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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Clean and sober: Olive enjoys music and a nonalcoholic drink at the Old Vic.

Straight Edge

Nondrinkers hit the bar-and-club scene

By Shelley Lawrence

MS. OLIVE, 28, is six feet tall with six piercings in her lip. Actually, she's got six small holes, because she took the piercings out a few years ago. Her hair is jet-black and down to her waist, braided into rags about a half-inch thick. Across her knuckles is tattooed the motto "LIVE FREE." By the time your eye has traveled up to her shoulder, it has seen "HELL" (on her wrist), "IRONY" (encased in flames), and a fleet of UFOs swarming between inky planets. The entire "sleeve" has been tattooed with a Swiss-cheese effect so that the whole scene appears to take place under the skin of her arm.

Her boyfriend, Sean, 29, is just as imposing. His jet-black hair is spiked stiffly all over his head, and he sports numerous tattoos as well as facial piercings, scars, and stretched ear-holes with metal tubes stuck through them.

Not your typical teetotalers, but both are members of a 12-step recovery program and do not drink or do any other drugs. They do, however, have a great time clubbing and bar-hopping sans hooch. They go to shows, preferably punk or rockabilly. They frequent bars with friends to hear live music or to shoot pool. Sean says it's easier to go out with friends from the program because the pressure to drink is lessened.

Olive tells me that if she's feeling shaky or feeling the urge to use, she'll stay home and cook or garden instead of going out, even if that means missing a show.

For 17 years, Sean used every drug he could, mainly heroin. He's been clean and sober now for five months. Olive has been clean for four years and 10 months after using heroin, alcohol, and other drugs for six and a half years.

She laughs at herself now, saying she's one of "those people" whom she used to scorn while getting high.

"And I like it!" she laughs when asked about her sobriety. "You would never have caught me going into a video store before. I'd be like 'How boring!' Drugs were my TV, that's just what I did before. I used to hate people who'd go and watch a movie on a Friday night.

"Now I've become that person, and I like it. I mean, you pay two bucks [for a video] and you have entertainment for 12 people for two hours!

"You can't beat that."

Sean never drank too much while he was getting high, and now sometimes wishes he could have a cold beer.

Olive did drink a lot--so much that she suffered alcohol poisoning, which led to her quitting drugs and alcohol.

When it comes to going to bars, Olive has "mixed emotions."

"I remember when it was fun other times going out," she says, "but now when I go out, I see people in bars being violent and aggressive. I don't care for drunks, unless I am one. Once recently, I saw this girl who'd been in the program and had relapsed. It was at a party at this punk-rock frat house. I really wanted to see her lying in a pool of her own vomit so I could think, 'Show me [drinking] doesn't work!' It just doesn't work.

"The party had been fun, and then she started this huge fight and it got ugly there."

BOTH SEAN and Olive do a lot to stay busy, be productive, and keep themselves from drinking. They are heavily involved in activist work: Olive volunteers for the Purple Berets, the Sonoma County women's rights organization; and Sean works with a radical environmental group.

Olive previously volunteered to work for the needle exchange in Berkeley, a program to stop the spread of disease among intravenous-drug users. The program offers free HIV tests, vaccinations against hepatitis A and B , clean needles in exchange for dirty ones, cleaning supplies for needles, condoms, and sex advice.

Sean still hangs out with people who use and drink, but has decided the lifestyle is no longer for him. Both Sean and Olive appreciate their fun now more that they are sober.

Olive says that they've relearned how to have fun.

"Being in the program, we've learned that recovery can kick ass. You've just got to meet people who have the same interests. The emotions that brought you to the program are the same. Even though everybody's situations are very different, the feelings behind them are the same--that's why we're all here in this place.

"That's what brought us here, and that's what matters."

Olive and Sean attend 12-step meetings three to seven times a week. Both say that the meetings are a social scene in their own right. Afterward, friends may congregate at an all-night diner for coffee and to pig out on greasy food.

Sometimes everybody winds up at Sean's house.

As Sean, Olive, and I leave the coffee shop where we've met for our interview, I notice that one of Sean's ears has a gaping hole in it, while the other sports a tribal "plug."

When I remark that he's missing an ornament, Sean just grins and answers, "Yeah, some drunk dude knocked it out of my ear in a bar last week."

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From the June 8-14, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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