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Through Closed Doors

From Issue 8

 

In may of 1980, the singer /poet Ian Curtis of Joy Division hung himself in his Manchester, England home the day before he was to depart for their big U.S. tour. On the same day in Washington State, Mt. St. Helen’s erupted, and a young man prepared for high school graduation, and the turmoil that his life would soon become…

The day after graduation, I left for San Jose, seeking the skateboard meccas of Northern California. Through previous trips, I had my first exposure to the San Francisco punk scene. There in a Holiday Inn on San Carlos Blvd., I cut my hair and went “punk.” I loved the Pistols, the Ramones, and the Germs and Darby Crash’s rise and subsequent fall earlier that year was a true inspiration.

Having grown up in a small town, I was pretty young, innocent, and naïve. I rejected the repressive path that dictated to go to college and get a job. Being sensitive, the pain of rejection was replaced with the anger that fueled a generation. While my friends were deciding which college to go to, I resolved to live fast and die young…

2  The next two years, I stayed in the small town, giving and taking physical and mental abuse. Total alienation ensued, and I began a massive consumption of alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. No one could hurt me again…

Through regular road trips, I got to know most of the pinks up and down the West coast in the Scene. By the fall of 1982, I moved to Portland with $40 and 40 cans of Campbell’s Soup. The City was a revelation for me. I saw many young people living many different lifestyles, and for the first time I felt accepted! The creativity of the early punk movement was staggering. The ideas were a complete departure from what we viewed as the boring, burned out 60’s and 70’s. No more rock stars since everybody would be in a band. The worst was the best. And if we were negative it was only a reflection of the garbage around us – Reaganomics and Limited Nuclear Warfare.

We embraced the best of the 50’s (Beatniks), 60’s (Velvet Underground and the Stooges) and the 70’s (the New York Dolls and British punk movement), and took it back down to the kids on the street. Jumping trains, dumpster diving, and beer thieving were all but romantic notions, and self-abuse was a glamorized thing. We did not stop long enough to think about the toll that this brand of Nihilism was inflicting on our body, soul, and spirit…

In 1983, some friends and I that were playing in an “industrial” band had a house in the warehouse district of S.E. Portland. We would have basement shows every Saturday night. The best bands from Portland and Seattle would come play, and an occasional S.F. or L.A. band would come though. T.S.O.L., The Fartz (w/ Duff from Guns’n’Roses playing drums), and The Accused (their first show) all played there. Even a young rich girl named Courtney Love hung out, trying to make friends with somebody.

One evening a riot involving a group of jocks and punks broke out in front of the house. Poison Idea, a local hardcore band, was setting up for their first set. Suddenly the garage I was living in burst into flames, the victim of arson, with a fireball rising seventy-five feet into the air. As the flames jumped to the main house, we rushed to save the band equipment. The only thing I managed to save was the keg and my skateboard. I guess these were the important things in my life.

1Later in 1983, I won the Northwest Vertical Championships for the second year, reaching a peak that I would never again attain. I skated drunk (as usual) as I could not skate well sober any longer. I was asked to join the Jak’s team in San Francisco, and headed there for the rest of the summer. These were the “salad” days of the S.F. scene as the scene was just exploding. Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll was starting, Thrasher was just getting big, and the “On Broadway,” Fabulous Mabuhay Gardens (Fab Mab).” And the “Tool and Die” were the happening clubs. The Jak’s were a seminal presence in the scene, and founding members were in such early S.F. bands as the Toiling Midgets and the Woundz. Although there were some ripping skaters on the team, the brethren consisted of musicians who skated, not always so well. We eventually had divisions in L.A., Portland, Seattle and Vancouver B.C. We were tight – a roving band of pirates, and these were to be the happiest of my days…

I returned to the Northwest, and went to Seattle to hand out with the team there. The Glam movement was in full effect. Music was slowing down and the beginnings of the Grunge movement were taking shape. It was here that I would have my first taste of life as a junky…

One evening a friend burst into the apartment I was staying at. He had broken into a local pharmacy and made off with three hefty bags of sedatives, barbiturates, and narcotics. We raced through the bags and pulled out the dilaudid. Seconds later, with hardly a thought as to what I was doing, I let my friend prick the needle into my arm. The warmth spread through my body, and for a moment I thought I was in heaven. Then I passed out… When I came to, the next morning, my friend informed me that he had messed up the dosage, and that I had O.D.’d. He kept me from falling into too deep a sleep and possibly dying. He gave me hundreds of pills – valiums, reds, ludes – and took me down to the bus station. The next week was a complete blur – a near blackout – that ended with me smashing out a grocery store window to steal the beer, and passing out in front of the store. I awoke in a jail cell – my nose wet with sniffles of withdrawal, that I would come to know so well. All I could think of was when I could get more dope…

In the beginning of 1984, the West Coast was flooded with cheap Berkeley Acid and a high grade Mexican Tar Heroin called Chiva. Daily use of acid for three months ended my drug “exploration” days, and I started into a downhill slide that ended up in a daily habit of Chiva. The Portland Police Dept. had gone through a major reorganization due to police corruption, and they didn’t have any control over what was happening on the downtown streets. It was not uncommon to see people on couch street “fixing” right on the sidewalk on top of a parked car. Hundreds of dealers were lined up within a three-block stretch, selling their product to the youth of Portland. That summer, a lot of kids grew up too fast. Some did not see 1985.3

In March 1985, burdened with a $100 a day habit, I went to treatment for the first time. It was an “old school” treatment center that an ex-prostitute junkie from New York City was running in a small town off the Oregon coast. My counselor was a big Italian guy that was kicked out of Hell’s Angels for being too radical. He was on Death Row for multiple murders when they discovered that he has an aneurism that was driving him insane. Ten years of work release programs and sobriety earned him pardon, and he was free to help others in this treatment setting. This was my first impression of real grace. I could not buy into the “God” thing that 12 step programs are based on, so he gave me a rock off his desk, telling me that this was his first “God.” I was to carry it with me, and use it as my higher power.

Upon leaving the center, I moved from the city out to the coast and took up carpentry and surfing. However, the lack of a personal God led to an overwhelming void and I was back to the “spoon” by summer’s end. I maintained a $100 a day habit for the next year, and even managed to get a loan to open a skateboard shop back in Portland. This had been my dream for some time, but I quickly sabotaged it by “dipping” in the till. I left my business partner to run it, and entered treatment again. The skateboard shop was a huge success (no thanks to me) and became the central hangout in N.W. Portland.

Even though I managed to stay sober for eight months this time, I still actively resisted the “higher power” thing. I lived in a halfway house, and muscled my way through urinalysis and daily counseling. When I did relapse, it was quick. I had a needle in my arm before I knew what was happening. My life was going so well, but it was impossible to separate with the junkie.

I used for several months, and by this time my tolerance was enormous. I could use several hundred dollars a day “keeping well,” and nobody knew. Finally, as my health began to fail, my business partner quit. He told me he loved me, but he didn’t want to watch me kill myself. He was my best friend, and the guilt was overwhelming. The kids who were on the shop team looked up to me, but they knew I would always be a junkie, and that heroin was my life…

In the three months to follow, I looted $30,000 out of the shop’s account for my habit, and finally bankrupted the business. I sold it at “break even” and left without a penny to my name. Without income and an enormous habit, I was in trouble. I started shooting crystal meth to kick the junk habit, and ended up with staff infection. I looked like a leper with sores and scabs all over my body. I hid in a friends apartment and “kicked.” Only a heroin addict can know the intense pain that one can go through – the cramps, nausea, vomiting – the nightmare that is withdrawal. I finally slept on the eleventh night. Three weeks later I rejoined the world, and seeing that most of my friends disowned me, I decided to go back to the small town I had come from…

My family had always been supportive, accepting my addiction for what it was. I stayed at their house for six months. Just trying to drop out of the scene. However, in this small town in the middle of the Eastern Washington desert, I met some immigrant farm workers with the best Chiva from Mexico I’d ever tasted. In days I was strung out, even stealing my mother’s cash cards to obtain more dope. I resolved to go back to the city and start the end-run.

In Portland, I hooked up with an older dealer friend and an ex-skinhead that I had been in treatment with. This skinhead had worshipped the devil as his higher power, and was the craziest person I knew. I sold dope on the street for the dealer, carrying balloons of heroin in my mouth. If the police trued to bust me, I’d swallow them, recovering the dope later when I went to the bathroom. One day, three Mexican youths jumped me and held a large knife to my neck. They threatened to kill me if I didn’t cough it up. I was not quite ready to die, so I compiled. The dealer was upset at loosing hundreds of dollars of product and left me to get sick.

My skinhead friend had been doing burglaries and had good connections to “fence” jewelry. Together we hit 20 to 30 homes in the next four months, melting down gold and silver for much-needed cash. The guilt was unbearable, but mostly numbed due to our soaring habits. At one point we were doing $500 dollars a day, enough to kill a horse. I purposely did larger and larger hits, hoping that I could put myself out of misery. I eventually was caught and gun point by the police, who had been casing us for months.

While waiting for trial, I was placed on methadone maintenance, and released on bail. I called my mom from a pay phone telling her that it was likely that I would go to county jail for even the penitentiary for a couple of years. A friend (that had just stopped by for the first time in five years) comforted her, and told her of a church in Alaska that might be able to help.

I did not want to go, but my options were few. The judge decided that this qualified as “treatment” and that I could go until I came back for trial. Anticipating that it would be a white before I could use again, I started shooting dope in addition to the methadone – a powerful and dangerous combination. My skinhead friend was also on methadone, and when he found out that I was shooting up he blind-sided me, ripping my lip open up to my nose. He told me he was sorry, but that I gave him no hope. He drove me to the hospital, and returned a while later with a large “fix” we did in the hospital room. Sixteen stitches later, I left and packed for Alaska…

Anticipating that I might bail, my father came to Portland to fly up with me. I asked to borrow $20. He gave it to me knowingly, not asking why. As I copped my last bag, I was strangely peaceful. I thank God that I did not have more money, or I would have surely O.D.’d. I left behind Portland all my bridges being thoroughly burnt…

The evening flight arrived in Anchorage, and I was still “well.” I nodded off in the car on the drive to the church community. I was given a guest room in the “Big House” – a large building that once was a Catholic convent, and now was the center of the community. The next morning, two priests came to get my father and I and take us to breakfast.

The younger priest was very warm, not at all put off by this shell of humanity that sat in front of him. The older priest was the pastor of the community, and a very unusual man. As we talked over breakfast, I started to get very sick. One last time this horror would be with me.

The pastor asked me a lot of questions about myself: Why was I here? Did I want to come? Had I ever believed in God?… My father did a lot of the talking, I being unable to respond. I left that morning thinking I really liked this pastor – he was salty, gritty, and to the point. He was the first Christian that I had met that really seemed alive.

The next six or seven days I did not come out of the guest room, for I was exploring the depths of hell. Alone in a foreign place, I did not even have the comfort of the street sounds to calm me. The silence was deafening! A young lady came down and gave me a small cross to help me though. Finally I slept…

When I awoke, the fever, cramps and chills were gone. It was a sunny fall day, and I had survived. I wasn’t sure whether I had another kick left in me, and the thought of suicide had crossed my mind. The people who lived in the “Big House” took good care of me – feeding me and keeping me company. I was amazed at how warm they were, but yet they didn’t try to talk to me about God, or convert me.

For the next three months that I would be there, it was decided that I would work with the groundskeeper, as he was also the head of the Big House. He was a warm man, and worked harder than anybody I’d ever seen. At the end of my first day of work, I was tired, and my mind began to scheme. I called my dealer in Portland, and he agreed to airmail me some dope. It would take two days…

The next evening, everybody in the house left for a hockey game. Alone in the Big House living room, I stared out at the beauty of Alaska. Totally quiet, totally serene. But yet, the dope pangs would not leave me alone. I searched for alcohol, but could not find any. All around the house, the icons of Christ and His Saints stared at me. I felt as if I were being watched…

5  Suddenly a massive wave of fear descended on me. It was as if ten years of the fear I never had experienced came to me all at once. I felt small, vulnerable, and completely paralyzed. Finally, I ran out of the Big House and over to the Church. Nobody was around, as it was getting close to midnight. I called my mom and got her out of bed. I cried as I told her I wanted to die, and she comforted me, asking me to get on my knees and say a prayer with her. I hung up and went to the Nave (body) of the Church. I got on my knees and begged to God – ‘If you are there remove this fear and pain.’ As sudden as it had come, the fear was gone. A sense of peace entered me, and I laid on the church floor for a long time. Finally, I left the Church. I stood on the front porch looking at the beauty of Christ’s house. Being crushed and defeated, this is one time that God could come to me, and I would listen. I began to weep, and for the first time I thanked God for loving me…

 

A few months earlier, my mother had a dream where a large bird with wings one hundred feet wide flew over my sister and her. They were in a field. At first the bird was threatening, but then it hovered over them, protecting them with his wing. The bird then told my mother that her son would be all right.

 

Several months later, more burglary charges were brought forth, and I returned to Portland to go to county jail. I had been to jail many times before, but I was a Christian now, and not strung on junk. Fear was ever-present, but God’s grace was there always. I was tempted with drugs, but did not succumb. My cellmates mocked me, ripping out pages of my Holy Bible and rolling cigarettes from them. The amount of support from the outside was overwhelming – daily correspondence and visits from Orthodox priests. And on the inside, I always felt the Savior’s presence. The new charges would bring two five-year sentences in the Oregon penitentiary.

As I entered the courtroom to face the judge, I saw the black-robed priests. They had successfully petitioned in the judge’s chambers for my release to the church in Alaska. I would have five years probation and $28,000 restitution. If I relapsed, I would get the full ten years. I thanked God for His rich and abundant mercies. Just before Pascha (Easter) of 1989, on Holy Saturday eve, I was received into the Orthodox Church, sacramentally cleansed of the sins of my former life. The joy that I had always tried to kill was now complete…

 

“Paradise raised me up as I perceived it,

it enriched me to look upon it;

I forgot my poor estate,

for it had made me drunk with its fragrance.

I became as though no longer my old self,

for it renewed me with all its varied nature.”

(+ Saint Ephraim the Syrian)

            In the years since then, I have stayed sober. Not through 12 step programs or modern psychology, but by being immersed (as much as I am able!) in the ancient otherworldly life of the Orthodox Church.

Only by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and His infinite love for all mankind, am I alive today. I give thanks to all the Saints, whose intercessions save our lives daily. I was delivered to Alaska on September 26th, the day that the church commemorates St. John the Evangelist, the patron saint of the church where I had my conversion. In the Holy Scriptures, St. John symbolically appears as an eagle, the same one who comforted my mother in her dream. October 6th is the day we commemorate St. Thomas the Apostle and Doubter. It is also the date of my conversion, and Thomas is my name. I feel bound up with these saints whose prayers are pleasing to God. St. John, because of his great love for children, and St. Thomas, who doubted as many do.

These ancient saints are part of a lineage of “rebels” that continue to this day. These are the true radicals, whose lives we can imitate, filling the spiritual vacuum that plagues us today.

We can follow the was of the needle and spoon and end up like Johnny Thunders, dead from an overdose on a New Orleans hotel floor. Or we can follow the path of alienation and despair that led Kurt Cobain’s tragic end in Seattle, unable to deal with the fame and fortune that the world had brought him. Or we can follow the was of the Cross, that has been sanctified with the blood of the martyrs and the toil of righteous ones…

 

Holy Apostles John and Thomas, pray to God for us!

 

-Thomas

One comment

  1. mortgagecrow Great, thanks for sharing this blog article. Will read on…

    Great, thanks for sharing this blog article. Will read on…

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