addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, music, Recovery, Religion

The Codependent Love Songs of the 1970s.

I’ll be getting back to my sober DJ story soon enough, but for my first post of 2017 I wanted to share something a bit different.

Tommy Rosen, the founder of Recovery 2.0, shared a video on his Facebook page after his morning meditation which entailed pop culture, movies, the 1970s…the effect that those things have on children, and relates it to how he became an addict:

At first when he began talking about movies, he kinda lost me. I was thinking, whatever. Then he said something that made my jaw hit the floor. “You know what I grew with in the 1970s, if we’re really gonna be honest? I grew up with the codependent love songs of the 1970s.” Feels. (And doesn’t that sound like the title of one of those Time-Life greatest hits CDs?)

I remember the ballads, especially of the late 1970s/early 1980s. So many songs about unfulfilled and unrequited love. I remember hearing Dan Fogleberg’s “Same Old Lang Syne” as a 7 year old and crying…kids know. Kids understand more than you realize. I remember my mom teaching class late one night and not knowing when she would come home, and then hearing “Your Song” by Elton John. Balling. Missing my mom. (I was a sensitive little kid, I’ll admit. Not much has changed.)

I also remember the movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you saw the animated movie “Watership Down” as a kid, you know what I’m talking about. The movie “Kramer vs. Kramer” with Dustin Hoffman came out in 1979, and from the clips I saw on HBO it seemed that divorce was an epic event, with a big soundtrack, courtroom drama, parents yelling at one another and at the judge. Anytime I met a kid in elementary school whose parents were divorced, I felt deeply sorry for them. I imagined them in court with their parents, watching it all go down, and then having to take sides.

And then my parents actually divorced. And there was unfulfilled love, and anger, and infidelity and substance use between them. But other than the relatively few fights I saw – bad as they were – it was a very quiet process from my perspective. My dad told me my mom was moving out while I was watching Saturday morning cartoons. I never once set foot in a courtroom, never talked with an attorney. In fact, my mom told me that she had me live with my father because she knew that she was incapable of taking care of a child – that she thought he would’ve been better for me.

Like drunkenness, I learned that divorce too was very, very different from what was portrayed in the media. I accepted my mom’s version of the story for a long time, until I myself found recovery. I saw men and women, young and old, who’d just recently had their children taken away because of alcohol and drugs. I watched them in 12-step meetings claw, and grasp at every straw they could to hang on to sobriety, to get visitation back, to get their kids back, to be in their lives again. These were, by-and-large, people who didn’t have educations, people who simply did the best they could with what they had, some with extensive criminal records. Never in all my life had I seen a parent fight harder for their children.

You see videos of mothers and fathers in war-torn countries being re-united with their children after being separated, after being refugees for a decade, two decades, with no hope of ever seeing them. And a miracle happens and they are reunited. They are falling on the floor in tears, and the children are too. Wailing, weeping as though their lives depended on it.

My mother and father were both highly educated people. If I’m to believe my mother, she was invited to join Mensa at one point. Neither had criminal records. Even with all that, I began to feel once again like I had been “given up,” in early recovery, at age 36 after over 20 years had passed. The feelings stay there. You can’t deal with them until you face them head on.

You have to wonder what kind of force is so powerful that it decimates the instinctual bond between a parent and child. It’s not alcohol, it’s not drugs. Those are just symptomatic. As Tommy is noted for saying (and I agree 100%), the root of addiction is trauma. The trauma that occurred in my mother’s life when she was young, which was in turn a result of trauma that her parents had, and so forth. At no point did anyone put the brakes on it, because our “no crying in baseball” culture doesn’t believe in feelings – talking about them, expressing them or recovering from them. One county in Georgia even banned schools from teaching mindfulness because of the influences of “eastern religion.”

Look at who we elected president, for god’s sake.

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(no, we didn’t elect dan fogelberg)

When you experience divorce, suddenly everything that happened before you see through a new lens. Nothing was right, everything was wrong. Of course the whole thing fell apart. Dan Fogleberg was right. “She’d like to say she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie.” And any happy song immediately became a lie. Hearing all those old songs made me even more emotional than they had when I was a kid, so my tastes gradually shifted away from even 1980s pop to the angriest, loudest music I could find. It was my only defense mechanism.

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(the loudest, angriest music I could find…)

Alcohol and drugs came much later, because watching my mother did make me afraid of their power for a time. But I was addicted to all sorts of things before that. Credit cards. Relationships. Materialism. Even the anger that I carried with me I was addicted to, in a way, because it was mine. It was something no one could take from me. Like the NIN classic Head Like a Hole, “no you can’t take it, no you can’t take that away from me…head like a hole / black as your soul / I’d rather die than give you control.”

Tommy concludes with observations about the media our kids are seeing today… “I’m not even sure what’s going to happen to our children today…the jury is not in yet, we hope that we can get our kids excited about the magic of life without dooming them to… a life of seeking through the outside world to create some bizarre reality…” The jury is still out. We don’t know.

I agree with what Tommy is saying. I also agree that I am 100% percent responsible for my actions. I can’t blame anyone but myself for what I did in active addiction, and I certainly don’t blame pop culture. What I do believe is that art, music, and media are a lens into our culture, an expression of it’s own reality. It may seem bizarre, and frightening, much like the gangster rap of the early 1990s was to suburban parents. But our art tells a story about us.

And if it’s any indication of what we’re feeling as a culture, I give you a lyric from one of the most popular songs of 2016…by the Chainsmokers:

“I think I’m losing my mind now

It’s in my head, darling I hope

That you’ll be here, when I need you the most

So don’t let me, don’t let me, don’t let me down”

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addiction, Consequences, music, Recovery, Rock, Uncategorized

On 2016, Sentiment, and Loss.

2016, like years past, has been full of it. It’s all over our news, our Facebook feeds, our 24-hour news cycles, our pushed updates.

Loss.

I’m nothing if not sentimental. I have a tragically good long-term memory, and tend to remember the good and the bad in equally vivid measure. I’m also a pack-rat, keeping every correspondence with people I’ve known, some of whom are no longer with us, and some who I lost contact with years ago.

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(correspondence)

If love could be measured in terms of that correspondence, then I am the most loved person of all. Hundreds, maybe thousands of letters, from college friends, my grandparents, loved ones from years ago are stored in plastic bins which I’ve organized over the years. As I’ve been putting together my book, I’ve been going through my old journals and letters to read what was going on at a particular time in my life – to make sure I have the facts straight. Or at the very least, my interpretation of events at the time.

It has been a journey full of surprises, a teaching tool for me in both in terms of my recovery from substance use disorder, and in terms of understanding how my life in general has unfolded.

It is also one of my defense mechanisms against loss. That person, that event, that thing I loved may be gone, or missing, or estranged. But the piece that worked, the love, the friendship, the enlightenment as it was documented and saved, will be with me as long as I have the capacity to maintain it.

Regarding 2016, I see a lot of false bravado on Facebook, the same kind you find all over internet chat rooms, message boards, and social networks. The irreverent, blasé angsty name-calling and deprecation that has long been a part of adolescent youth culture (which even “adults” are now engaging in.) “You didn’t know George Michael/Prince/David Bowie, so why are crying like a baby?” I even see people doing it with Carrie Fisher, who passed today at the age of 60. “Princess Leia’s dead. So what?” (and these are some of the nicer posts I’ve seen). I could also delve into the more existential “losses” felt by any person or social group negatively affected by Donald Trump’s victory, but I covered that in a different thread.

Then there’s this one: “2016 didn’t suck. People die ever year.” True enough.

And yet it is the great defense mechanism of our culture. It didn’t hurt me, therefore I’m not affected. Therefore, you shouldn’t be either. Every year sucks, so why care, why be shocked, why be sad?

I really don’t need to talk about what kind of impact Star Wars has had on my life. I didn’t weep when Carrie Fisher died, but I certainly “felt” it. The writer of “Watership Down,” Richard Adams, passed away also. It was made into a very disturbing, violent and sad animated film my parents allowed me to watch as a child. I hesitate to watch it again, and I never read the book. However, I felt the emotional knock at the door when I read about his passing.

Then there’s George Michael. As a musician, I feel it when another musician has passed. Because I know what it is to write music. You live life very much like an open nerve ending. You have to learn how to govern what you take in over time, how to process it – the pain and joy alike – or it will consume you. For many years, it did consume me. I sought ways both healthy and unhealthy to redirect and numb myself from it. As it seems like George Michael did also.

I knew of “Wham” peripherally when I was a child. I was 10 or 11 when “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” came on MTV, and I hated it. It was another in a series of throwback “doo-wop” music for baby boomers who were “30-something” at the time. But in 1987, when his “Faith” album came out, my parents’ divorce was in high gear, and all the awfulness associated with it. Much of the music of 1986-1988 reminds me of that very dark time in my life. “Faith,” “One More Try,” “Monkey,” and “Kissing A Fool” were all songs that stuck with me. I didn’t really pay attention to the music he wrote that came after, except for “Freedom ’90” (solely due to the music video and the supermodels all lip-syncing his vocal parts). But that music produced emotions as vivid in me as I did when I was the scared angry kid that heard them.

My appreciation for “pop” music left after that, and my musical tastes did a complete 180…to Queensryche, to Metallica, and Anthrax…and the even heavier and heavier music it spawned in the decade to come.

So I didn’t know George Michael. I never attended a single concert. But his music had a long and lasting impact on me which I “felt” when I saw that he had passed. And to insinuate that I or anyone else shouldn’t “feel” something because I didn’t know him personally? That you believe – because social media is just one great extension of both the telephone game and a high school classroom – you have say-so over the emotions I feel and the emotions I carry simply because you have a mouthpiece?

Go fuck yourself. 

This event, this moment, this person meant something to me. And someday, you will hit a wall where you also will lose something of value. Because that’s life. I can promise you I won’t be there to tell you “how it is” simply because I’m insecure with what I believe.

Much of life is something we have to “feel” our way through. There’s the pain, then you embrace it, feel it, allow it in, then let it wash away. Because all emotions eventually run their course.

I will not allow myself to become jaded ever again, to hold back because emotional expression isn’t “cool,” or warranted in our culture. If something means something to me, I will allow myself to feel it and express what I choose in the way that I choose. And I won’t blame you for doing likewise. I expect the same respect in return.

Because to do anything else is disingenuous. 

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Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Election, Religion

On Trump, and Religion.

The election of Donald Trump has pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks from blogging about either music or recovery. I’ve had a few sleepless nights, like many folks, and am trying to come to terms with everything. In the week or so since, a lot has happened, so I’d like to focus on one particular event.

My girlfriend – one of the most kindhearted and non-confrontational people I have ever known – posed a question on her Facebook page (always a dangerous move) after the election. Essentially: how could a person who identified as a Christian support a candidate like Trump, whose hate-filled rhetoric ostensibly goes against everything Jesus taught?

Before going further, I have a history with Christianity that I need to come clean with.

Following my parents’ divorce, I became depressed. I was failing the 8th grade, I was shop-lifting, I was lying about everything. Rather than put me in therapy, my father and I started going to church (as much for him as for me). My dad has always hated doctors and I’m guessing this was the only solution he could understand or trust. In any case, when I turned 16 I began going to a different church with some of my friends. I wanted a church of my own to go to. I accepted Christ (i.e. “got saved”) at this church, and my freshman year in college I became a member.

The former pastor of that church had this to say in his blog, about his early experiences as a young minister founding a new church:

“While I was in the ministry, I was deeply troubled by the ability of otherwise intelligent people to tenaciously embrace beliefs that were patently absurd…For example, there were those who believed passionately that the world was only 6000 years old, despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. Others would walk confidently into my office and tell me that God had told them the future, making specific predictions that never came true. Undaunted, they would confidently make even more outlandish prognostications, ones that would eventually prove false, as well. Nevertheless, they still refused to re-examine their belief system…

The most salient example of this phenomenon was the small group of faith healing aficionados in the congregation. Some of them carried vials of olive oil with them to dab on the foreheads of ailing people before proclaiming them healed. When the “healed” person later died, they would simply move on to their next patient, insisting that death was a form of ultimate healing, one that ended all pain and suffering, and that their prayers had been answered after all. It amazed me how quickly (and conveniently) they forgot that their prayer had been for the person to be restored to health and go home to their jobs and families, not to be taken immediately to heaven. If they felt uncomfortable with this obvious discrepancy, they never said anything about it to me. Rather, when I questioned them about the effectiveness of their methods and the genuineness of their healings, they explained away the facts and doubted my faith.”

I experienced my own disillusionment within that church. While working as a youth field staffer, one of my responsibilities was phone duty. We maintained a list of all the kids who came to the church regularly, and tracked from week to week who was in attendance. If someone had been there the week before, but was absent that day, we were to call the number they provided us with to check up on them. I was about as good at cold-calling for Jesus as I was selling fruit for my high school marching band, and hated it to the core.

For that matter, so did most of the parents I called. They would say, “He/she is home. They didn’t want to go. Why are you bothering us?” And that’s a very pleasant way of rephrasing it. They would then ask to be removed from the list. In fact, most of the parents who left their kids with us didn’t seem too interested in whether or not it was religious in nature. They just wanted to get their kids out of the house for an hour or two and not be bothered.

I heard and saw this sentiment expressed over and over again by many of the kids I talked to – “kids” who were barely 3-4 years younger than I was. As if I had any business spiritually mentoring anyone at that point in my life. But I was the one they talked to. Everyone else told them to “read the bible.” I would actually tell them my *life experience* – what we call sharing our “experience, strength and hope” in 12-step recovery. Telling someone to “stick their nose in a book” is no different than Dr. Jan’sI love you, go away” ACOA message. When you’re on the receiving end, it’s not easy to parse.

To be fair, the kids didn’t seem too unhappy to get out of the house. Quite a few of them would walk to the back of the building and smoke weed or do “whippets” – either aerosol cans from the grocery store, or whipped cream canisters containing N20 – which create a 30-60sec long “head-rush” when inhaled. Once, the youth pastor called the police on a kid. It was probably only the second time in my life I’d seen someone using substances other than alcohol. Behind a church. So much for being sheltered.

Then the youth leaders began to question my music choices. As I’ve said in previous blog entries, the early 1990s were a great time to be an angry young man. And legitimately, I had a lot to be angry about – I just kept up the illusion on the outside that I wasn’t in any pain. I attended bible study, church, did well in the classes I was motivated to do well in (really not too different from my attitude in high school). I’d pull up in the parking lot listening to Alice In Chains, or Pantera, or Slayer, or some of the early industrial rock I had discovered like KMFDM. Many of them would try to introduce me to Christian bands which were “soundalikes,” just with religious lyrics. I always preferred the old hymns, sung by a choir, played on an old pipe organ.

The final nail in that coffin was when a youth minister approached me after finding out I’d gone to Lollapalooza in 1993. She took me aside and told me, flat out, that she didn’t think Jesus would’ve gone with me. I was completely taken aback and enraged. I stopped wearing preppie clothes to field staff meetings. I started wearing my hair down instead of in a pony tail, started wearing my metal t-shirts, and kicked my feet up on chairs during the meetings. And then I simply stopped going. I think I might’ve mentioned to one of the other field staffers that I was contemplating it – but really I was there, and then i wasn’t.

My former pastor concludes his blog entry with this
“But illusions need not be of a religious nature. As a pastor, I was merely in a position to observe closely the resistance to objective reality that existed in some devout people.”

What I began to see in the ensuing years was that “resistance to objective reality” becoming more and more widespread, specifically among devout people.

My father – a professor of counselor education – had in his toolkit a puppet called DUSO the Dolphin. DUSO was an acronym which stood for “Developing an Understanding of Self and Others.” For some reason I had this image of my dad sitting in an elementary classroom, talking to children with a hand-puppet. It always made me smile, thinking of him talking in funny voices and being kind to little kids. I don’t know if he ever actually did that, but it seems DUSO became a “desperate threat.” From the New York Times, 1993 (my sophomore year in college):

“The most frequently challenged curriculums in public schools across the country no longer involve sex-education programs or classic novels like “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” according to a national anti-censorship organization. The new battlegrounds are elementary school self-esteem programs whose imaginary central characters include a blue dragon named Pumsy and a dolphin named Duso.

“Local groups, relying in many cases on information distributed by conservative religious organizations, have challenged “Pumsy in Pursuit of Excellence” in at least 35 school districts around the country, said Matt Freeman, a spokesman for People for the American Way.

“Uproar over the program, which is used in about 17,000 schools, has also provided a key issue for grass-roots religious organizations seeking to place their candidates on local school boards, Mr. Freeman said.

“Opponents of Pumsy and similar self-esteem programs, which in part are anti-drug measures and are thus mandated for districts receiving Federal money, contend that children are being introduced to Eastern religion, the occult, ‘New Age’ spiritualism and relaxation techniques they characterize as hypnosis.”

(Did you catch that? ANTI. DRUG. MEASURES. Take away a child’s ability to center, mediate and be at peace and they will be at-risk for drugs and alcohol, especially in poor neighborhoods. Of course, they’ll run right into the arms of the church when they’re desperate – which is exactly what was intended.)

It would be another 10 years (2003) before I’d ever darken the doors of a church again. I had lost a relationship and a job, was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate. I listened to what my father had always said, and found a new church home upon moving to a new city for a job. I had also just been convicted for the first time in my life of DUI, so if I’d been smart I would’ve chosen to go to a 12-step meeting and quit drinking. Instead, I stumbled upon another evangelical church whose members referred to themselves as “sippin’ saints.” It is no lie when they say that an alcoholic can find the drinkers anywhere they go.

This church had its own brand of extremism. In Bible studies one of the texts that was taught was “Answers in Genesis,” the Young-Earth Creationism program created by Ken Ham (yes, THE Ken Ham of the Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate back in 2014). Also, many of the churchgoers I ate Sunday lunch with would heckle the openly gay and lesbian couples they saw on the street. I could not abide this. I wouldn’t be a “jerk for Jesus,” nor would I hurl insults at people in whom I saw no wrongdoing.

After finding a job in my hometown a year and a half later, I moved back and haven’t attended a church since. I also got sober during that time and found a spiritual life far more rich, accepting and tolerant than any I found in an established “church.” I cannot over-emphasize how much of a role sobriety played in my becoming clear-headed.

————

Now that you understand my biases, I return to my girlfriend’s genuine Facebook post.

One of her former church friends posted the following rant in response (not edited for spelling,  grammar or contradiction):
“It has been prophesied by many that this is where he [Trump] is supposed to be at this time. He is far from perfect as many Christians are. He did give his life to Christ several months back. The media and Hillary have made him out to be something he is not. The “racist”, “womanizer” & more. He is the closest candidate aligning with God’s wills. As paster Mike spoke about on Sunday. Abortion is not of God. That simple. She is for it. He is against it. We need real drastic change and Christians have been coming together and praying for it. He is going to bring it. Check out some prophecy videos online. Some recent and some dating back a ways. He wants people here legally. He wants to change our economy. He wants to protect our lives from terrorism. Unfortunately. . The majority of illegal immigrants are Hispanic. The majority of terrorism comes from Muslims. So we need drastic radical change. Its not going to happen over night and I feel he will give opportunities to become a citizen the right way…And the woman… not women.. he called all those names was only.. Rosie O’Donnell. That was many years ago after she bad mouthed him publicly…Rich Vera .. John Paul Jackson .. CK & Mike Thompson .. and Kat Kerr .. All well known prophets.. all said the same.”

My response:
“People are often subject to confirmation bias – the human tendency to use new information or evidence to give validation to our existing beliefs. It is no more evidence of God’s will than me running into the street and claiming that *i* had a vision. There is no such thing as prophesy – you have been sold a bill of goods by people attempting to profit on your sincere faith (of which I have no doubt). Jesus says it best in Matt 7:15-20 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits…I promise you, not today, not next week, not even when Trump is sworn in…but soon, you’ll know him by his fruits. And when you do, see it for what it is, and don’t dismiss it. The message, the lesson, will be right there plain as day.”

Her response (verbatim):
“The prophets that have made these prophecies are not false prophets. Im sorry you have never had an encounter with the Holy Spirit to know that prophesy is very real and it is one of the 5 fold gifts of the spirit from God. These well known prophets all heard from God that Trump would be in the White House. Whatever preconceived notion that you have of Trump from the media is false, right along with a little less than half of this country. I have first hand seen prophesy come to pass…Trump is not a racist. He wants people here legally. That includes all races. Most illegals just happen to be Mexican. ALSO Muslim is not a race.. it is far fetched that he wants Muslims out.. but unfortunately.. the majority of terrorism comes from Muslims. sooo we got to do what we got to do to protect us.. The US.. The media made him look racist. Trump did not mock the reporters disability. Look it up!!!…Mainly.. Trump gave his life over to the Lord recently and thats what is most important. JUST WAIT and see.. you have no choice but to.. or you can just move out of the country :)”

For my girlfriend, this was not the end of the story. She plays piano for a small church (a paying gig for her, nothing to do with faith of any kind), and after the most recent service, an attendee who had seen her Facebook post approached her saying, “I’m one of the ‘basket of deplorables’ who voted for Trump” and proceeded to chastise her – despite the fact my girlfriend voted for neither Clinton nor Trump. She came home in tears after the service, and is now considering leaving the job.

My former “paster” from the 2nd church I attended also posted a snide comment on my timeline the day after the election, saying that now I would know how he’s “felt for the last eight years.” Take note, this is not a white working-class individual. This is a straight, white male who came from considerable privilege, who clearly also believes that Trump is the fulfillment of some modern-day prophesy.

“Or you can just move out of the country.” Smiley-face.

Go to hell and God bless.

This is what it’s come to. I love you, go away.

So I now pose my own question(s) for the religious right, those who voted for Trump despite his hateful rhetoric, despite his clearly immoral behavior (behavior which they’re all-to-happy to point out in candidates from other political parties), despite his clear love of money.

First, how do you account for the Apostle Paul’s statement to his followers in Romans 12:18?
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”

Live peaceably, with ALL human beings. Seems like a pretty clear message.

What about Matthew 5:9, one of Jesus’ beatitudes?
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

There’s that word peace again. And the people who make it seem to be pretty important!

Or what about Jesus driving the money-lenders from the temple in John 2:13-16:
“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.”

If you believe that Trump is prophesied to bring about the 2nd coming – a man who has been interviewed sitting on a throne of gold in his high-rise in Manhattan – then I hope you’re prepared to allow the money changers back in.

Because in my estimation, you too have betrayed your faithand for far less than 30 pieces of silver.

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Altruism, Consequences, Election, Recovery

Change.

Change is the only constant I’ve known in my life. Just when I thought things were stable, going okay, consistent – that’s the moment I had the rug pulled out from under me. Every damned time, from childhood up to now.

So here is a hard truth: you cannot vote for change. Change is a force of nature, neither serving the good nor the bad. It happens in direct response to our actions. It is neither a bolt of lightning from the sky or a magic wand. It is a simple consequence of personal choices. Some of those choices lead to the positive, others to the negative.

I used to not deal with change in healthy ways. Often times, I found more and more creative ways to destroy myself because of someone else’s bad decisions or mistakes. The “other” was either out to get me, or the “other” was who would save me. I was never to blame for my own potential demise.

Then I almost did meet my demise. I saw death in the headlights quite clearly.

And it was at that moment of decision it dawned on me: I am responsible for myself and my actions. Likewise, I am not responsible for anyone else, though I might alternatively wish to save and/or suffocate people depending on the day. The people who hurt me have most likely been hurting themselves for years. They have their own crosses to bear.

Eight years ago, I voted for hope and change – and I can tell you the measure of change I got wasn’t the measure I was promised. So if you voted for change yesterday, I feel for you. Truly. I don’t blame you for feeling left out, and you certainly made your voices heard. I can tell you, however, that the measure you want will not be the measure you get. Despite your best intentions to vote for a candidate outside the system, they are now a part of the system, working for a party and on behalf of leaders who have stymied the legislative process for at least the last 4 years if not longer. Most of them are still in office.

It’s the system that’s broken. Nothing will change until you begin making promises to yourself, and then keeping them…

I will treat my family better.

I will manage my money and my resources better.

I will navigate difficulty with my head up.

I will learn to navigate the new world we live in without fear.

If you don’t know what to tell your children, tell them these things. Do good when those around you do bad. Help when you can. Fight when you must.

When they go low, we go high.

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, DJ, Electronic Dance Music, Grunge, Recovery, Rock

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part Two.

When last we left our hero, there were 9 boxes of CDs all sitting in the living room of his apartment. Now he had to figure out something to do with them. Here’s what happened…

How to not come even CLOSE to selling 1000 CDs, but figure out other cool stuff to do with them.

The music world in 1998 was a much different place. There was no Napster, no iTunes, and very few electronic devices that could play MPEG Layer 3 (or MP3 files). The internet at that time was still very much like the wild west. There was SO much contact information for record labels, music supervisors, recording studios just floating around free, including email addresses. Encryption was a joke. No one gave it much thought.

By necessity, if you wanted to sell music, you had to get your CDs in stores. I landed a pretty sweet arrangement with a regional college record store chain called Record Exchange which allowed breakup to be sent to all their stores, as well as nearby college radio stations. I learned about the deal (getting featured on a compilation) from a local print zine, which had an email address listed. I didn’t have to pay for it, they curated the compilation and chose one of my songs. I’ve never done “pay-to-play” in my life and never will.

My first experiences with drugs other that alcohol took place between the years 1996-1998. I tried MDMA/Ecstasy a total of four times, it only sort of worked once. I smoked pot a handful of times, but I never felt “stoned.” The only drug I experimented with where I got a definite high was off mushrooms, and it was horrible. Mostly because the guy who’d given them to me/us (I had done them with a group of friends) was not a very good guy, and seemed to enjoy watching us freak out. I never saw him again save for that one time.

Always concerned about the illegality of drugs vs. alcohol, I decided to stick with alcohol. It would be the last time I’d experiment with illicit drugs of any kind for almost a decade.

I also began DJ-ing during this time, and learned the first rule of DJ-ing the hard way: if you want to be taken seriously, you have to DJ the same format (read: technology) everyone else is using. At the time, it was vinyl. Vinyl was still *the* format for nightclub DJs everywhere, all the way down to local and regional rave DJs.

I wanted to do something different, because I wanted to be able to play my *original* music in my sets in addition to other music, and vinyl wasn’t very cost-effective to press up. So I took out a loan and bought Pioneer CDJs. A CDJ is to a compact disc what a vinyl turntable is to a 12-inch dance record. It allows you to beat match tempos, find cue points, and in a primitive way, “scratch.” But at that time, they got a bad rap. There was a lot of misinformation about them, claims that “they do all the hard work for you.” “They automatically sync the music together” (which most DJ controllers and software do nowadays by default – and no one bats an eye).

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But worst of all, in the minds of teenage boys, it wasn’t “keeping it real.” How a kid from suburban North Raleigh with a record player and some records could call out another kid from suburban North Raleigh for not “keeping it real” is beyond me. With a few exceptions, the local DJs I dealt with at that time were elitist dicks. In all my travels in the EDM scene I have rarely seen “PLUR” in action. Just a bunch of assholes playing other people’s music who wanted the drugs and chicks for themselves while waving the banner of “integrity.” They also needed somebody to clown on, and that person became me. I rarely got booked my first year DJ-ing, and it was not fun. And since no one bothered to take me aside and help me learn, I also wasn’t very good. As with all things, I learned the hard way – and on my own.

So I tried a different approach. I was reading CNN and found an article about a music industry “tastemaker” named Braden Merrick, who’d started a website called Redbutton.com. His site hand-picked artists to feature, and according to the CNN article, label A&R representatives were following him very closely. If you were selected, he would feature your song on his site, and would also allow users to purchase your song for $1.99 as an MP3 download (brand new concept at the time).

Braden would go on to manage a band called The Killers. You may have heard of them.

In any case, I was working for IBM at the time as a graphics contractor – meaning we did presentation graphics for the sales team. We were second-class citizens, paid less, looked down on by full-time IBM’ers (who were experiencing the effects of layoffs and outsourcing). We were required to use Microsoft Powerpoint’s IBM knockoff for this task, Lotus Freelance. The software was awful, but only 1-2 hours of any given week involved any kind of actual work. During the remainder I searched for music contacts, taught myself HTML, and ate free filet mignon brought up to us as “leftovers” from sales briefings. It was a cushy job to say the least. Why I didn’t simply stay there and milk it for all it was worth is a mystery, but I’ll get into that later.

I found Braden’s email address, and reached out to him about my CD. I had a very primitive website up which had RealAudio samples of some of my tracks to preview. He wrote me back with an address, and I mailed him a CD. Once he received the CD, he said he’d listen and let me know over the weekend whether or not RedButton would be featuring the CD.

Needless to say, it was selected and became the highlight of my press kit. They picked “Proton Girl” to feature, did a nice review of it and gave it prime placement.

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A few weeks went by, and nothing. I became deeply depressed.

Then I came into the office and saw a “While You Were Out” note (similar to this one) on my desk:

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You can imagine my surprise. My officemates were just as surprised and excited for me. I called Chris back. Apparently he’d heard my material on that Redbutton site, and wanted to license my music on MTVs Real World – the hot reality show of the day, and still several years ahead of “Survivor.”

Moby, one of my main musical influences, had released his “Play” album that year, and all of his songs from that album had been licensed for radio, commercials, movies, etc. An underground electronic artist from my youth was finally getting his due because of a very smart marketing decision. So I understood all too well the importance of music publishing and licensing.

Chris showed me how licensing worked, how to join ASCAP and get paid for my music getting played on-air. My music ended up being used on Real World Hawaii first – here’s the video clip:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGBGaEhcLfw

I got my first check from ASCAP a few months later. $250 for less than 60 seconds of airplay, of a song I had composed in 15 minutes in the studio close to two years prior. I was blown away. I realized at that moment that my primary source of income wouldn’t be from DJ-ing, but my original productions. And I had just put together my first home studio, so it was time to get to work…

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(My studio set-up, circa 1999)

Since no one would book me to DJ, I would go back to the only thing I knew well: live performance. My friend Jason, who had played drums in my band SGO during college, joined me on drums while I sequenced music in my computer and played live guitars and keyboard. A good friend booked us for our first live show – “Rapture” in Asheville. We were supposed to go on at 12am, but our set ended up getting pushed back. Everyone at the party, including the promoter was on drugs of some kind. Everyone but me (I’d had a few beers – okay fine, that’s a drug).

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When our set finally took place at almost 5am, Jason and I were both beat to shit. But we pulled it off. Half the crowd danced their asses off, the other half just stared at Jason in disbelief, at how fast he was playing. It was something.

I wish I had pictures of it, but sadly this was in the days before iPhone cameras existed. We had no video of the performance, no photos, no nothing. If it wasn’t for the fact that I had close friends there who were involved in the show, I wouldn’t have believed myself that it happened. The only photos I have are of Jason and I rehearsing for that show.

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Our friend who had offered us a place to crash after the gig was nowhere to be found. So we drove back to Raleigh the same day. I nearly passed out behind the wheel. I got home, unloaded my car, and slept for almost 18 hours.

Because my music had been used on MTVs Real World, my album “breakup” could be featured online at a music retailer called CDNow. But I had to first secure a distribution deal with an online “middleman” that would allow me to place “Breakup” in retail stores, both online and brick-and-mortar. This company was called “The Orchard.” Just because your music is in a major retail store, however, doesn’t mean it will sell. Unless there’s an end-cap somewhere with a big “DJ FM” sign and a listening station, “breakup” was sorted alphabetically among hundreds of other nondescript artists. Looked pretty cool, though.

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In any case, my life was taking another turn. I had flown to Los Angeles with Jason during the summer of 1999, to attempt to shop our demos with labels and reconnect with some of my former school of design friends who lived in West Hollywood. Mostly we drank a lot and partied, both in San Diego and Los Angeles, but I made it out to see where my former design friends were working – the Museum of Contemporary Art. I looked at the work they were doing and became jealous. Here I was, sitting behind a desk doing shitty Powerpoint presentations, and my friends were doing all this amazing work. I went home jealous and envious.

I ended up leaving my job with IBM for another company down the road. It was a good job, with slightly better pay, but I didn’t have the same freedom that I did at IBM. I wanted what my friends in Los Angeles had – a graphic designer career putting my skills to good use. During that time I began dating a young woman long-distance in Baltimore whom I had been friends with for close to a year and a half. We hadn’t really planned on dating long-distance, but we seemed to fall for each other hard. She’d spend every other weekend in North Carolina, and I’d spend every other weekend in Maryland.

I had a great life in North Carolina. I was now roommates with my producer, Tom. He lived in a house near Five Points in Raleigh which was a quiet neighborhood. I’d left a bad roommate situation to move there, and it was the first real peace I’d had in months. I would come home, usually with a six-pack or 12-pack of Heineken, sit out on the front porch and sip a beer, listening to the wind chimes on the porch. Tom would get home late from the studio, we’d go grab steaks, fire up the grill and work on music until 2-3 in the morning. I’d go to work the next day hungover, but happy. It wasn’t the most healthy routine, but it was a routine. And for awhile it worked.

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(Netscrape Navigator GOLD son!)

My album “breakup” continued to do well for me during this time. It had been featured on Abercrombie and Fitch’s website. It had gotten reviewed by over 15 different online “zines” and had also gotten a mention in CMJ (College Music Journal). I had an assembly line in my bedroom closet – press materials, 8×10 photo, CD, and cover letter – so that whenever I found a new contact to send the album to I could put it together a mailer in minutes. I sent out hundreds of them, and must’ve spent hundreds on postage, if not thousands. I even entered “breakup” in a competition and won a Sennheiser microphone that I still have today:

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Jason and I played a 2nd live show at a venue called Local 506 in Chapel Hill. Again, this is the pre-iPhone era. No one had cameras. There might’ve been a video camera somewhere. My girlfriend from Baltimore had driven down to be at the show, Jason’s little brother…but no cameras. No photos. Or if there were photos, or cameras, none got footage of us. According to crowd reaction, we had put on another good show…but how could I prove to record labels that I could pull this thing off live if I had nothing to show for it?

I began to feel pressured. I was tired of driving to Baltimore to see my girlfriend, tired of going long periods of time without seeing her. So, in typical Adult Child of an Alcoholic fashion, I dropped everything I was doing, found a new job in Baltimore, and left to be with her. Everyone I knew tried to convince me it was a bad idea, that she wasn’t ready, she was afraid of commitment. My two best friends did. My parents (arguably, not masters of romantic relationships) did.

A week after I moved, she dumped me.

Two months after I moved, I lost my job.

I was up to my eyeballs in credit card debt and unable to pay rent. I’d never seen such a cascade failure in all my life, an really had no clue how to navigate it. I spent several months interviewing for jobs and drinking myself to death.

Six months after I moved, 9/11 happened.

I moved back to North Carolina after that with my tail tucked between my legs. Music was all I had left. I had been talking back and forth with a guy named Keith about cross promoting his rave production company (2AM Management) and my music. He then invited me to play at his artist showcase that November in Springfield, MA at a club called The Asylum. He said he had hired a video company (TranzTV Visuals) to record footage – cameras would be placed at all angles around the stage. They’d be producing a DVD.

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(The Asylum)
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(The Event Flyer)

This was it. This was the opportunity I’d been waiting for. A big club, a big crowd, lots of cameras. All I needed was a few minutes of footage in that setting to showcase what we were capable of. Broke, jobless, living upstairs in my mother’s office/guest room, I began remixing/re-sequencing the songs (including some new ones, like “I Believe“) so that they would flow together like a DJ set would. I chose which parts I would play live and which I would sequence as backing tracks. It was a blast.

Then my lead vocalist flaked. Then my drummer flaked!

No matter! I wouldn’t be deterred. This was my career! So I found a replacement drummer, and Tom’s girlfriend at the time agreed to sing. I borrowed $400 from my mom to rent a minivan to drive up in. I agreed to pay everyone’s way including the hotel – and man was it a shit hole. But it was still a hotel.

After much haggling, after driving 12 hours, after load in and setting up – we played. We did our best. For one hour, I got to see 1500 kids dancing to music I had written. There were mistakes, the power even cut off – but fortunately my laptop battery was charged, so the music sequence continued to run and when the power came back, the music didn’t even skip a beat. We lost power and kept going.

That was the moment for me. Everything I’d been working towards for 3-5 years, wrapped up into one hour. I even sold a few CDs in the crowd after the show. We went back to the hotel room, and I think I slept maybe 2-3 hours. We drove 12 hours back to North Carolina the next day, but it was all a blur to me.

All I needed was that video. That was my whole reason for doing the show.

A month went by. Two months. 6 months. Rumors about the video company not being paid by the promoters (a real shock in the rave scene), miscommunications. The video guy, who’d been good about writing me, stopped. I called a time or two, he answered once. Nothing. NO VIDEO.

Life started crumbling around me. My drinking was getting worse, and I had moved into my own apartment which my grandparents chipped in money for, but I had no job, no money coming in, my unemployment was running out. I ended up pawning my DJ gear, my PA system, my amp, just to pay my credit cards. Thousands of dollars of musical equipment, sold for a few hundred bucks.

It was 2002, and music career was at a standstill.

And all my copies of “breakup” were gone.

What next? Stay tuned…

See what came last … or go back to Part One

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Recovery

My Story, Part Four.

Not. Fucking. Guilty.

I left the courtroom, walked to my car, put my head against the steering wheel and cried. The two biggest obstacles to my recovery (in my mind) – the legal charges and the hospital bill – were now over and done with. A year and a half later.

I called my mom and told her the news. It was over.

I drove back home. My sense of relief was overwhelming.

It was a miracle…

…so I smoked weed with my girlfriend. And that is the truth. Not an hour after the end of my trial.

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Relapse.

They say relapse starts way before you pick up – and I believe them.

My end goal the first time around in the recovery had been to get back to where I had been before, just better. I had achieved all that. Back with the girlfriend, DJ-ing again, money problems overcome, health problems overcome.

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The problem is that where substances are involved, you can’t simply walk back into your old life. You must change your life, and start anew – especially if your circumstances were as desperate as mine. Some people are able to go back to drinking in moderation. Others have been able to kick elicit drugs, yet still drink alcohol with no issues. I don’t begrudge them, because I recognize that addiction is a spectrum.

But that is not me.

Sure, the things that happened to me as a kid were awful, and needed to be addressed. They weren’t. No one had shown me how to manage my own money. No one had shown me effective ways of coping with my anxiety. The people I counted on the most had basically run for the hills to tend to their own wounds. I was left to tend to mine on my own as well. I now deal with that pain, and learn to cope with it one day at a time through a variety of (healthy) means.

But I had destroyed my life. No one did that to me, but me.

For better or worse, once you reach a certain age no one cares about your problems. The assumption is that when you’re an “adult” somehow you’ve figured it out – or can at least fake it well enough to not be a public nuisance. Faking it carries its own set of problems, but jail time is generally not one of them.

My girlfriend had always had marijuana in the house, as well as a small stash of LSD and mushrooms which were left over from Burning Man. Prior to recovery, I wasn’t much of a pot smoker – primarily a drinker who used downers to come down after using hallucinogens. I didn’t smoke daily at first, but we learned that one of her performer friends was a dealer, so we began buying from her. Then I began buying on my own, weekly. All told I spent over $8,000 on weed over the course of a year and a half.

Things on the home front were rough, marijuana notwithstanding. My girlfriend, filling the role of the perfect co-dependent, attempted to control everything I did and every move I made. I had to maintain a spreadsheet of all my expenses and money owed her, to the tune of close to $2,500. She also made me add daily expenses to that spreadsheet, especially anything she bought “for the house” and split those evenly. So even as I paid down my debt to her, the tab was perpetually increasing. There was no hope of getting out from under it.

What began as an amend began to feel like indentured servitude.

I was unable to find steady graphic design work at first, taking every contract position I saw on craigslist and collecting unemployment in between. When I was unemployed, my girlfriend had a list of tasks she expected me to accomplish while she was at work. I would do everything in my power to do them correctly, but no matter what I did, she would find fault and criticize. Eventually, I would do the exact opposite of what she wanted done on purpose simply to piss her off. Then, I would spend whole days getting high, not doing anything, in defiance. In other words, I was using “at” her. I couldn’t make her happy, I thought, so why try?

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She had also assumed the role of stage manager for the DJ event I was helming, and was booking the talent, eventually taking the role of booking the other DJs away from me. My suggestions went unheard. At the end of every night, basking in the afterglow of an amazing gig, I’d have to endure the car ride home where she perpetually bitched about everything that went wrong and why I hadn’t taken better video of her on-stage. Of course, my response was to go home and smoke. I got to the point where I hated going to the gigs. My attempt to give my girlfriend a creative outlet had turned into a personal nightmare. I felt trapped.

At this point, any semblance of a sex life was non-existent. I had stopped going to meetings, stopped calling my old sponsor or anyone in my network. As a fall-back, my girlfriend and I started going to couples counseling sessions, which devolved into her venting about everything wrong with *me.* Our counselors had to split us into separate sessions so that I wouldn’t be made to feel like the “fuck-up.”

The one ray of sunshine I had was the dog we had adopted, Roy – a Jack-Russell/Beagle mix. He was the only dog I had ever owned, and I loved him more than my life. At one point during an argument, my girlfriend accused me of loving the dog more than I loved her. In the beginning, that would’ve been false, but by the end of our relationship it was the absolute truth. I wanted to take him and quite literally run away from her.

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During the summer of 2012, she and I “toured” together…booked to play/perform at several different festivals, one as far away as Pennsylvania in a town not far from where I was born. I had allowed her to book the dates because I didn’t want to argue with her about anything. It was exhausting, physically and emotionally. In fact, on our way back from Pennsylvania I had a nervous breakdown. I had to stop the car and pull over – and she wouldn’t stop nagging me.

Things started looking up in October of 2012, as I took a long-term contract position with a local government agency. They seemed to like me and I did good work. At home, my pot smoking had really taken off. In fact, when I went to a conference in Charlotte to take photographs for a work function, I took a small vial of weed with me to smoke in the hotel room after work was over. I wasn’t caught, and everyone seemed to like the photos. So I didn’t think twice about it.

I had gotten to the point where I hated being at home. For all intents and purposes my girlfriend and I were simply friends living under the same roof, and sleeping in the same bed. My girlfriend had been in 3 different post-doctoral positions and had ended up leaving all of them for various reasons. I was paying the full rent on our apartment, still paying my tab, working, playing DJ gigs, and on the verge of losing my mind with no rest. The only time I had to myself was when my girlfriend would fall asleep, and I could come downstairs to smoke weed.

My mentality had shifted entirely away from recovery, and back into active addiction.

Marijuana had become my coping mechanism, and it was starting not to work anymore. On New Years Eve, my girlfriend had double-booked herself and told me she had taken care of things at our main gig, Revolution. Unfortunately, she hadn’t, and I ended up having to field questions and put out fires because of it. The gig went well, but that was my breaking point. She had asked me to buy a bottle of vanilla vodka for her for the new year (2013), and I did (why anyone would ask a relatively new recovering alcoholic to buy vodka, I’ll never know). She had opened it and taken a swig during a break from one of our sets.

Without her knowledge, I did too. And that is where my full-blown relapse began.

It escalated on February 20th, when again she asked me to go to the ABC store and buy her a bottle of bourbon. I bought one for her, and one for myself. I drank it over the course of two nights, and drank some of hers as well. I then bought another bottle for myself in secret, called in sick to work, and spent the day drinking it. She came home and found me passed out on the couch – and understandably let me have it.

At this point, I had a chance to turn it around…so I took it. I was worried about losing my job, so I went to the local treatment center where I got my Effexor prescription and told them what was happening. My psychiatrist saw how shaky I’d become, but I convinced her that I could taper myself off. So she prescribed me Librium, with a strict 10-day regimen to follow. I took another day off work to get my shakes under control.

She also prescribed me a 50mg dose of Trazodone to help me sleep. I’d had issues with being able to sleep continuously through the night ever since entering treatment. When you’re drinking like I was, and using like I was, you will screw up your sleep cycle. Additionally, being unable to sleep caused me a great deal of anxiety in early recovery. Most people look at you and tell you, “that’s what you get for using!” The tough love approach never really worked for me. Needless suffering is needless suffering, plain and simple. I cannot express how much good this did for me.

I completed the Librium taper and the shakes were done. I also started going to meetings again. I picked up a “start over” chip and got phone numbers.

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If I had been able to navigate the next 30 days, I might’ve been able to stay the course. Unfortunately, my girlfriend took vocal issue with me using Trazodone. Even though it was prescribed to me by a doctor, even though this same doctor had reassured me that it was a tiny dose, my girlfriend the rocket scientist knew better. She started getting angry with me for taking it, making me feel guilty, made me feel like I was using again. I hadn’t been sober a month when I started drinking again. I had no peace, and no escape. I could’ve left the relationship – but I didn’t. My self-esteem was too shot for me to care.

At that point my drinking simply spiraled downward. I began drinking during work hours, sometimes passing out at my desk and coming to after the office (and parking deck) had closed. Watching me scale a wall to get into a locked parking deck was a sight to see, let me tell you. I was also buying marijuana from a different dealer closer to my work, and smoking during working hours. I didn’t want to go home, and yet I did because I didn’t want to leave my poor dog alone. In order to get sleep, I began stealing my girlfriend’s 2-year-old Lunesta pills, her Ambien, and her Xanax.

I was finally fired from my job after my HR manager found me passed out in my car in the parking deck, surrounded by vodka bottles. This began a further month-long downward spiral, where I did everything to avoid going home to my girlfriend. My couch-surfing tour took me as far as Asheville, NC, where I ended up having to be hospitalized with DTs – again. I was able to stay with two very dear friends who helped me over the course of 4 days. I came back to the condo I shared with my girlfriend, and I broke up with her, having been sober for 4 days. I knew it couldn’t continue – I knew I was no good for her, no good for myself.

I went walkabout one last time before voluntarily checking myself into rehab and not telling anyone. I was drunk when I checked myself in to rehab and turned my phone in before I realized I should probably make a few calls. All of the earthly possessions I could fit in my car were, in fact, in my car. I spent a week in treatment with no access to email or phone. As my girlfriend’s area code was not local, I couldn’t call her from the office phone (no long-distance calls). I was in this rehab for one week, and ended up moving into another Oxford House.

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(studio, before relapse)

Upon leaving rehab, my girlfriend took possession of the bulk of my recording studio equipment as payment for the money I owed her – save for my electric guitar, electric bass, my laptop and one speaker. She wouldn’t allow me to enter the house to retrieve my belongings unless I was supervised. It took me four trips to get my things out of the house. I pondered lawyering up to get my music studio back, but didn’t have any money. I had been locked out of my checking account by my bank for missing a loan payment, and was having to use a backup checking account I hadn’t touched in years.

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(studio, after relapse)

My father, who’d been so supportive of me in early recovery the first time around, made it a point to showcase his displeasure with me.

He refused to see me for 3 months, and for my 40th birthday he sent me a card with an enclosed letter explaining in detail that he would no longer be giving me anything. His reason was that I was old enough to take care of myself (fair enough), but his real reason (in my opinion) was to twist the knife. I’d rather he simply said because he didn’t want me spending any of his money on drugs or alcohol. Or, he could just as easily have sent a card telling me how glad he was that I was alive on my 40th birthday, and let that be that. I would’ve been happy with that. Instead, he chose to use it as an opportunity to punch me in the gut. I’m still working out those resentments.

I was able to get contract work out of rehab designing Powerpoint slides, and then landed full-time work as a pre-press person for a print shop. Here I was managed by a scatterbrained boss and her 29-year-old lackey office manager. In February of 2014, she and I both determined that I “was not a fit for that job,” and I left with a severance package that allowed me to exist until finding a new full-time job in April of 2014, one I still have today. I have now been employed with this place longer than any other job I’ve had since graduating from college.

I was able to buy all new DJ equipment, all new PA equipment, and started two bands – Roxaboxen and Born Like This. With the money I’ve earned playing DJ gigs since 2013, I’ve been able to pay for and pay off all the gear I purchased. I helped start Raveclean – an event company that for a time threw clean and sober dance events in North Carolina. We’re currently on hiatus, but again – miracles are always possible.

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(Born Like This)
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(Roxaboxen)

It was at one of the Raveclean events where I met my girlfriend – who is herself a singer, songwriter and pianist. We live in Greensboro with a dog named Boots and a cat named Shadow. It is a better life than I ever could’ve imagined for myself. In my online travels I’ve met a host of wonderful people in the recovery community who’ve strengthened me on my journey. I hope that I’ll know them all for a very long time to come. They will all certainly be welcome wherever I am.

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I don’t know what the future holds for me. I know that there will be good times and there will be trouble. I’ll just keep blogging, keep making music, keep doing all the things I need to do to maintain my recovery, and surround myself with people who support my efforts.

Thanks for reading. Be well and take care of one another. We’re all we’ve got.

jon_julia

Read Part Three here:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/24/my-story-part-three/

Standard
addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, Recovery

My Story, Part Three.

(originally posted to Tumblr November 10, 2014)

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November 22nd, 2009. I was holed up at what was known as the Larry B. Zieverink Alcoholism Treatment Center (or ATC for short). Larry B. Zieverink Sr. served as a Wake County, NC commissioner from 1980 until 1988. Zieverink, who battled alcoholism for several years, helped to establish the Center, which originally opened in 1977. Almost 10 years after it opened, my mom would receive treatment for her alcoholism.

20 years later, I was there to carry on the fine tradition.

I remember spending Thanksgiving Day in detox, eating pre-processed turkey, something that resembled mashed potatoes and peas out of a shrink-wrapped tray. The company that provided meals to the treatment center was called Canteen, the same company that provided meals to Central Prison. I had no windows, but there was a back room where I could go watch movies on an old TV/VHS combo. The two movies I watched were Apollo 13 and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. I was in detox for 5 days. Coming off 3 different GABA receptor agonists simultaneously (Alcohol, GBL, and Klonipin) is no joke.

After detox, I spent 2 weeks in inpatient treatment. Here, we had windows, and for 30 minutes a day could go outside (mostly so people could smoke). I cherished that 30 minutes. I had a counselor named Ed, an older African-American gentleman whose words of advice to me, perpetually, were “don’t worry about it!” I was an anxious mess and hardly slept a wink. I remember also making my 15 minutes worth of phone calls each day. My friends on the outside were all playing the “blame game” and “who gets Jon’s stuff.” It was frustrating to not be able to do anything about it.

Of primary concern were all the difficulties I had created for myself:
1) No job
2) Nowhere to live
3) Almost $25,000 in hospital bills from the overdose in October
4) 2 misdemeanor charges in a different county
5) $1300 I owed the IRS, apropos of nothing (just bad timing)
6) My car was stuck in my friend’s garage, with two bent rims/flat tires on the right hand side of the car. So, no transportation.

All I could think about in treatment was “how am I going to get a job this close to Christmas!? They’ve GOT to let me out of here so I can start looking!” This coming from a guy who only a few days earlier couldn’t even hold a pen. I was not in my right mind. I didn’t even have a home to go back to. I couldn’t live with my g/f (we were in limbo at that point, and she was still drinking/using), nor could I go back to the friend I had been couch-surfing with. My dad certainly wouldn’t have taken me in, and my mom was in Colorado. My last option was an Oxford House. I was terrified of the idea. Is it like jail? How will I pay $100 a week in rent with no job?

I interviewed at two Oxford Houses – one was young guys like myself, mostly opiate addicts, no alcoholics (though I wasn’t strictly an alcoholic either). Felt like a recovery frat house. Bunch of “bro’s.” The other house I interviewed in was all older African American men – all at least 10 years older than me, and all either recovering alcoholics or crack cocaine addicts. I chose the latter. They all seemed way more serious about their recovery, and I knew I could learn a lot from them. A weight had been lifted – I now had a home and a bed. And 30 days to be able to get caught up with my rent.

Next order of business? Get my car on the road again. To do that, I’d have to call a junk yard and get two new rims, and two crappy used tires. But I couldn’t do that until I got to the Oxford House. After two weeks in ATC, I had a little “graduation” ceremony and then was picked up by one of my new housemates, who shuttled me to the house to drop my stuff off, then to my couch-surfing buddy to see the status of my car. I called a junkyard, found some rims and was able to get yet another friend to take me 15 miles out of town to buy the rims, and then to yet another store where I could drop my car off, have the new rims and tires put on. Close to $300, probably my last $300 on the one credit card that I had.

By the time I made it back to my house, it was 7:30pm. I now had a functioning car, my laptop, a home, and an internet connection. I also had a pile of medical bills and credit card statements staring me down. I turned on the TV (I had a TV in my room, with cable – something most addicts just don’t have in early recovery). On TV was some damned diamond commercial, a couple skating around an ice rink with an acoustic cover of “I Got You Babe” playing. All I could think about was my girlfriend, my life, failure, guilt. I cried like a baby. I had never before been so heartbroken. It was a week and a half before Christmas.

And through all of it, I absolutely, positively could NOT take a drink or use a drug – the only coping mechanism I’d had for 14+ years.

The first 30 days had been a “gimme.” I was cut off from the outside world, safe, secure. Now I could make choices. I could drive (though I had hardly any money for gas). If there was a dangerous time for me, this was it.

My job search was turning out to be fruitless. I had to be out of the house from 9-4 every day (house rules) to fill out applications with potential employers. The difficulty/paradox was that all their applications were now online. I could’ve filled them out on my laptop from the house, but had to be driving around to fill out paper applications that were no longer relevant. And, I was wasting precious gas to do it. I ended up borrowing money from my girlfriend against the value of my DJ equipment, so that I could pay rent at the Oxford House and eat in the short term. Though it seemed like a good idea at the time, it was to be my first mistake. From that point forward, she made me keep an online spreadsheet (thanks Google docs) of the remaining money I owed her, down to the penny. My guilty conscience saw it as an amend, but it was to become an albatross around my neck.

I ended up having to go to social services to sign up for food stamps. I was dirt broke and had no real support coming from anywhere, so it was definitely necessary. It was also humbling. As I sat in the waiting area for close to 6 hours – waiting just to *speak* to someone who *might* be able to help me – I became all-too-aware of just how far I’d fallen. When I finally did speak with someone at social services, I was informed it would take another month for me to receive my EBT card. I kept wondering to myself “how in the HELL would someone without the resources I had be able to make it? How could they possibly navigate this?”

Of course, there was the matter of the massive hospital bills as well. Each came under separate cover, and three of them had gone into collections while I was in rehab. The hospital had a section of their website where I could fill out an application for financial assistance – fortunately for me I had a laptop and two decades of experience with the internet. I printed out the forms, filled them out, xeroxed the receipts, and mailed them off. Again, I wondered to myself how anyone without the resources I had could possibly navigate this system. Those in poverty, those without an education, those without access to or an understanding of technology. In the end, the hospital determined that my past earning potential did not entitle me to assistance. But they did defer the debt for 6 months, and told me I could re-apply once that six-month period had expired.

In addition, my friend who had saved my life after the overdose – the one who had introduced me to every drug I had ever done, the one who I had couch-surfed with after leaving my girlfriend – was facing attempted murder (as in, my murder) and drug charges which he was completely innocent of. I spoke to the assistant district attorney and explained the situation to him, and had to be present at his trial to give my account of what had happened, the truth. I would’ve rather spent the rest of my life in jail than see my friend go down for a crime he was innocent of. They gave him 6 months probation, and that was that. There may be an order to the steps in AA (“making amends” is Step 9), but life doesn’t always wait for steps. I had done the right thing, but was emotionally exhausted and still had no job.

Finally, I found a chain pizza delivery service that was taking paper applications. I filled out the application in the store, talked to the manager right there, and my first day on the job was December 22nd. Because I’d be getting tips, I’d have cash in-hand to be able to pay my rent at the house (money orders only, no checks, no cash). The only other job I could’ve done to get cash in-hand that quickly would be as a server in a restaurant, or a drug dealer. And i can assure you I’d have made a *much* better drug dealer.

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So another small victory had been won. While delivering pizzas on New Years Eve, I got to witness first-hand what I probably looked like while in active addiction. House parties, college parties, and a hotel party where a guy offered me a joint and his topless girlfriend gave me a $50 tip because she was too high to count the money. True story. Maybe I should’ve said something. Nope. I also watched police chase a drunk driver who was going the wrong way on a major thoroughfare. My re-education had begun.

I was attending outpatient treatment sessions at ATC with a counselor, who periodically would write me recommendation letters to give to my attorney for my 2 misdemeanor charges – a case which would end up being continued close to 12 times in a year and a half. He, like other counselors, had asked me (in regards to my childhood), “so, when your parents divorced and you’d gone through all those things – did either of your parents ever bother to put you in any kind of therapy?” The more I got asked the question, the more resentful I became. I was what they called “dual diagnosis” – meaning, I had clear anxiety and emotional issues which pre-dated my substance abuse by many years, issues that fueled my addictions. Issues which should’ve been dealt with much sooner. I was asked the question at least 4 times, by four different counselors over a 3 year period, and had no better answer to give them. All I felt like doing was smashing both of my parents’ heads into a cinderblock wall.

During my time in outpatient at ATC, I discovered a medication which I’d done research on that I thought might help – an SNRI called Effexor. I had never in my life taken an anti-depressant. But I knew that my anxiety and the symptoms of it were too severe to simply “pray away.” I tried Effexor, and within one week the trembling hands and the butterflies in my stomach which I’d known for most of my life were all but gone. I was now able to read and speak in meetings. I had more confidence now that I was no longer cowering under the weight of anxiety at every turn. And, as a side effect of the Effexor, I began losing weight like crazy.

Of course I was also an active member of AA. I had a sponsor who was exactly what I needed at the time. Kind, intelligent, and very hands-off. I guess he knew me well enough to know that in some regards I was going to keep my own counsel – or that I was just stubborn and would have to learn for myself. He and I worked the steps together, and he even allowed me to help him paint his house unsupervised (which he paid me for). He is probably one of the best friends I’ve ever had, certainly one of the strongest male figures in my life, and without question taught me the skills I would need to save myself from myself. If there is one person I can credit with helping me begin dealing with my resentments toward my parents, it was him.

This was just the first 5 months.

There was one moment in that five months when I seriously contemplated suicide – I had been delivering pizzas during an unusually heavy snowstorm in Raleigh (unusual for Raleigh, anyway), my car was stuck, the person I had delivered to hadn’t tipped. I saw a steep overhang into a ditch. I thought about “gunning it” and making my final curtain call. Life was simply not worth living in that moment. Too many problems, too much pain, so much anger and rage towards so many. So much failure. Before that moment, I had never once ideated the end of my life. For some reason I chose to push my car out of the snow and drive back to the store.

I now had some of my things from my girlfriend’s place in my room at the Oxford House…mainly, my MacPro tower, my CD inkjet printer and my guitars. I began thinking about music, and getting back to DJ-ing and producing. I had all these songs which had been languishing on a hard drive – half-finished shells of ideas, hooks, riffs with no direction. I now had a direction, and a passion. I began working on an entire album, one which would eventually come to be known as “Last Man Standing” – which from beginning to end is about virtually every emotion I experienced in recovery. It would take me another 3 years to put finishing touches on it and release it to the world…you can read about that here.

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I also auditioned for a DJ gig, at the encouragement of my housemates. Electronic Dance Music, or EDM for short (what we used to call “house music“ or “rave music” when I was coming up), had finally started to hit the mainstream – and local venues were ready to embrace it. The event was called Revolution, and though it was horribly mismanaged, it ended up being the flagship EDM event in the area, which others would attempt to replicate. On average we had close to 500 attendees anytime we did an event. I had gone from near-death and broke to being resident DJ for what was certainly the biggest regular EDM event I had ever participated in. And I would play every single event stone-cold sober. No alcohol, no drugs. I even had a group of about 8-10 sober regulars who would come support me. My girlfriend had also auditioned as a dancer and stage performer and became one of the regulars. She would go on to become stage manager for the event – mistake number 2 on my part.

In July I re-applied for financial assistance through the hospital after my 6-month deferment of my medical expenses had run out. I received a letter in which the balance of my hospital bill had been reduced to zero. It was a miracle. There is no other way I can characterize it. I remember opening the letter and weeping in my car. One of my difficulties had been surmounted. That August, I finally landed a job in my field and said goodbye to the pizza business. Things were turning around.

Then during one of our Sunday “house meetings” at the Oxford House, two of my housemates (both 50-year-old “grown ass men”) began exchanging words and got into a fistfight. One of them pulled a kitchen knife on the other and began slashing at him. They were promptly ejected from the house and arrested. My safe place was now in jeopardy, so in haste my girlfriend and I decided we might as well try living together again. I loved her so much and wanted to make up for all the pain I had caused her. I clearly thought myself the villain, and happily accepted the challenge. However, I unknowingly brought something with me from the Oxford House that I did not expect.

Bed bugs. If you have never experienced them, you do not want to. Especially not in early recovery.

So from day one, my move back in with my girlfriend was plagued with problems. It would be two months and close to $2000 to take care of the bed bugs. More stress, more money I owed and more charges to go on my “running tab” she was making me keep.

There was one last obstacle to clear: my DUI arrest and possession charge for the GBL from September 2009. The case had been continued over and over again. Then, at 4pm on December 14th, 2010, at the Alamance County Courthouse, my lawyer decided to go ahead with the trial. The Assistant DA was ready to proceed also. I ended up having to take the stand (to my horror). My lawyer coached me on what to say and what not to say. During the middle of my cross-examination, the ADA rolled out a TV and VCR, and played back what the cops saw the day I had been arrested, the video recording from their dash cam. There was the old version of me, from a year and a half ago, staring me squarely in the face. The ADA would rewind and playback certain sections, over and over again. It was torture. I was on my own episode of COPS.

Fortunately, two things were in my favor. First, the police had exaggerated on their report, saying that I was weaving wildly on the road while the videotaped evidence showed nothing of the sort. Second, the blood test found no mind-altering substance in my system, save for trace amounts of THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) which wouldn’t have been smoked that day. GBL – the drug I had actually taken that day – is in and out your liver in minutes, immediately metabolized to GHB which (this is your curious fact for the day) all human beings produce naturally. It’s one of the compounds involved in our sleep cycles and also present in some red wine. So there’s no real way to say whether a person is high on it, or simply has elevated levels. Two huge technicalities, which allowed the judge to utter words I’d been waiting a year and a half to hear:

Not. Fucking. Guilty.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Go back and read Part Two Here:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/21/my-story-part-two/

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