Abuse, addiction, Consequences, Electronic Dance Music, Grunge, music, Recovery, Rock, Suicide, Trauma

Goodnight, Mr. Bennington.

(also published to Medium)

“One thing
I don’t know why
It doesn’t even matter how hard you try…”

…and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get away from this dude.

I’m in a Wal-Mart. A fucking Wal-Mart “neighborhood market” (as if there’s anything “neighborhood” about a Wal-Mart). And as I walk in to buy rawhide dog bones at 11:30 at night, there’s that voice:

I was living in Baltimore the first time I heard “In The End.” I had moved there in March of 2001 for a relationship and a job. Really, for the relationship. She and I had dated long distance for over a year and I was tired of the long drives from North Carolina to Maryland. I really loved this person, but she had fallen for an older co-worker with more life experience and more money. Her father even called her out on it once which was pretty funny. For my part I was clingy and insecure, which always helps.

Five days after I moved, she decided she “needed some space.” Two months later, my job let me go. “It doesn’t even matter how hard you try.” I had no rudder, nowhere to go. I was drinking myself to death and hemorrhaging money. My dad told me to find Jesus and go to an AA meeting (some of you may agree with him – I did not).

My drinking, of course, got worse the minute he said that. He told me he’d drive up to Baltimore to read the Bible with me. Exactly what he did with my Mom when she was drunk. I remember the three of us going to church together at the height of her active addiction, some time in 1987. She would nod off in the pew like a heroin addict overdosing then coming to.

Being a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, I know better. Taking a drunk person to church, reading Bible verses at a drunk person…these are futile acts of desperation. I could’ve told him that as a 13-year-old who’d never had a drop of alcohol, but now I was in those crosshairs, as though he wanted to drive to Baltimore and perform a séance with me. I just wanted him to listen to me, not talk at me. It was not to be.

I was running out of money at and couldn’t find a job. I was in pain, and no one seemed to care enough to actually hear me.

Then 9/11 happened. 

The Pentagon was still smoldering as I had begun driving my stuff back to my mom’s apartment in North Carolina. I had utterly failed, and the world was crumbling down around my ears. “In The End” was one of 3 videos in constant rotation on MTV. “Overcome” by Live, as well as “Drops of Jupiter” by Train were the others. It was a sad time. Chester understood. He knew times like that.

…and then I snap back and it’s 16 years later. I’m still in Wal-Mart at 11:30 buying dog treats. 

And that voice, Chris, the band…god bless Mike Shinoda spitting bars that made me remember her all over again, the anger:

“Things aren’t the way they were before
you wouldn’t even recognize me anymore
Now that you knew me back then
But it all comes back to me in…the…end…”

I snap back again. Hard to shake the feeling, but that’s music for you.

I had often wished I could jump on stage with Linkin Park and fill in on bass for one song. Hell, I’ve played for 25 years, guitar and bass. Too late for that now, but if it hadn’t been for “Hybrid Theory,” I wouldn’t have made it out of Baltimore alive…

 

12 years after Baltimore, and for the second time in my life, I found myself in rehab. The downward spiral that began in Baltimore had started a chain reaction which I don’t think I ever really overcame. My drinking and drug use had spiraled out of control, and after a first trip to rehab, a near death experience from an overdose, and another failing relationship later, I was (again) at the lowest point in my life.

I was living in an Oxford House for the second time, once again re-assembling my life. And on Facebook, I heard a familiar voice:

“The nights go on
Waiting for a light that never comes
I chase the sun
Waiting for a light that never comes…”

Chester knew. He’d been there. And there was Mike with those bars again:

“Nah, you don’t know me
Lightning above and a fire below me
You cannot catch me, cannot hold me
You cannot stop, much less control me
When it rains, it pours
When the floodgates open, brace your shores
That pressure don’t care when it breaks your doors
Say it’s all you can take, better take some more.”

The beat was all EDM, finishing touches provided by Steve Aoki. But the guitar was in there, the voices were there, the interplay between Chester and Mike, the heart. It was my rallying cry. The guy old enough to know better had run out of lives to lose. Dad was nowhere to be found, except to tell me he was done trying to “help.”

Time to grab the reins one last time and right the ship, and then never ask anyone for help again. No more waiting for a light that never comes. My journey towards agnosticism – and personal salvation – began right there.

In my determination to never ask anyone for help again, help came to me.

I’m coming up on four years clean and sober. I’m engaged to the love of my life, a real woman who doesn’t need to “trade up” at the first sign of trouble. I have a good job, a good home, and somehow after almost 20 years the DJ FM brand remains and is somehow still relevant, even if I haven’t sold 1,000,000 copies of anything.

I never knew you Chester. I never got to see Linkin Park play. We weren’t even that far apart in age. You were so lucky that you got to meet Chris. He and his band got me though my teenage years, and it sounds like he may have done the same for you. I hope wherever you both are, you’re jamming with him and making amazing music.

I hope someday I get to see you and thank you for what you did. Maybe you can see me now, or maybe I’m simply thinking magically to make myself feel better. Either way, it’s a comforting thought.

Until then, take your rest Mr. Bennington.

Godspeed.

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Abuse, addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Altruism, Consequences, Electronic Dance Music, music, Podcast, Recovery, Religion, Trauma

Experience.

I was recently interviewed by InRecovery magazine for a piece on active addiction (shameless plug alert: you should go read it and then leave a comment if you like)
https://inrecovery.com/journey-fun-abuse-dj-fm

Sometimes it just doesn’t feel real to me. I’ve never thought of myself someone whose experience or opinions should be held in high regard by anyone. I’m just one voice among billions. Granted, in the last few years I’ve had things like this published about my journey in recovery in various places. I’ve also been interviewed twice on the Klen & Sobr podcast which was amazing. If anything, I am not anonymous.

But still, I can’t believe that it’s me. I often scoff at the Tony Robbins types. They seem well-intentioned, yet I’m never able to trust whether they truly want to help their audience, or simply like hearing the sound of their own voice. All of this of course speaks volumes about my own insecurities. We are all a work in progress, but I’m no one’s guru.

I also watched “The Defiant Ones” on HBO last week, a 4-part documentary about Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s musical and business collaborations, and their long history in the music. I am impressed by their stories. Two guys who literally came from nothing and now sit atop what remains of the music business. The greater the risk you take, the greater the reward I suppose.

I want to say I’ve never been the “starving artist” type, but in truth I was once. Between 1996 and 1998 I wrote and recorded my first album “Breakup.” I was 23 and had limited access to recording equipment, so I had to go into an actual studio and work with a producer to bring my vision to life. Of course, that meant paying for the time – and the money which went to the studio meant money wasn’t going to rent or food.

In fact, I was 3 months behind on rent and had to borrow money from my recent ex-girlfriend to get caught up. I was eating the leftover food my roommates didn’t want, and when there was none of that I was eating microwave popcorn. It sucked. My hat’s off to anyone who quits their job and goes out on a limb for their art. It created an added level of stress that I simply couldn’t handle. I have been attempting to find balance between art and “career” ever since.

Fortunately, my producer was patient with me and he came from a similar musical background and similar tastes. He taught me everything I know. I paid as I could, and “Breakup” became DJ FM’s first album. So many lessons were learned, and so many good things came about as a result of that album. Most importantly I learned the most was that if you want to be a creator – a musician, an artist, a writer – your vision comes first. Like I said, I have never believed that my opinion or my voice mattered to anyone else. Music helped me realize that my voice at least had to matter to me.

I now have a sponsee. One. The only sponsee I’ve had in 8 years of my hit-or-miss recovery. We “worked” together for an entire year, in which he didn’t call and didn’t do any actual work. I was his sponsor in name only. He is from India, and in the process of becoming an American citizen – not an easy journey in the era of Trump. Still, he wasn’t doing the work, so I fired him.

And then he had to leave the country, simply so he could re-enter and get a new Visa. I felt like a piece of shit. This was about the time Trump was mobilizing his travel ban and even though India was not on the list of banned countries, I worried for my friend. Who knows what an authoritarian regime is capable of, even in the United States?

He reached out to me from his home country a few times. We chatted. He asked if I’d be his sponsor when he came back. I told him “we’ll see – it depends on whether someone else comes forward.” I really didn’t know if I wanted to be his sponsor. I was at a point of not caring, because he certainly didn’t seem to care that year I tried to sponsor him. I blamed myself for not being tough enough, not being interesting enough.

Of course, in my mind I know that’s ridiculous. You can only lead a horse to water. What they do from there is up to them, especially in recovery. Those who suffer from substance use disorder are some of the most stubborn and incorrigible people you’ll ever meet. Have you met me in-person?

What happened was remarkable. He came back to the US, and it was as if a fire had been lit beneath him. He asked me twice if I would be his sponsor, and I finally said yes. We have been working together and every time we meet, he thanks me for listening, thanks me for guiding him. I see my experience benefitting another.

The way I was raised, and after most of the trauma that took place in my early teenage years, I spent most of my first 36 years of life feeling like I’d been permanently punched in the gut by god. Alcohol and drugs eventually numbed the pain of that sad worldview, but what I’ve learned is this: your vision matters. Your experience matters. Your voice matters. I would’ve never understood this without recovery.

You have to believe in you, first.

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addiction, Consequences, music, Recovery, Suicide, Trauma

Goodbye, CB.

This is Christy B, CB for short.

The picture above was taken at her birthday party in August 2006, several years before I first found recovery. We were both graphic designers and had worked for the same company – in the same office – for almost 3 years.

I learned last that Tuesday that she’d committed suicide.

It was completely unexpected, and a reality check for how fragile the human spirit is.

Two years prior to our meeting, I had moved to Baltimore, MD for a relationship and a job (really, just the relationship – the job was simply a means to an end). After 6 months, I’d lost both, and my drinking spiraled out of control. Then 9/11 happened, and I returned to North Carolina, tail tucked between my legs. Back in NC and living on unemployment, my drinking continued. I was about to go bankrupt, had been arrested for my first DUI, and was in a deep depression.

Fortunately, I found a job with a company in Wilmington, NC in August 2002. I moved there in haste simply to have enough money to live and go into credit counseling. Six months after moving, one of my oldest friends from college wrecked his car driving drunk and passed away.  A year after that, the Wilmington company ended up going bankrupt. Things were looking up, I had managed to get back on my feet, and my license had been restored. But I needed a job – again. I felt like life simply wouldn’t cut me a break.

In It was December of 2003, fortune smiled on me and I started freelancing for an ad agency in Raleigh called AdStreet, and with the promise of a full-time job moved back to Raleigh and became roommates with an old high school friend. Raleigh is where I grew up, so for me it was a relief to be in familiar surroundings, with people and places I knew.

When I first started working for AdStreet, the company was headquartered in what was an old warehouse, with makeshift dividers and sheetrock put up to make it feel more like an office. The “art department” (four graphic designers, myself and Christy included) worked in a 15×15 room with terrible climate control. We were all in the trenches together though, and we couldn’t have been more different. Being a graphic designer in a smaller urban area is like that. Raleigh isn’t New York. You take what you can get, and you end up meeting pretty much everyone. Sure, I could’ve moved to New York – and it would’ve eaten me alive.

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I went out drinking night after night with these people. I had a weekly residency at the hottest new lounge in Raleigh, and sometimes they would come out and dance.  Of course, I didn’t think of it as “active addiction.” I was free. I was back home and making a living after 2 years of non-stop crisis. I was paying down my credit cards, paying my bills, doing what I needed to do. I was grateful to celebrate with my co-workers, and it was always legitimately fun. We joked, we laughed, we argued. We went to lunch together. As frustrating as it could be sometimes, I’ve never been closer to my co-workers, before or since.

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As companies sometimes do, we bought a brand new building and moved into it. It was ill-advised – we could’ve stayed in the same place and done just fine. The two owners split after the move, and the company changed names. It would still be AdStreet to me, but things had changed.

Christy and I now shared an office alone. We introduced each other to new music, we joked about *really* random things. For instance, the time I’d found a factory sealed coffee creamer container that had no cream. We kept it and laughed about it daily. We shared each other’s personal struggles and occasionally got on each other’s nerves. We went to concerts together. One was a free VIP pass to see Coldplay in 2005, a band I would’ve never given a second about until I saw them live. Even better, all our food and drinks were free.

I ended up leaving AdStreet in 2006, but Christy and i stayed in touch. Once 2007 rolled around though, and I began experimenting with drugs other than alcohol, I left all my old friends behind.

Christy had her share of trouble to deal with in my absence. A series of bad boyfriends (one of them horrible), money issues, and a move to Austin, TX to “start anew.” Much like my move to Baltimore, it sounded like everything had fallen apart around her, so she “came home.” At a dinner in late 2013, after coming back from my relapse, she confided in me that her drinking had taken a turn for the worse. She said she now “got me” and understood on some level what it must’ve been like for me. I told her that if she thought she had a problem, I could help her. We never talked about it after that.

A year or two ago, she messaged me on Facebook. While the message seemed legit, it was somewhat incoherent and almost seemed like she was trying to express that she had feelings for me. We had never dated, and I certainly never saw her as anything other than a good friend. I asked repeatedly if she was alright, if she’d been drinking. I really didn’t need to ask – I knew.

That was the last time we talked, beyond commenting on one another’s Facebook posts.

And then last Tuesday, it was too late.

I want for it to not be too late. I don’t even know how she did it, or what tipped her over the edge. I don’t hold anger in my heart, I don’t blame or judge her. I’m simply sad, and I miss her.

The world is an emptier place without you CB.

If you can see me CB, you know everything now. You see everything I’ve thought and done. Yes, Barb and I were going out and kept it secret from virtually everyone. It was a wonderful few months. You know now. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you.

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Her nickname for me was “Johnny Dollar,” after an old beach music song her mother frequently played as a child.

I don’t know where you are, but I hope that your strong faith led you to the place you were promised.

And I hope it is a quiet place.

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Abuse, addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, Recovery, Trauma, Uncategorized

Birthday.

I recently remarked to my girlfriend that being in recovery and being in therapy was like being set free from the Matrix. You look around you and suddenly see the world the way it really is. In many cases, more than you ever wanted to see.

My girlfriend’s niece turned 4 years old last week, and her birthday party was today. It was held at her favorite place, the “bounce house.” Basically, an entire room filled with rows of trampolines, ball pits, jungle gyms – all padded so that kids can run and jump and bounce and play without harming themselves. The place was full of little kids having a blast, and parents who looked unenthusiastic at best, exhausted and irritated at worst. Even the employee helping with the party looked tired and bored.

(An aside: last year, her birthday party was held at Chuck E Cheese, a place where I’d had my 8th birthday party all the way back in 1982. Back then, it was all video games and pinball machines, which I loved. But they still had the goofy, scary looking animatronic puppets playing music way too loud. I promptly texted my father and told him I then understood exactly why we didn’t go to Chuck E. Cheese that often.)

In any case, there were quite a few dynamics at play:

– My girlfriend no longer speaks to her father, for reasons I understand and respect completely. He was there.

– My girlfriend has instructed/begged/pleaded with both her siblings not to allow their young children around her father (“grandpa”) for the same reasons. They don’t listen.

– My girlfriend’s sister-in-law tried to schedule a Mother’s Day lunch the previous Sunday without inviting my girlfriend or sister. There was much consternation, and so the sister-in-law is being pissy. She also was there.

– The birthday girl’s parents are going through an ugly divorce and, you guessed it – both there.

– My girlfriend’s mother was there, mostly likely a little tweaked on Adderal, and an hour late.

I glanced around the room. The children seemed content to eat pizza, cake, run and jump. The little girls were just sitting and talking, learning how to be social with one another. Same with the boys. In short, the kids would’ve been content to simply be themselves.

The adults however were fidgeting, anxious, nervous habits and tics could be observed all over the room. Everyone just HAD to get pictures of the niece with the presents they got. And – you guessed it – there was a big chair at the far corner of the “party room” where the birthday girl could sit and have her picture taken with all her presents as she opened each one. “This one is from Ms. So-and-so! Say thank you! Sit! Smile for the camera!’ “Sit in your seat.” “Get up from your seat.” “Eat your pizza.” “Eat your cake.” Do this. Do that. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Be here. Be there. Everything had to be just so!

I know what it is to be a spoiled kid. Like my girlfriend’s niece, I was an only child. I not only got everything I ever wanted, I also knew how to gripe to get what I wanted. After my parents divorced, my father (whom I lived with) would get angry with me for griping, even though he was the same person who repeatedly got me everything I ever wanted. I certainly didn’t complain. What 10-year-old boy, circa 1984, would complain about getting ALL the Transformers?

It took years of childhood trauma, unfortunate circumstances and self-inflicted wounds to break me of my entitlement and greed. It didn’t have to go that way, but it did.

My girlfriend, who came to the party exclusively for her niece, was traumatized seeing her father – invited anyway despite her past pleas, but again no one listens. I felt horrible for her. We left early.

In the end, I wondered who the party was truly for, or about. Because it certainly wasn’t about one little girl turning four.

In many respects, it’s never about the kids. It’s about parents keeping up with the Joneses. In high school and most of college, I worked part-time in the stock room of a Toys R Us. I was a jack-of-all-trades. I knew how to run a register, set up an end cap with new toys, block merchandise, unload a semi-truck full of toys in a hot truck bay and assemble a kid’s bike. I can tell you I never saw one child leave that store with a dry eye, unless they had something to show for it.

And why would they? A five year old mind is no match for a colorful store with toys, video games, sporting goods and bicycles stocked floor to ceiling. It’s like telling a cocaine addict to go into a room full of mirrors with a straw and an 8-ball and NOT use. The retail chains know this. That’s what capitalism is all about – sell, sell, sell. Always be closing. Take their money. No one cares which kid grows up spoiled or addicted as long as they sign on the dotted line.

Again, seeing things through the eyes of someone who’s been unplugged from the Matrix, it is hard to watch a room full of people repeating the same patterns that have probably been in those families for generations. The same patterns that my family followed for generations. My grandmother would have epic Christmas parties when I was a child. In many ways, it was a throwback to when she was younger, and the family was well-off, living in Colorado and high on success. As a child when we went to visit them at Christmas, they were just an old, retired married couple living in Marietta, GA, far away in both time and place from those experiences. Now that my grandparents have passed, my uncle tries to carry on the tradition, desperately trying to cling to something that only ever worked once or twice, sometime in the early 1950s. In addiction, it’s called “chasing the dragon” or “romancing the drug.” The circuit is the same.

Watching the cycles repeat over and over is like watching reruns of the same series, only with different actors. We tend to think of therapy and recovery as terms only to be associated with the most severely affected. Survivors of physical and sexual abuse, recovering addicts, those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or some other mental condition. Given the millennia of trauma humanity has endured as a species, one would think we’d know better. But we don’t. Even with all the access we have to good information, we avoid it. Even with all the tools at our disposal. Instant access to credible sources and we turn straight to Raw Story.

For instance, I found this clip of a lecture by Dr. Janet Woititz, on Youtube. Dr. Woititz started the Adult Children of Alcoholics movement and in fact wrote the book. This clip was recorded sometime around 1983, the time her book was published, and almost 3 years before my Mom’s alcoholism would take hold. The resources were there! Here she talks about messaging in broken families (in this case alcoholic family systems, but it applies to more than just alcoholism). She describes a type of habitual repetition in the victims of trauma.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7p7hssaHF0

Never again will I live that way, dragged around by the dysfunction of others. I will follow the truth wherever it takes me.

And the truth, as I see it, is this: I think two parents, the niece, and maybe a close friend or two would’ve been fine. No crazy party hats. Let them run, let them jump. Let them be themselves. Hold them, show them love, leave them be and keep them safe. She wouldn’t have known the difference between 20 friends, pizza, cake and a truckload of gifts – or a day at the park – if she hadn’t been conditioned from birth to expect the former.

And for Christ’s sake keep the kids away from Grandpa.

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