White Flag

Capitol Hill in Seattle is mid-facelift; my mosey around my old stomping grounds yesterday was peppered with familiar intersections, nostalgia for buildings still standing, and some now holes in the ground. Some have been replaced entirely with shiny modern condos and storefronts. Quickly vacating are the shabby one-story original buildings along Broadway, the quaint and quirky independent businesses that once took turns year after year, moving from joint to joint. The old Wildrose, the scene of my budding queer identity, along with my entrenching drinking patterns, looks quite humble next to the fancy storefronts crowding around it. The property value for the Pike/Pine area has shot so high that I would be surprised if I see it again next time through the Emerald City. Everything seemed so solid and sacred in my 20’s, that feeling of my era permeating every light post’s plastering of posters. As I walk through it now, it is someone else’s era, someone else’s turf. We all just borrow from the generation before, and pass it on to the next, if we are willing to let it go. It’s the only way we can make room for the next era’s turf.

Turning 31 has, in a way, had more of an impact that turning 30. The big Three-O, the end of the 20’s, etc etc, whatever value the individual assigns to it. I usually dislike birthdays, mostly because I tend to find myself doing the same things I have been “working on” fixing for a growing number of years. Last year I was sober on my 30th birthday. I was a little under the weather, I went to a meeting, had some frozen yogurt with some folks I hadn’t known for very long, and went home to bed. No Dirty 30 parade for me. But at least I felt like I was breaking the pattern. This year, turning 31, I sat on my porch after not having showered for quite a few days, ignoring the phone, and drank Steele Reserve in a blank stare all day. That’s all I really remember. I did not whoop it up with a crew of happy buzzing buddies, bar hopping like it was a special occasion, feeling celebrated and hopeful of the future. My birthday was the down swing of just another drinking cycle that started out as high times and ended with counting change and wandering down to the corner store every few hours. You can’t beat 40 ounces of 8% beer for under $4. Pick up a pack of Fortunas, and you’re good to go. The fact that it was my birthday, unaffected by the seemingly unalterable cycles of alcoholism, was something to be blotted out. This was not at all what I thought I would be doing by the time I turned 31, and that truth was just too painful to look in the face on that day. The mantra has turned from a solid “surely this is the last birthday I will be doing this” to a crumbling “if I have to do this one more year, I don’t think I can hang..” My early alcoholic death would most likely not come from an accident or cirrhosis, it would come because I just couldn’t take it anymore. And that option appears to be the only one when one has buried themselves so far from the rest of the world so as not to see the many, many other ways others have broken free. People often check out for good. But I’ll be dammed if it happens to me, or to anyone within my reach.

I never say that I’m going to just have one, two, or three drinks. What I do say to myself is that I’m going to get hammered just this one day. Ok well, just this weekend. Err.. ok just this week. In December I went out and had some drinks and smoked some weed. Six months later, I haven’t written one blog, I’ve gotten myself in more troubles (details later), and I’ve been asked to move out. And I don’t remember a whole lot. There were moments, a week or two here and there of getting back on the wagon, but really it feels to me like one big arc. And this is by far not what I had planned. It never is for the alcoholic, and each time turns into one more blow to the ability to trust one’s self, one more time you let yourself down and broke your own heart. The attention gets called to everyone near the addict who is let down and broken-hearted, but honestly, it pales in comparison. Only the addict truly knows that internal consternation, frustration, and despair of having gone against one’s own word one more time. The longer the sober time, the higher the stakes. That is the back story behind the incredible denial and rationalization the addict comes up with; the cognitive dissonance must be resolved somehow. It’s too much to take.

Walking the streets of Seattle, I am flooded with memories from all sides. I transitioned here. I went to college here. I met Ingrid here. Coyote Grace began here. I also lived at the bar here. I also found drugs on a tour and scared the hell out of everyone running around town all night and almost missed a plane. I got nudged along by the police when passed out in my car in a park. I had screaming, throwing stuff, raging fights with my college girlfriend in the darkest days of my pre-trans enlightenment life. I stayed up for days and days in a flea-infested basement with another sad unawakened gender screwball. How do I come to terms with all this? What do I do with all this history? How can I make something useful with all these crazy stories? They sit in my gut like a cheap gas station burrito, and I don’t know how to let them.. pass. Sorry for the gross analogy!

It’s been seven days. Seven real days, not just booze-free and on the ‘marijuana maintenance program.’ I’ve been having crazy dreams, as does happen. Two nights ago, it was that a nuclear factory was going to blow and decimate the earth, and people where running between two shelters, and waiting for the apocalypse. Last night it was some crazy runaround pack of wild drinking/drugging people, scattered and trying to climb over broken boards and sinking buildings into the mud, trying to get wherever they were going. You don’t really dream when you smoke heaps of pot. Dreaming is a sign that I am actually sober. I don’t like that word, for some reason. In my mind I associate it with some high-and-mighty state of being that I can’t attain. It smacks of “shoulds,” makes me think of thousands of failures, the righteous hammer swinging down upon my head that I wield myself.  I would never treat anyone the way I treat myself. I have a lot of work to do. I don’t really know what it means to be “sober.”

At the very least, I am back around. I am tired of struggling, fighting myself, and making things way more difficult than they have to be. I’m tired of days going by, opportunities expiring, living in pain, being broke, and most of all my tiny, tiny world. The Seattle drizzle and time away from home is right on time. The Coyote Grace shows are right on time. Each song performed is like a life line hurled out into the torrent. Each breath is a renewal, and each line sung is a cry for help, replenishing my reservoir of hope for actual change. This all feels very dramatic, but I guess it’s somewhere to start. The best I can do right now it to stop fighting the flow of the way things are.


12 thoughts on “White Flag

  1. please know that you are an inspiration to many on our community. There are a lot of folks s out there that LOVE you as do I. sending you hugs & Love. Carrie

  2. love to you joe! we never got that close during those cap hill times, but i always loved your writing, songs, and time spent in writing class together. supportive hugs from afar.

  3. Dear Joe, THanks for sharing Seattle now and then through your honest, poetic eyes…and emailing me direct so I don’t have to go through Facebook. When are you coming through Portland? You are welcome here and you can do whatever you want. MUch Love, Aunt Ann

  4. Sending love from Colorado, and hoping the music heals your hurting heart. I only wish you could see yourself through others’ eyes – you are so courageous on so many levels. Thank you for sharing your troubles and triumphs (even though right now might not feel like a triumph yet). Everybody struggles, but not everyone has the ability to turn it into art. I’m going to listen to your music as I run my mail route this morning, and send you loving intention for continued success with your sobriety and everything you do. 🙂

  5. Joe, I just re-read your entry “Turning New” from last August, and I think you should, too. You were back in Seattle then, too – it calls to you for some reason. Nobody can witness your own life better than you can. You’ve done it before, my friend! I have faith you’ll do it again. Everything worth doing takes practice.

  6. I like what Nancy Farmer has to say to you – everything worth doing takes practice. I ran across this: “Peace is all around us – In the world and in nature-And within us- In our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, We will be healed and transformed, It is not a matter of faith; It is a matter of practice.” We can spin, and we do; we can intellectualize, and we do; we can think only of our own pain and how special we are, and we do – all of us, and we fail over and over again. That’s my share – how often I have failed in my life – but to see the good in addition to the failures is a moment of grace. We all lead “tiny” lives, very ordinary lives lived by ordinary people who do small things – and we are not alone in living those ordinary and often scary lives – that’s the key I think to making it through – the smart decision to surrender and reach out to others… to connect, something I have struggled with in my “tiny” life. Sober is another question – in the words of my dear “friend” to be sober is to be awake, to pay attention, and it’s just one day at a time..Love you

  7. Hey Joe. Nice piece of writing. (Like your aunt, thx for the direct email..) Recommend burritos made by actual Mexican people; hold the rice. Lotsa that brick-colored hotsauce……We’re “gonna carry that weight for a long time…” Play On. Big Love.
    Unc Rich (100 beers a month).

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