A dark place

When I met my wife, I was a musician and entertainment manager in Seattle. This was post-grunge, mid 90’s Seattle and the music scene was fertile and full. When you live that lifestyle, a lot of your time is spent in clubs. Booking, scouting, networking, seeing other acts that might compliment the bill with my own band, setting up shows, performing, after parties – it was a time I’ll never forget. Or actually, it was a time I have forgotten because it was lived fully. If you know what I mean.

I had a habit (yes, I’ll call it that) of slamming a bottle or two of MD 20/20 before a show. If you are one of the lucky ones to have escaped your youth uninitiated in the dark arts of MD 20/20 or Night Train, count yourself blessed. MD stands for Mogen David, but most folks know it affectionately as Mad Dog. MD 20/20 is a “fortified” wine that is popularly wrapped in paper bags and swilled by the down and out under rail road trestles. It is without a doubt the quickest, dirtiest, nastiest way to get a drunk on. At some point in my illustrious tenure in the Seattle music business, people began calling me Mad Dog. In jest of course. But not really. As much as I’d like to think it was because of my initials (Mark David), I can’t really hide from the brutally sharp lens of hindsight. I was a wreck. Problematically, I was a charismatic and often times effective wreck. But still, I was in a dark place.

There are two people that brought me out of my vortex of stupidity. One was a man named Dan, the owner of the Tractor Tavern in Ballard, Washington. The Tractor is one Seattle’s oldest performing venues and was just getting its feet on the ground in the early 90s. I was managing and playing in a band called Salamander and we played a number of gigs there. The Tractor was one of the few places where the owner handled the booking. Dan was a really down-to-earth guy who genuinely wanted to help nurture young acts. Over the three years I was in the business, I grew to like and respect Dan. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t remember me from Adam, but he did something that will keep him in my memory until I die. One night, he pulled me aside and told me that he was worried about me. I can’t recall his exact words, but the effect was that a man I respected called me out on the floor for my behavior, specifically my drinking. He didn’t shame me, he simply let me know that he was worried.

Around that same time period, I met Becca who is my long-suffering wife and best friend of 18 years. I met her the day I got out of the Army. Me in my high-and-tight military haircut, and she with her long hippy hair and patchwork pants. I still don’t know what she saw in me. I was equal parts driven, ambitious, laid back and laissez faire. And I drank too much. She came to shows. She danced and partied with us. She was beautiful and smart and witty and filled my heart with joy. And one night, she came to me in the middle of a club with lights and music and bodies and chaos and whispered in my ear “I think you drink too much.”

I think you drink too much.

Thats what she said, but what I heard was the subtext. I like you, but I can’t be with someone who doesn’t love or respect himself. I knew that I was going to lose her if I didn’t straighten up. And so I did. I tried to show through my actions what my heart knew to be true. I loved her and didn’t want her to leave me. I was capable of being the kind of man she could be with and count on. It must have worked because she didn’t leave. We got married. And I haven’t returned to that lifestyle since.

But, here’s the residual effect of my early actions. In those years, I clearly demonstrated that within me is the seed – the kind of seed that if left untended might grow into alcoholism. So, every couple of years, I may go through a period where I have a few drinks now and then… which becomes a few drinks a week. Which becomes a drink or two a night. And as the ritual goes, my wife will rightly call me on it. And I will say my part of the script, “a couple of drinks now and then isn’t cause for alarm.” And she says hers, “But I am alarmed and I want you to stop.” And I get boxed in. Any attempt on my part to justify drinking sounds like I’m auditioning for the role of alcoholic. Obviously, I don’t need to drink. And my past reflects onto my present making my explanations into justifications, rationales into excuses. And these conversations ultimately set the pendulum back the other direction.

I know I am not an alcoholic – not even a recovering alcoholic. Plain as day however, I am addicted to nicotine and food. Nicotine is controlled by the buproprion I take religiously. Food – well, if you’ve been reading since day one, I don’t need to explain. And likewise I don’t need to explain that it’s easy to draw a parallel between the behaviors of my past and those of my present. One of my biggest self-sins is telling stories that make my addiction seem benign. “I’ve been working out lately, so it’s okay to eat these two granola bars.” or “I could probably start drinking coffee with milk again, because I’ve been doing so well lately.”

Before you know it, I have spun a web of stories so vividly that I actually believe my own narrative. It is too vulgar to say that I am simply lying to myself. There is really an art to the kind of reality twisting I am capable of performing.

Well, story time is over – but not because the story is done. I’m still writing the damned thing obviously. I wish I could deliver a satisfying denouement, but I’m stuck with the old standby for now: to be continued…