Sober

1. At damn near forty-five –old, it’s probably a bit disingenuous to still claim straightedge. Instead of being bolstered by all of my long ago politics and energy of being sXe, I have come to the point in my life where I must admit that my abstinence from cigarettes, alcohol, weed, and any other drugs is now more force of habit rather than grand statement. I don’t use. There was no traumatic event that pointed me towards this lifestyle. I’m a 70s-80s baby and saw the migration from dust to crack. Folks all around me were getting hooked—even some family—but it was par for the societal course. I don’t use because I choose not to. Most of my friends started to experiment with cigarettes around seven or eight-years-old, and I thought that they were fools. The shit smelled awful. The smoke stung your eyes, and it made you cough. Why would anyone want to do that, especially when there was stickball to be played and intact windows that needed to meet well-hurled rocks? These little cigarette fiends migrated to weed, and some of them went on to other stuff that took them clean out of this reality. But, as I mentioned, these events weren’t so traumatic that I made some kind of cosmic declaration to not use. I chose not to. It did not make any sense to me. It still doesn’t.

2. When I was nine years old I heard Minor Threat’s “Straight Edge.” Forty-five seconds of blistering glory. It solidified my decision to remain drug/alcohol free:

"I'm a person just like you/But I've got better things to do/Than sit around and fuck my head/Hang out with the living dead."

I wasn’t politicized at this moment, but Minor Threat was a gigantic sign ushering me into a new political identity. A few years later, and a whole shitload of 7-inches destroying the needles of my mom’s record player, I stepped through a threshold and became a new person. All it took was for me to shave off all my hair, dress sharply, and put foot-to-ass to racists, bigots, and their ilk. I became an anti-racist skinhead.

3. In my circle, being an anti-racist skin was the beginning of a global conversation. Being half Jamaican, I felt that this culture was my birthright as the NYC Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (S.H.A.R.P) Skins, the Minneapolis Baldies (two cities that I bounced back and forth from for most of my young life) and other progressive skinhead crews acknowledged that there was a multicultural origin to Ska music (was and continues to be my favorite music) and the whole skinhead culture. Even though I was appalled to learn that some black skins in the UK attacked Indian and Pakistani folks, I wore my shining Milk Dud of a head with honor and pride. Being a skin was a kind of street currency—folks knew I was down to fight, and that I had crew who were down to fight alongside me. Several of my original friends took the flight jacket and baldhead as permission to be proactively violent. They became the arbiters of what was and was not acceptable social behavior and Jah bless you if you fell on the wrong side of their boots—these folks fell by the wayside. I was good at violence, prone to it, but allowed myself to take a few major ass-whoopings because I was liable to go overboard and kill someone. I was always teased for not going all out. I was holding back because I did not want to catch a case, nor did I want to sully what being a skin for me was all about. The clothes, the strut, the music, the late night discussions, all of it, contributed to my nascent political being. While I was a hip-hop head and had my political consciousness expanded by X-Clan, Public Enemy, The Intelligent Hoodlum, the Native Tongues and others, it was skinhead culture that was my bedrock. When hip-hop took that 40oz turn, my skin bredren kept it sober. There was something more fulfilling about participating in social change rather than sitting around drinking and puffing and waxing intelligent about it while sitting on a couch.

4. I had three friends die because of drugs and alcohol. One took some bad acid and hung herself in her grandparents front yard (possibly much more was happening with her), one wrapped his car around a tree, and the last one died on the floor of his kitchen, mouth foaming like a cartoon Saint Bernard. If my being clean was a choice before, it was now a mission. Being political about my being sXe came way later than the choice to do so. Only time in my life my politics came after a decision to take an action.

5. For a long stretch of my life, I resented any and all people who partook in any kinds of drugs or alcohol. I even became a bouncer so that I could smack around drunken people. I was morally offended that anyone would squander the wonderful life they were given by getting high or drunk. The magnitude of my arrogance still astonishes me. I can’t believe that this arrogant, violent, sanctimonious asshole (with some good qualities) grew into a near 40 year old husband, father, advanced degree holder, published author, recognized public speaker, and mentor. I‘m not listing my bona fides as some sort of braggart’s platform, but as a reality check for myself, so that I can reflect on just how far I’ve come. Making the conscious choice to not use means that I had to accept that some people choose to and that they aren’t bad for doing so, and that it’s none of my damn business. That’s a hard realization to come to when your drive to be clean and sober has taken on an almost ecclesiastical quality.

6. My wife drinks wine, on occasion. When I first saw her with a glass of wine, I flipped. All of that old arrogance and judgmental crap came roaring from my past. It took me a while to get over that one.

7. As I hurtle towards planet getting-up-there-in-age, I’m still investigating the reasons why I continue to remain sober. It can’t be the politics as I am way too old to claim sXe as a political stance and haven’t listened to Minor Threat in years. Maybe it’s just not for me. Maybe being clean is one of the few things that I’m really good at: I have a talent for not using. There is no denying that the anti-racist skin ethos is still a part of my consciousness, as well as the too-small crew of friends who joined me on my life-long mission to never use—they act as a reminder that my lifestyle choice is okay, albeit really strange for a whole lot of people. I even lost a girlfriend because her father did not trust a man who didn’t drink.

8. I believe in the grandiosity of life. I believe in all of its mystery, its wonder, and I want to remain in a permanent state of awe—some feel that the use of certain substances enhances these feelings. I feel just the opposite. I want to meet the universe with a clear head, uninfluenced by enhancements or chemical prophylactics of any kind. But I could be wrong. I could have been depriving myself of a deeper connection with the All by wallowing in the desert of the sober. I’ll never know, as this lifestyle that I have chosen is as much a part of me as my scars and my tattoos. I need to find that Minor Threat EP.