious to drink Friday night after work. I found a meditation group nearby, Dharma Punx. Going there on Friday nights kept me from using, kept me a good worker.
Most Saturday nights at 3:30 a.m., as soon as I felt myself drifting off to sleep after working at the group home and then the bar, after indulging in socially acceptable vices, my downstairs neighbor would make her weekly knock on my door, “My vacuum, I’m selling my vacuum, only twenty bucks.” The climax of this repetition came one early morning when her boyfriend, trying to get into her apartment through the fire escape, was on the wrong floor and fell through my next door neighbor’s glass door. The next morning, my next door neighbor moved out and the day after that, young female college students came over to look at the studio like nothing had happened. How long does it take to “clean up” a drunk tank neighborhood like the Tenderloin, the final holding ground for folks who’ve been pushed out of all the city’s other neighborhoods? Where do they go? If we get rid of all of them, there won’t be anyone to compare ourselves to, people who help us feel less like the addicts that we are.
I left the Tenderloin too and now I live in Portland, Oregon where pot is legal for recreational use. There are these billboards that have pictures of a big brother and a little brother and say things like, “I don’t want him to smoke, so I don’t.” I wish I had had those billboards around me as a kid. Not because I would have listened to them, but because they would have shown me there was another way to interact than the way I was raised in. Brothers, if you are reading this: I’m sorry.
I’ve been off drugs for twelve years this fall. I do addictive things everyday, but they hurt me and others much less than drugs did.
My body still loves the idea of being high and/or drunk.
My body still loves to tell me what I already know, that it’s in pain, that it wants to heal, but now I try to listen.
I was in a dance workshop recently and the teacher, Marbles Jumble Radio said, “Hold onto a pattern as long as it’s serving you.”
The drugs as love pattern no longer serves me.
How did I quit drugs?
I started making friends with people who don’t use drugs.
The connection that I was getting from being on drugs with people, I could finally tell was simulated. I started having real connections with people who remembered where we were last night.
Things I am learning now:
Lots of people, including people who don’t use street drugs, are addicted to something. Maybe even most people are.
When one lacks not just self-awareness, but also a self, they can hurt
others without doing the hurting.
It’s not necessary or helpful for me to have a relationship with my parents or anyone who wants to use me.
If being around someone makes me want to crawl out of my skin, or jump up and down in frustration, or drink, or bolt out of the room, that’s probably someone to say goodbye to.
No relationship is more important than my sobriety.
Right now my goal is to have the least fucked up life possible.
And I’m not gonna quit until I find it.
Sailor Holladay is a writer, editor, teacher, film critic, and textile artist living in Oregon. Sailor was a LAMBDA Fellow in 2012 and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Mills College. Sailor’s writing and art have appeared in: The Remedy: Queer and Trans Voices on Health and Healthcare, Outsider Fest, National Queer Arts Festival, Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity, Passage and Place, Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, Gay Genius comics anthology, The Encyclopedia Project Vol. F-K, Enough.org, Without a Net: The Female Experience of Growing Up Working Class, and elsewhere.