[I’ve blurred out all the pictures of people as I do not want to associate them with my alcoholism. Many of these pictures denote some of the most wonderful times in my life that I look back on in a nostalgic way. However they do depict a gradual climb into my disease and help to visually demonstrate that.]
Let’s get high
The first time I smoked weed I was 12 years old. My best friend took me over to meet up with this guy who sold weed off of Alma street. I remember this vividly. We got the weed off of him and we excitedly tried to figure out how we were going to smoke it. She tried to make a foil pipe (I don’t know what she was thinking, I mean it wasn’t crack) and then we settled on smoking out of an apple. You know, you poke a hole through the side and on the top of the apple creating this L shape. You smoke out of the corner of the L. We were stoned walking to the corner store to grab munchies. My first official munchie experience. I grabbed some sour cry baby candies and a beverage. We headed towards a park swing set. The flooring underneath the swing set was rubber, you know that stuff they started to put in when they stopped using sand and they realized tanbark was a horrible idea. As soon as I set food on this rubber floor it felt like a psychedelic experience. I thought the world was tilting or I was slightly floating above the ground. Weed immediately became my dream boat. I was in love.
^16 years young. Serious conversations are meant to be had very drunk and very much on the floor.
Join the party
No one around me seemed to think it was abnormal to drink to get drunk. When I went out with friends the fun part was that there would be substances there. That was the party. It was in the movies I saw, the stories I heard about family members, and it was what I would hear from peers and other students at my school. The person who got the most fucked up typically got specific attention around their drunken shenanigans.
Every party I went had booze. If there wasn’t I would go get booze and usually drink a majority of it in my car with friends. Now in the beginning I do think, although I drank fairly alcoholically from the get go, I maintained some high school innocence. I wasn’t necessarily trying to escape rather than more so connect. Drugs and alcohol was a way to connect to my surroundings and in those days it was fun you know? I’m not trying to say that alcohol, pot (which I do believe to be a beautiful medicine), psychedelics or other drugs are innately bad…. but I’ll get into that later.
^420 on Hippie Hill in San Francisco^
I would hear adults talk about their high school drunken escapades as a high light of their life. These stories were so memorable that they were telling them 20 years after they happened. They must have carried some importance to carry them along as these markers of happiness. That same happiness I felt when I experienced my initial drinking would be something I chased far beyond my alcoholism. At times it’s something I presently find myself chasing in my sobriety.
Normalizing the behavior
Drunk driving quickly became a part of my experience. In high school I got in the habit of driving home drunk every night. Once I’d get to a stop sign I’d open my door lean left and hurl puke onto the concrete. I’d shut my door and keep it moving. That was a nightly ritual for me. It was me ‘sobering’ up.
One night we had gone to the beach to build a bonfire and I bought a handle of Captian Morgan’s. I figured a handle between 4 adults (at that time I figured I was a grown ass adult) would be a sufficient amount. We ended up drinking it down as quick as possible because we grown ass adult’s did have some loosely formed curfews to abide by. Within the hour the rum was gone and we were wasted. Especially me.
I got into my car and began to drive us home. Driving along I was in great spirits. I was giggling screaming and shouting in my drunken giddiness. Suddenly we heard the siren and I saw lights of an ambulance flashing behind me. Casually I began to pull over thinking that the ambulance would pass me up and everyone in the car went silent.
“Oh shit Alyssa it’s a cop.”
“No it’s not it’s just an ambulance.”
“No Alyssa it’s a fucking cop. Fuck… fuck, put the bottle away.”
I was 100% convinced it was an ambulance until I saw a cop walking up to my window.
Cop:”Hey there you guys. Have you had anything to drink tonight?”
Me:”Oh, just a couple beers to be honest.”
Cop:”Only a couple?”
Me:”Maybe like three…”
Cop:”Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Cop:”I’ve been behind you for about 15 minutes and you’ve been driving in the bike lane the entire time.”
Cop:”Is anyone in here who could drive.”
All three of us looked at our friend who never drank as much as the rest of us. She was the ‘good girl’ of the crew and that night she saved my ass.
She drove us to a diner about half a mile away where we ate and sobered up. The Santa Cruz diner hands out these long obnoxiously yellow bumper stickers that say I ❤ Santa Cruz Diner. I grabbed on and on the way out to the parking lot I peeled it off. I chose a random SUV and smacked the sticker onto the window.
That became my favorite story to tell. I was proud of that story. I thought it was hilarious I thought it was an ambulance. I thought it was triumphant that I didn’t get in trouble, that I had indeed gotten away with it! And I’d add in the part about the bumper sticker again just to get one more laugh.
This could have been a legendary tale I shared with my 40 something year old friends while kicking back a few beers watching our kids play tag. Something to maybe even be a little proud of still. It could’ve been something to laugh about while letting my own kid take a ‘harmless’ little sip of alcohol as a teenager, telling them about the first time I drank. Telling them about me in my hay day. It could have been but I am grateful it’s not.
The story is some thing blatantly ignored as any possible sign something was little off. For every story I had there was someone who I knew that had 5 more stories that were 10 times worse.
Raves and Festivals
The significance around my use at events such as a festival was how I turned it into an entire world of escape. In high school I was hanging out with friends, thrashing around at parties. When I’d hang out with the little clan of punk rockers we would end up falling off of roof tops and breaking 40 oz’s on concrete sidewalks for fun. We were still sneaking off of campus to go to our buddy’s to watch porn and pass a blunt around with a group of 10 people. We were still just kids then. Something about the festivals were different for me, and especially I would say with rave culture.
First of all, when I started going to raves I got a lot of flack from friends and especially my boyfriend at the time. I wanted him to come with me but he wasn’t interested so I would go by myself. It became my own thing. Therefore it began to birth into it’s own world which I loved. I began to enjoy creating the world as much as I enjoyed taking the substances.
What I mean is the primary focus was no longer going to a party, grabbing some beers and chugging until I puked and passed out. Now from the moment I began pursuing a rave a world began to form that I could hop into. Meaning I was able to put reality on pause and focus all my energy on rave world. I had found a way to interact with escapism on a larger level than just substances. The door to escape was into the rave.
From the pursuit of the ticket, to gathering the money and then the outfit I allowed it all to be very time consuming. Getting ready for the event, getting there and meeting with friends, taking your drugs in the car or risk bringing them in because you want to make sure you have enough for the whole night, and then going in and dancing.
I was becoming part of a culture and therefore a community. This was the first community I became connected to that I had sought out and chosen. These weren’t my friends by default of being from the same city or going to the same school. I was trying to develop something with these people intentionally. The same happened with festivals just with different costumes, different music, and different cliques. However, festivals became something that my crew of friends in San Jose also enjoyed.
The longer I kept going and the more drugs I was taking I began to feel alone. I would wander around the event and not know what I was searching for. I’d run into a friend and ask them if they had any molly to distract me from my thoughts or my loneliness or both. I was curious if anyone out there was thinking anything or if everyone was able to shut off their brain and truly be immersed in the experience? I would be in a group of people and I would feel alone. I wouldn’t relate to what anyone was talking about or saying. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people necessarily as much as I was missing something. I was hungry for something that wasn’t available.
^^Hippie Crack^^ One of the many times I ask myself why, why the fuck did I ever think this was…..cool..okay…fun?
Drinking over seas
And thus finally being legal to drink which ironically was the age when I began to recognize that something was off.
Sick and not bad
When I say I don’t believe that weed is bad, that goes for everything that I have abused. It’s not the substance, it’s me, it’s me who has a sickness. Doesn’t mean I don’t cringe at all the memories of how I affected other people but I have to work on adjusting my perception in knowing that I’m sick and not bad.
This is the difference between me and my friends who have stopped smoking weed or drinking. These are people who drank and smoked more than me! They tell me “Oh I just didn’t really want to anymore.” or “I had to stop for my job.” which completely baffles me. They just stopped. If I was under any impression that I wouldn’t have any consequences for drinking and using I would hands down drink. I know exactly what I would drink. I know what drugs I would get and I would lock myself inside my room and hang out and just ride it out.
This is why I say it’s not the substance, it’s the user. It’s how you use. It’s how you gamble, how you have sex, how you eat…. what’s your motive and how does it make you feel? The weed isn’t making me smoke it, the beer isn’t making me drink it but inside of myself, for whatever reason I want to get drunk and high. Psycho analyze it all you want, I can name three reasons off top, but knowing that doesn’t change the fact that I want to use. Having self knowledge on what I’m running away from doesn’t make it any less scary, you feel me?
In 2013 I began to get serious about getting sober and I got involved in a recovery program. There’s so much that happens in that first year that’s basic life shit. You’re body goes through a detox no matter how severe your using was or wasn’t. I’m lucky I didn’t go through DT’s or anything but you can still feel it. Sleep gets weird, which affects your energy level, which affects how you feel when you wake up (assuming that you slept), and how depressed or anxious you feel waking up, which affects your appetite, which then affects your intake of water, and your energy throughout the day, which usually results in FUCK THIS STUPID SOBRIETY SHIT WHY DID I GET SOBER IN THE FIRST PLACE IF BEING SOBER FEELS LIKE THIS THEN I DON’T WANT TO BE FUCKING SOBER SO FUCK IT AND FUCK EVERYONE TOO.
Do you follow me?
In the first year I managed to keep most of my friendships in tact. I was too busy trying to figure out how to wake up on time, or how to pay bills on time, or how to get to so many meetings. Staying connected to old friends meant I was around alcohol and weed. A lot. However I had already moved to Portland at this point and all my friends were back in the Bay Area so I did have a healthy distance from any exposure to substances.
The longer I stayed sober the more tricky the dance got around interacting with people who I loved deeply and who engaged with substances in a way that I was no longer comfortable. It wasn’t about them… I’m a self centered alcoholic… it’s never about you… it’s always about me and for me it was about the temptation. I had a couple friends question themselves about the way they ingested substances which I was not expecting. Thus when they asked me questions I wasn’t always prepared because I didn’t have the answers.
“Well how did you know you had a problem? I mean do you really think you’re an alcoholic you don’t really drink that much?”
“I don’t know man I just wanted to stop.”
Or they would say.
“Oh so you don’t even smoke now? They’re just brainwashing you in those groups you know. You don’t need that stuff. If you’re drinking too much just stop and slow down. There’s nothing wrong with weed though it’s good for you.” and certain people would proceed to blow weed smoke in my face.
The first year everything was so layered I had no significant reason why I wanted to be sober. Honestly I had really shallow reasons I wanted to be sober. I wanted to lose weight, I wanted to start writing again (purely motivated by my ego rather than my passion to create art) I wanted people to like me, to notice me, and I wanted to feel pretty again.
Well in the first year the opposite happened. I got gained a lot of weight. I didn’t write at all and in fact got less creative. Stopped fire hooping. Didn’t really read much. I felt utterly invisible and the only time I felt noticed is when I was being an asshole.
What kept me going was the little gems. I found little moments of happiness which kept me trudging through the shit. Little moments that gave me hope.
I was pretty surprised about people’s reactions but nearly everyone was supportive. In the beginning I’d never ask anything of anyone. I wanted everything to stay exactly the same except I just wouldn’t be partaking in the party favors. It was unrealistic. It was also me compromising myself because it does suck to be the only one sitting in the hot box who isn’t smoking.
People typically feel clueless on how to be truly supportive so now I am very direct with what my needs are. I will state boundaries around smoking in my car or depending on my mood I won’t want to be around drinking even if it’s very mellow. There’s just times where I don’t want to be around it.
It’s like if your friend keeps asking you to go to the horse races and you just don’t really like being at the race track. You don’t like fucking peanuts and you’re not trying to waste your money on gambling and you don’t give a fuck about horses but you really love your friend. Sometimes the sun peeks out and it feels nice on your face so it’s not terrible, plus you love your friend. Ultimately though, you’d rather be somewhere else with your friend.
I’m moving into a different direction these days. I’m 26 and I’m coming up on my 3rd year sober and my friend groups have changed a lot since I’ve been in Portland. My needs have changed and my tolerance has lowered in the realm of what I need from friendships. When it comes to compatibility between two people it almost becomes a business arrangement. Some people will be able to meet you where you’re at and other times they can’t and it’s really not personal. You can’t control the fact that you need to be able to talk to someone about God, but are you going to reach out to your friend who’s an atheist for that conversation and then be pissed at them because they couldn’t meet your needs? Now that is a bit illogical wouldn’t you say? You know these are your needs and you can’t control them. You also can’t control it if you aren’t compatible for someone else. We can all try our hardest but there are times where we just can’t show up for one another and there’s no harm in that.
I believe the harm comes when we are denial of are ability to show up instead of calmly stating “I can’t be present for you in this way right now.”Which in my opinion is actually incredibly loving.
A community of unconditional love
While going to festivals heavy in 2009-2012 I found a community that started as party friends. They grew into what I now call a family. A lot of them are involved in the Burning Man community. Nothing short of incredible artists, I mean incredible, the kind of artists who blow fire from their mouths and make objects explode. They manipulate materials that would have been thrown away and instead create a stage for musicians and break dancers to perform on. The kind of artists who will blow your mind and make your heart explode.
This community taught me how to apply the concept of unconditional love. When you look in the mirror do you have a real grasp on who you are? In order to love people without condition, judgement cannot exist in the same house. We judge others when we judge ourselves. Acceptance doesn’t give judgement the ability to exist. I experienced true acceptance from the founders and core group of the Camp Questionmark community.
Our level of connection certainly goes beyond parties and substances. These folks taught me how to love myself in a lot of ways. They were some of the people who did indeed love me until I learned how to love myself.
Loss of community into a progression into growth…
And yet I have grown away from them. Not just that group primarily but nearly anyone and everyone who I met prior to getting sober.
These past few years have been eye opening years for me politically. You hear a lot of people say “The political climate has been so intense this year.” The reality is, it’s been like this. Most people just haven’t had to be affected by it. I know a majority of my life has been a life of privileges and advantages. This has led me down a path where I have participated in many microaggressions. Microaggressions meaning subtly tearing marginalized people down by participating in discrimination and racism.
Now microaggressions are very subtle and I still will do things absent mindlessly. One example I can give is using language that is not innately from my own culture. There are many other examples I can give you but this is one that is easy to process and understand.
The last year I looked around me and I realized that people who I love say and do things that are oppressive to women, to trans folks, to people of color and it makes me angry. It triggers aspects of my life. It makes me uncomfortable. The biggest part that made me uncomfortable about it was I saw myself in them. I too would do things that were oppressive and yet pride myself on being aware and inclusive to everyone. This new awareness has been isolating in some ways.
During Thanksgiving I go over to my friends house. This year I felt a shift in celebrating this holiday and parts of me just didn’t feel right about it. While I was there we played a game where we write a phrase on a piece of paper. They pass the phrase to the person next to them and My friend’s 11 year old sister wrote her phrase and passed it to me. It said something along the lines of “A village being burned and everyone freaking out.” I looked at it shocked. I assumed this was supposed to in some way be funny. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to get up and walk away. I didn’t know how to tell this 11 year old kid that this wasn’t okay and it wasn’t funny.
My friend impersonating an Asian lady in front of me and few days later using the word chink.
You look at all your friends who have dreads who are white. You yourself wear fake dreads to Burning Man.
You hear your mother side with police in regards to the murder of Philando Castile.
You hear about your friends boss misgender your friend who is trans and has transitioned. They refuse to call him him and refuse to use his name. Instead calling him his old name.
You hear another friend say “Well they’re gay so you know how they are….”
Hearing your friends who are not black say the N word.
Hearing your friends say “YAAAAAAAAS” or “Slaaaay” You yourself saying “YAAAAAAAS”
I felt isolated and I didn’t have anyone I could talk about it with. I would try to talk to some friends about these subjects but it turns out there are a handful of people who don’t care. Or can’t fathom how racism exists in 2017. It did feel like a veil was over a lot of people’s faces in the festival community. All the cultural appropriation that happens at festivals with costumes and religious identity became more apparent to me.
98% of my friends in Portland are white and a small percentage of them give a shit about marginalized groups. I needed people who understood. I tried to connect with folks in Portland but to no avail. No one reached back. I tried to get involved with different groups. Go to different shows. Find people in recovery who were into the same things as me. Join clubs at my community college. Meet up with friends from work. Go on outings when asked to join. None of it fit.
Growing into this new sense of self I have been trying to seek out people who can meet me where I am at. It’s still an isolating experience but I am hopeful. Sometimes I feel limited because I’m sober, queer, multi racial and a creative. It’s a very specific person I feel like I’m looking for at times. However I believe that’s part of growing up. We learn about ourselves and figure out specifically what we’re looking for. Until I find this community I will keep on searching.