Three little words changed my life, forever. You’d think that, just coming off a suicide spree, as I’ve affectionately named the preceding portion of my life, one would naturally turn to larger questions: What is life? What is the meaning of life? Why have I been chosen to live life, instead of succumbing to death? Any of these questions would be perfectly rational. Prisoners have converted for lesser sins. But I’m a proud atheist. Decoding that, actually, was the first moment of freedom I’d ever felt in my entire life. I was no longer in bondage, no longer a slave, no longer subordinate, no longer living in fear, no longer praying so many unanswered prayers, no more religion, with all its trappings that just cover up what it’s all about: profiting off fear, easing the masses, making social policy the role of the church, not the government. All of these churches have successfully done for millenia. The Catholic Church, especially, so enduring an institution, one wonders at times if they should be Catholic just to see what the fuss was about. Fuss is an appropriate word for catholicism. I was raised in a simple church with simple beliefs, closer to Quakers than Catholicism. Our church wasn’t even called a church, it was known as a “meeting hall.” This, supposedly, ensured that there was no single preacher to dominate the congregation, but rather that each member would contribute their share to enrich the general welfare, the general spirit, the general knowledge. It worked, to an extent, like one would expect any focus group to work. And, undoubtedly, the award of salvation is a strong motivation to exert oneself and exhort oneself to praising God. If that wasn’t sufficient, the punitive measures taken against congregation members who stepped out of line effectively beat us into submission. We saw that earlier with my mother. No, we were far removed from catholicism, with its Idol worship, its trapping, its preaching, its exhortations against sin, its removal of the gospel from the trust of the laity into the hands of an omniscient priest. That last part, particularly, stuck in the craw of my church. We had such a heavily footnoted Bible that it seemed like it was our duty to interpret and understand the Word of God. That was no matter to be left to be interpreted for us. No matter that the footnotes and copious extraneous works were, in fact, our Gospel, treated with more respect and reverence than the Bible itself. We were blindfolded, tricked into believing that we held the power of knowledge, but really, we were powerless. We could be talked into anything so long as there was a de minimus justification. I can’t stress enough the power of brainwashing. The catholics had tried it, during the dark ages, but we’re ultimately unsuccessful. Ironic, really, that our church praised Luther and Guttenberg for bringing the Word to the masses, when, ultimately, we took over the interpretation, so that access to the text was a prerequisite for understanding but not sufficient for understanding. In fact, it was heretical to make up our own interpretation of verse. Those matters were done for us. I love to relate the story, not that I know much detail, about how a young couple entered the flock, as it were, and were so surrounded with doctrine and preaching and worship and lifestyles that they, smartly, fled, and in the process, sued the church for brainwashing. I envy them. They saw, so much earlier than I, what a fraud the church was, what a fraud the concept of God was, what an abomination that hierarchical structures could breed such dependence and obedience, in the name of enlightenment! Well, anyways, the church quite handily had a fund available to settle such lawsuits, and the matter was dropped. I have no idea how many other people were paid off to keep quiet. How revolting. So, yes, the day I realized that God didn’t exist was a moment of true freedom, and would profoundly affect my life by allowing the choice and power to determine my own values and standards, with great deference to philosophical giants, to the power of Logic, but, ultimately, it was my choice and my decision alone. There are, I strongly believe, certain Hobbesian rules and principles that no man can run afoul of, such as murdered, without bring society back into a stats of nature, which was so “nasty, brutish and short” that no man could desire it, in fact, that every effort would be made to maintain a society in order to avoid devolution into the state of nature. Religion, for many, handily played the role of organizing mankind and providing a common enemy, the devil, which is always effective for holding disparate groups together. Like a nation losing its grip on its populace, the mere invocation of an enemy that would destroy us all gives rise to a sudden, strong sense of nationality, of civic pride. Hitler knew this, and the Nazis were one of the finest examples of how any group of people can be held together by banding them against other groups: Jews, gays, communists. Simply declare those an abomination, and you suddenly held the power to take over the world. Anyways, religion, as it were, is simply the opiate of the masses, the drug we’re fed to keep us subservient. I’m not a radical, not recommending overthrow of government, in fact, I love government. Strong government is the best antidote to religion, by providing a sense of belonging and community without invoking unnatural spirits and ghostly beings. Government is truly an atheist institution; it is the refutation of this principle that causes so much strife and warfare. Our own forefathers saw this, that there must be separation of church and state. But we never learn, and those who don’t learn are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past. So it is.
Rambling as that may have sounded, I intended it to highlight how important this next event was, so important that even God had no power to intervene.
It started so simply. I was up in Seattle, after my parents had hauled me home, and was living with a friend, Frank, in a wooden boat moored at Lake Union. It wasn’t a houseboat, those were sneered upon, nor one of those flimsy plastic shells people so love to revere, but rather an original wooden boat, two cabins, two bath, galley, living room and dining area, all below deck, and a large and spacious upper deck that proved quite sufficient to hold even the largest parties. Frank was, frankly, conservative and religious, but the topics of homosexuality and religion never came up, so we were able to forge a relationship anyways. So it was that I was up in Seattle, having hauled my laundry by bike from the dock to the laundromat a mile away, and I was just sitting there in the lobby waiting for my laundry to buzz. It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle, the kind of warm, sunny day, with rays of light glistening and sparkling in the water, with green, soft grass and just a hint of a breeze, the kind of day that makes Seattle worth living in the rest of the dreary, rainy, gray year. I was, like I said, doing my laundry, playing on my phone, killing time. Well, not “playing” exactly, more like cruising. I was on the mobile version of Adam4Adam, which I think I mentioned before as being the new gay.com, although that still existed. This new site allowed you to choose individual pictures of guys in the same neighborhood as you, and strike up a conversation. Their profile would already list their age, height, weight, body build, hair color, and, conveniently, sexual preferences, including whether they wore protection. Despite all the trappings of providing a “social forum” for gay men, it was, in all respects, a sec site, a hook up site, a site where sex was the first and last thing on every mind of every guy in every profile picture. This predated Grindr, which took the same concept but made it location based by GPS. Phones capable of that weren’t ubiquitous back in the day (Oh how I’m dating myself), so the best we had was what the person listed as their neighborhood. This worked until everyone realized you could only seen other members in the same neighborhood; it wasn’t long before every profile listed “Capital Hill,” the gay part of town, whether that person lived within striking range or not. So it wasn’t always easy to find someone that was literally in the same neighborhood. I suppose that’s asking a lot, to have a cute guy in the same neighborhood, online at the same time as you, looking for all the things you’re looking for and having all the qualities that you find attractive and, conveniently, lived right next door. Straight people don’t expect so much. In fact, there’s a comic expression of “s/he was the One for me,” as if the location didn’t matter. So convenient that most people found their “One” often within the same area code, and looking a lot like them (racially, at least). I find myself sidetracked again. Because the point of this was to say that I was cruising for sex online, on my phone, while I was waiting for the mundane task of laundry to finish so I could go have some fun and enjoy this very pleasant day.
Generally, I was fairly successful online, meaning that I usually was able to find a guy I liked, nearby, that liked me too and wanted to meet. Well, fuck, actually, but once in a while there was coffee involved. So, at this time, there was certain guy I was talking to, trading innuendos back and forth, hunting without saying that we found each other attractive. Finally, it came right down to it. He invited me over. I said yes. Now, here come the three little, innocuous, innocent even, words that changed my life forever. His next message: “do u party?” Aside from the glaring observation that he couldn’t be bothered to type out the word “you” was the equally glaring observation that this wasn’t a well formed sentence of the English language. “Party” was being used as a verb, not an adverb or pronoun, not a “party” like an event that people attend, not a “party” like being a “party boy” that lived for the gay clubs. Not, just the word “party,” as an action in itself. It didn’t actually catch my attention as much as I just made it seem; there was just enough unusual about it, though, that I followed up with something like “I like parties.” It’s true, I did love a good party. His response: “do you know what party means?” Well, let’s not drag it out here, just tell me! My response: “obviously not in the same sense as you’re using,” or something to that extent. The response came a few minutes later, as if he was formulating just the right definition, just the right choice of words, to explain his intentions. Finally, the reply came back: “it means Tina.”
Let break for a second to process. Some of you may be street savvy and quite familiar with this term. Others, like me, had never heard it before. I mean, I knew Tina Turner, and Christina Aguilera, if you wanted to stretch the usage of the word, but I’d never heard of something called “Tina,” as an object, a thing, maybe even an event but certainly not referring to a person or place. Vaguely, truthfully I knew what was up. I knew, without knowing, that he was offering me the chance, for the first time, to experience drugs. There, I said it. He wanted to do drugs with me. I didn’t know what “tina” was, but I understood what he was proposing.
Let’s back up another step. I was a good kid, followed all the rules, made good friends, made smart choices, excelled at academics, yes, even we to church, for a while at least. I wore khakis, not jeans, polos and button-downs, not t-shirts, parted my hair to the side, not up in a Mohawk or messed up in a bowl cut, both of which were popular. No, I defied style and expectations and dressed my own way. Actually, I dressed the way the church wanted me to dress. And if I didn’t dress that way, not only would my parents find out, but one of various “monitors” might discover and report me. You see, the church kept certain people at certain schools and provided oversight to those students by strategically placed members of the congregation. In fact, there was very little you could do that was not under the watchful eye of the church. One guy, young adult I suppose, had an affair in Mexico, and the church found out and disciplined or expelled him. How they discovered that information is completely beyond me, but it did mean that I’d better watch my back around town. So, I was a good kid. Even when I left the flock, so it was called, I still performed well academically and socially, proof enough, for me, that religion wasn’t necessary to the proper function of every day life. Even down in San Francisco, although my morals tipped a little, I was still a good kid, at least in comparison to the lifestyles I encountered. So, when a good kid is offered drugs, by a stranger, that good kid should be mindful of his upbringing and resist the offer, maybe even calling the police in the process to arrest this drug dealer. That’s what good kid should have done. That’s not what I did.
Remember, I was fresh off my suicide spree. I still wasn’t happy in life. I had tried, at this point, potentially every single combination of antidepressants, anti-psychotics, anti-anxiety agents and God knows what else. Point is, I’d tried it, and it failed me. Why do I say that? Well, someone who is not depressed does not attempt, thirteen times, to kill themselves. Obviously, I was not happy, and the medication wasn’t helping. So here I was, in pain, depressed, anxious, unhappy and miserable, not knowing what to do or where to go to find relief. I just knew that salvation did not lie at the bottom of a bottle of pills. I’d tried that. So where did it lie? Well, I was being given an opportunity to find out, at least rule out drugs, and I was going to seize the chance. Nothing could possibly make my life any worse, so there was no harm, no foul. And if things improved for me, praise be Jesus, or drugs, as it were. So, I said yes, I’d come party. I finished my laundry, hopped on my bike, huffed and puffed up the backside of Capital Hill, and made my way to his place. You know, I can’t remember his name. What I do remember was what happened.
pop more pills
feel the chill
live the rush
just a crush
an addiction, all my own; a lifestyle, one I chose
may I get another?
life, I mean
this one doesn’t go down easy
a flicker, flame, beacon in the dark
a spoon, a pipe, doing it on a lark
who hurts when I fall?
not I at all
a bottle in front of me
a decision to be made
do I take the medicine?
or swallow the poison pill?
isn’t that really what I’ve been doing all along?
see through the looking glass
can you still fit through that door?
has life become just a chore?
drink the potion, my sweet
lie down beneath these sheets
when it’s over it’ll all be over
when it’s done your time has come
hanging on, not letting go
I want to feel the thrill
beyond the pipe
I want to feel the rush
of waking, flush
it cuts like a knife
slit your wrists
smoke a bowl
live or die, who’s to care?
who’s to hurt?
not you, not I
alice fits through the door again
I am ready to embrace this sin
falling out, falling in
sodomy between me
and my pipe
like a pill about to crush
like the damned who live for the rush
I take my pills
and live the thrill
needle in my arm
pills strewn around
who’s to care? who’s to know?
I just wanted to go
through the looking glass, again
-Alice Falls, personal writings, 2014
In this part we see, aside from my deep antipathy towards the church and religion, the first moments, indeed, the critical moment, when I said yes to drugs. I’ll flesh that out in the next chapter. This is getting harder to write as the memories become fresher yet more cloudy. Pun intended. You’ll see.
Before we go forward, I want to be absolutely clear. This is an essay on my life, which includes drug addiction. I neither condemn nor condone drug use. These are individual choices. I won’t sugarcoat the truth, but neither will I pretend that some of the highs, as well as lows, didn’t exist. Love, they say, is a many splendored thing. I aim to show, in a brutally honest fashion, why I made the choice to continue to use, what the effects were – physically, mentally and socially – and what it did to my life, and, for some of you, your lives. Some of you had no idea I was high, there was just something not quite right. Others of you knew, and judged, and ostracized. I’m not upset about that. Drugs are scary and sometimes the only proper reaction is to place some distance between yourself and the situation. What I hope to get across, though, is that I changed, I let the drug change me, but maybe, just maybe, there’s some recognizable part of me left inside this machinery of death. I want to know whether that’s true. I don’t have any answers. I’m going to let you read and see what happened and reach your own conclusions. I’m not looking for sympathy, though I’m certainly not hoping for antipathy; I want, to the extent that one who has never done drugs can, go give insight and provide a platform for understanding. No one lightly chooses drugs, especially, most particularly, not this one. There’s a reason, a good reason, why I chose to subject myself to hell. You see, there’s a little slice of heaven inside hell, and sometimes, sometimes you’re lucky enough to see it, touch it, feel it, caress it, before it’s all taken away again, leaving you in an abyss of emptiness, but never giving up hope that you’ll one day, once again find that slice of heaven.