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

My (Sober) DJ Story, Part One.

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I’ve been a music lover all my life. My tastes run very eclectic and very polarizing. One minute I’ll be listening to dub techno. The next, classical guitar. The next, metalcore and  deathcore. I’ve never been able to sit still in one genre because almost *all* genres of music have meant something to me at one time or another in my life, save for what I call “nu-skool pop country.” I do love Patsy Cline.

I’m not from New York, Los Angeles, or Miami or London. I was born in a tiny town in Pennsylvania and grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, a longtime suburban bedroom community which has always tried way too hard to be the “big city.” I’m about as far removed from being “streetwise” as you can get. I think if I were to live in New York or Los Angeles I’d be eaten alive, either by the pace or the personalities. For me growing up, a DJ was a “radio personality” – not a party rocker, turntablist, or music collector. Just some guy on the radio that announced the next song to be played – which gave me just enough time to put in a cassette and record my favorite song. That was as close to Napster as my generation (X) got.

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I’m old enough to remember listening to AM radio on long trips to see my grandparents in the 1970s and hearing music like this. I’m old enough to remember owning my first walkman (a Sanyo). I’m old enough to remember when MTV happened and actually played music videos. The first video I saw on MTV was Howard Jones “What Is Love?” and from that point forward the DJ and the VJ were constant companions. Back then it was all so new and so exciting to watch. I heard music there I couldn’t hear anywhere else, certainly music that wasn’t played on any major radio station in North Carolina.

My first experience of a club/party DJ was at my 8th grade end-of-year dance. Until that point, I had never really seen a DJ perform. I’d seen a video on MTV for a song called “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS, went up to the DJ and requested it. He looked at me as if to say “how in the hell did you know about that song?” He showed me the record and played the “bonus beats” remix (one with an extended intro/outro for a DJ to mix), then pulled out another copy of the same record and segued the bonus beats version into the “radio” edit. I really didn’t understand what I was watching, it all looked like magic to me.

Aside: I later found the “stems” for “Pump Up The Volume” on a bit torrent site and did my own remix:

In any case, I was not going to embrace DJ-ing at that time. Loud rock music was to consume the next 5 years of my life. My mother bought me a guitar for my 16th birthday, Nirvana released “Nevermind” when I was a rising senior in high school, and I was off to the races.

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I grew up on 80s synth pop… Howard Jones as I already mentioned, Depeche Mode, Human League, Thompson Twins, Information Society. I always appreciated the sound of keyboards in music. As a kid in the 1970s, I heard disco on the radio but never enjoyed it. The electronic beat had more punch. Then after my parents divorced, I underwent a musical sea-change. I was angry, and depressed. I began to gravitate towards the loudest, darkest metal music I could find: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Prong, Pantera, etc. That was my therapy. They were the soundtrack for my family falling apart. And if you wanted to be an angry young man, the early 90s was a perfect time for it.

sgo1(DJ FM on bass, with long hair, circa 1994)

I played in several bands during this time. The first was a doom metal band called Static Character, with my friend Jason on drums. The first time I jammed in a room with him, I began playing the main riff of “To Live Is To Die” by Metallica, and he immediately began playing drums. He would go on to become the drummer in my second and most long-lived band up to that point, SGO (Silence Grows Old) or, as it was first called, “Iscream.” My college band. In 2005 I put up a tribute page to our music on myspace, 10 years after it was relevant (now, 20 years):

https://myspace.com/silencegrowsold

It wasn’t until college that I really discovered electronic dance music. It was 1993 and I was still knee deep in grunge and metal. I was in school for graphic design and was starting to hear house, trance, and techno emanating from boomboxes all over our studio (though I had no clue about what genre was what). I enjoyed it but it still wasn’t angry enough for me…and then I heard industrial music, NIN, KMFDM, Front 242. That was the next step.

About this same time I started hearing about “raves” and “rolling.” I was working in the stock room at a Toys R Us and one of my female co-workers told me about ecstasy. At the time, I hadn’t even been drunk yet – or really taken a proper drink, really. I was scared of drugs and alcohol because I saw what they had done to my family. It’s a fear I should’ve held on to longer, but it was not to be.

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I went to what would be my first rave at a club called The Depot in Greensboro in 1994. I heard a DJ that night by the name of Ed LeBrun, one of the first rave promoters in NC (who sadly was murdered 5 years later). Though I *loved* the music, I wasn’t drinking or taking drugs, and I felt like a fish out of water. I was still in my grunge phase and still way too angry for rave culture, if not rave music. I would not go to another party like that for almost 3 years.

My best friend from high school and her older sister were both Grateful Dead fans who became ravers after Jerry Garcia’s passing in 1995. I guess they needed something new to “tour with” and follow. I knew many people like that. While I experienced rave culture peripherally through them, I continued to focus more on rock music and producing my own “dance” music, usually a combination of rock and electronic sounds. By the time The Prodigy released “Fat of the Land” and Crystal Method “Vegas,” I was already paying for studio time to record my first album “breakup.”

My producer had spent his formative years in Chicago, and was working in a parking garage, teaching himself to program MIDI while sitting in a tiny booth. He knew about Steve Silk Hurley, about the Muzic Box, about the origins of house music as well as the EBM and industrial scene which also had a foothold in the city. My college band recorded out first and only album with him, but when I saw his music collection, I thought he might be someone who could help realize my vision.

studiob(Studio B, where “Breakup” was recorded between 1996-1997)

Home computers were still not as powerful as they needed to be to record digital audio, so I recorded my first album “breakup” using Mark of the Unicorn’s Performer software (just a MIDI sequencer, no hard disk editing yet) in Osceola Studios, room B. I would sequence MIDI on the fly while my producer sat at the mixing board adjusting levels. Very much an in-studio performance, all recorded to Alesis ADAT tape (I still have all the masters). We got pretty good at it. If I’d had the money to simply go to the studio day after day, I would have. Instead, I traded studio time for graphic design work, and actual payments where I could afford it.

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(DJ FM’s ADAT Tapes)

I had the album mastered at The Kitchen in Carrboro, NC. Seriously one of the most mind-blowing experiences I’d ever had, to hear my music in that context. The picture does it some justice:

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(The Kitchen)

This was all happening in the first two months of 1998. There was no Napster, no iPod, no iTunes. MP3s were still very much “underground.” So I had to have a run of CDs pressed, 1000 of them to be exact. I remember the day in April when I came back home to my apartment and found 9 boxes of CDs in my living room. My roommate Yancy gave me a high-five, took a swig of his beer and said, “Okay, what the fuck do we do with these??”

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Part Two: What FM did with the CDs…dun dun dun…

But before that…read this…

 

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addiction, Consequences, Recovery

My Story, Part Two.

(originally posted to Tumblr August 14, 2014)

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I began the 1992 fall semester at the NC State College of Design, majoring in graphic design – 60 total students accepted out of almost 3,000 applicants.

When I moved into my dorm, the first thing to appear wasn’t my class schedule, but credit card applications. Close to 10 of them, before I had even used the key to open the mailbox. By the end of my first year in college I would have 4 cards. I was not broke like my fellow “Design-O’s”…I worked 30 hours a week and always made my minimum payments. They gave me power – and they were my first addiction. I used them so frequently that I had to sell the bulk of my CD collection to make minimum payments. I also had to sell the first guitar that my mom had bought me. Despite all this, American Express sent me a Gold Rewards plus card with $1,000,000 in travel insurance. I thought I was hot shit, but riddle me this: what business does any 19-year-old have with a Gold Amex Card?

My senior year in high school I ended up dating a young lady who was a foreign exchange student from Colombia, South America. We dated over the summer, but of course she had to go back to her home country. I made a promise to visit her, so I bought a plane ticket to Colombia. Close to $1,000 in 1992. I emptied my savings account and sold my video game system and all the games to do it. I would not leave until December, so most of my semester was consumed thinking about the trip. I could never keep my mind on where I was – everything I cared about was far away. Not by default – by design. Here was this wonderful person, whom I loved – yet who I knew would eventually be thousands of miles away ebfore we even started dating. Maybe it was unconscious, maybe not. I spent hundreds on long-distance phone calls. Clearly my parents’ divorce had a profound impact on my view of relationships.

I should’ve asked questions about that, but I never knew to ask in the first place. I had never received any treatment or therapy.

That December after my first semester, I flew to visit her in South America and spent close to 3 weeks there. It was one of the most life changing experiences I’d had up to that point. My girlfriend’s family was beyond kind to me, and took me across the country. So much different, so much the same. It was also the second time I would take a drink – “Aguardiente” (“Agua” + “ardiente”) loosely translated “firewater” – which I begged people not to give me. But trying to explain your family background when you’re surrounded by 20,000 people who don’t speak your language, all dancing and celebrating Christmas with …Aguardiente …is difficult. I took a few sips and immediately spit it out. I hated it. She and I decided to end our relationship on good terms, and I came back to the US feeling empty. I also had to face a crazy roommate who ultimately threatened me with physical violence. I moved out of the room quickly while he was at tennis practice, and saw him only one time after that.

I would be in two more long distance relationships after that, one at the end of my sophomore year to a young woman who lived in Virginia and had to go home for the summer, and the other beginning the summer after my junior year. I had begun playing in my first college band toward the end of my junior year, and was introduced to her at a band practice. As with all things, I had my mind set on her. She was attending Cornell, and I spent about a quarter to a third of my semester in Ithaca. She was also the girl I lost my virginity to. When I learned that my father – who had told me for the majority of my life that sex before marriage was a sin – had moved in with my stepmother-to-be prior to getting married, I decided that if he could do it, I could do it. My father and got into a huge fight about it, which of course made our relationship more tenuous.

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I had been very involved in church since my freshman year, but many of my opinions and my taste in loud rock and electronic music did not serve me well there. I was frequently ostracized and decided I was done with religion. Now I was free, and all possibilities were open to me.

I also met my first drinking buddy, Yancy, who was just over four feet tall and suffered from a bone condition called O.I., which caused his bones to break easily. He could drink anyone I knew under the table. My third drinking experience took place in his dorm room, and it was the first time I would be drunk, two months before my 21st birthday. I was hungover for almost 24 hours. My head against the toilet bowl, I remember crying “I’m going to turn out just like my mom.”

I graduated college summer of 1996. As with the first 18 years, I’d dealt with a staggering amount of change in a short period of time. I now had a stepmother and step-siblings. The band had broken up. My faith in God had been deeply shaken. I was $8,000 in credit card debt and still working the same job I’d had as a freshman. I had broken up with my last girlfriend, the one I lost my virginity to, after finding out she had cheated on me. Really, what was I expecting? We were both so young, so far apart, and I was still as insecure and jealous as I had been in high school. In addition, I was drinking on a regular basis. Four years and I had learned nothing. The shadow of the divorce, the dissolution of my family and my mother’s alcoholism hung like a cloud over everything.

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During recording sessions for our band’s first album, I learned our engineer was as interested in electronic dance music as I was, and he began to teach me audio production. In fact, he had lived in Chicago during the early days of “house music” in the mid-1980s. I had discovered rave parties as a college sophomore in 1994, and though I loved the music I didn’t get the scene. Ironically, I was frightened by the drugs and the drama they brought. I began working my first job as a “computer graphics assistant” at Kinko’s and for 6 months, immersed myself in the rave scene while writing my first solo electronic album. I nearly went broke writing it and was close to 3 months behind on rent before it was finished. I also had my first experiences with ecstasy and marijuana at that time – but never seemed to experience the effects everyone else was. I decided to leave “drugs” behind and stick solely with drinking (clearly not a drug in my mind, because for me it was legal) – for almost nine years.

I finally got a “real” job as a graphic designer for IBM and worked there for 3 years. It was there I learned just how much I truly hated Powerpoint, and took my early steps into basic web design. In April 1998 I finished my first CD and had 1,000 physical copies pressed – we were still in the days before mp3 distribution. I was able to license my music for the first time, for use on MTV’s Real World. The album was called “breakup,” and as I had just begun DJ-ing in earnest, DJ FM became my stage name. So began my struggle between having a job “to pay the bills” and performing music “for the love.” In the process of purchasing new musical equipment, I began to go further into credit card debt and my drinking definitely increased.

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By Late 1999 I had begun a new job with a new company in North Carolina, and within a year I had begun yet another long-distance relationship with a young lady in Baltimore. The long drives got to me, and after a year I hurriedly decided to move to Baltimore. I found a job and an apartment, and even though I kept hearing this voice in the back of my mind telling me it was a bad idea, I felt i had no choice but to go through with it.

A side note: one of Janet Woititz’s “13 Characteristics of ACOAs” is as follows:
13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

Clearly, I had fallen right in line with that pattern.

Not surprisingly, within one week of moving there and beginning my job, she ended the relationship. Fortunately, my college friend Yancy was in Maryland as well working for the Navy, so I frequently drove down to visit him – where I drowned my sorrows in alcohol and he was all too happy to join me. Within two months, I had been let go from my job. Unable to pay my credit card debt, I found myself receiving calls from bill collectors day after day after week after month.

And then September 11th happened. Scared about further terrorist attacks, with no money, no job, and crestfallen about the relationship, I decided it was time to head back home. Driving back to my apartment in Baltimore to get the rest of my stuff, I drove past the Pentagon – which was still smoldering.

I lived with my mom for a short time, then managed to get my own apartment – a small room which I lovingly referred to as the Treehouse (part of Little Lake Hill). I took a job in Raleigh, but the boss was abusive and eventually the company went under. Still drinking, I was arrested for my first DUI in January of 2002, and convicted June 26th. I was once again broke, unable to pay rent, had no drivers license and was now $23,000 in credit card debt. One step away from bankruptcy, in desperation I entered credit counseling. This would be my first “come to jesus” moment, as I sat in the counselor’s office and with a pair of scissors, cut up all my credit cards. I also accepted a position in Wilmington, NC and was able to get a provisional license which would allow me to travel to and from work. I had stopped the bleeding for the time being – yet I was still drinking. My father and I got into a huge argument about my drinking and he kicked me out of the house that Christmas 2002, furthering the rift between us. My resentments had a body count.

Sadly, in February of 2003 my friend Yancy was killed in a drunk driving accident. He was returning home from the same bar in Maryland which we had visited time and time again. It truly broke my heart – what his bone condition hadn’t done in 26 years, a drunk driving accident took from him in seconds. Warning signs were all around me but I didn’t heed them. I was too heartbroken to care.

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I spent the next 5 years in credit counseling, paying down my massive credit card debt while dodging bankruptcy. My license was reinstated in June of 2003, and moved from Wilmington back to Raleigh at the end of 2003. I spent the next 4 years working for different ad agencies specializing in advertising for the real estate industry, which at the time was flourishing because of the “bubble.” I had partnered with a friend and we began DJ-ing at a new club on Glenwood Avenue, an area of Raleigh which was being gentrified from abandoned warehouses to living spaces, restaurants and clubs. It was high profile. I was still drinking, but my DUI was behind me and I was getting ever closer to paying down my credit card debt. I had been seriously dating someone for close to a year and a half. I also joined a band which I was a part of for over a year. I felt like my life was really starting to pick up.

Then the summer of 2007 happened.

After a disagreement with the lead singer, I quit the band and began DJ-ing more than ever. The young lady I had been dating and I split up, about as amicably as you could – we are still friends. I made my last payment to the credit counseling service, and was no longer knee-deep in debt. I began a new job in nearby Chapel Hill making double the money I had been. I started living with a long-time friend who had been a former co-worker at Kinkos, and also a raver who was plugged in to online drug sources. Between my love of alcohol, and his love for and ability to get drugs, I joked once that we had a cottage industry. I was single, newly employed, out of debt, rich (for me), and DJ-ing everywhere. This was the beginning of the end.

That summer I was reintroduced to ecstasy after a 9-year hiatus from drugs of any kind (save for alcohol), and I was floored. It worked, and it worked in a big way. I finally understood what everyone had been telling me. It was an “ah ha” moment. Ecstasy (MDMA) is essentially a really powerful SSRI – instead of intermittent doses to your frontal cortex, Ecstasy tells your brain “HAVE IT ALL!” I began to realize that there was a level of communication which I’d been missing my entire life. And while the vast majority of my experiences with ecstasy were simply “chasing the dragon” and “pushing the envelope,” I have to say that Ecstasy made me aware of a world of openness and caring that I had been missing – one which I now happily experience without the benefit of substances. But there you have it. Without Ecstasy, I would’ve never known it existed.

I was also introduced to a club drug called GBL – a prodrug of GHB which had first been popularized in the UK. It combined the buzz of alcohol with the body buzz of ecstasy. Of all the substances I have taken in my life, it was my “crack,” my “heroin,” the drug I would have stolen for, lied for…and all I had to do was order it online. Many underground websites in Europe sold it. I would use my credit card, and in two weeks it was at my door. No street dealers, no cops, no nothing. A great buzz delivered via air mail. Like GHB, it was also ridiculously easy to OD on if you weren’t careful when you took it.

My drug use and my alcohol use were beginning to skyrocket in parallel. In February I was introduced to the woman I’d be dating for the next 5 years. She was beautiful, smart as a whip and had a huge heart. Coming from the west coast, she introduced me to Burning Man, the culture of “burns” and the lifestyle. I introduced her to how cheap drugs were on the east coast, and we became partners in crime. Competitive and never to be outdone, she matched me shot for shot, pill for pill, dose for dose. We partied weekend after weekend, and together eventually went to Burning Man in 2008. We agreed when we got home that we would slow our use, but it didn’t happen. It accelerated. And as our “honeymoon” phase wore off, the drugs and our personal and emotional issues took their toll. We were fighting quite often and the only times it seemed we weren’t is when we did ecstasy together.

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I began January of 2009 collecting unemployment. I spent 9 months at home. Getting drunk, getting high, still going out night after night. All while my girlfriend was at her job. I sank deeper and deeper into my own little world, and eventually she nagged me into accepting a new job, which I was absolutely not in any shape to take on. I also had one of the worst, most cutting, critical and mean direct supervisors I’d had the pleasure of working with. That, combined with my daily drug and alcohol use made life a nightmare.

September 29, 2009, I was let go from my job. Depressed, I dosed myself on GBL. 3 hours later, I found myself in the parking lot of a convenience store one county over, with 3 police cars behind me. Since I hadn’t been drinking, I blew a zero on the breathalyzer. But they had probably cause to arrest me considering my behavior, and they confiscated my conical of GBL. I spent the afternoon in a holding cell, and missed a couples counseling session with my girlfriend. When I bailed myself out and made it home, she hid the GBL from me. I, of course, found it and began using it again, along with alcohol. A little more than 2 weeks later I ended up overdosing on it at a friend’s house and spent 4 days in the hospital. This friend, the same friend I had lived with during the “salad days” of my using – who had performed CPR on me and kept me alive long enough for the paramedics to show up – was taken into custody and had my drugs pinned on him, even though he was completely innocent of any charges. Unconscious, I could do nothing to speak on his behalf. I found all of this out when I woke up in the emergency room.

All of this took place in less than 3 weeks.

A month later, I was sleeping on his floor, drinking in secret, once again going broke and facing $25,000 in hospital bills – with no health insurance. Even after trying to get individual coverage, BCBS denied me because of “pre-existing conditions.” I was separated from my girlfriend and was doing nothing. He discovered I’d been drinking in secret, and took me to Wake County Alcoholism Treatment Center, where his girlfriend at the time waited with me for close to 5 hours before a bed opened up. She had to fill out the forms for me, as my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t fill them out myself – the early stages of delerium tremens (or the “DT’s”).

This was two days before Thanksgiving, 2009. 

This was rock-bottom.

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You can read Part One of my story here:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/19/my-story-part-one/

Or, read Part Three:
https://mylaststand.org/2016/10/24/my-story-part-three/

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Recovery

My Story, Part One.

(originally posted on Since Right Now, July 31, 2014)

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I WAS BORN IN DANVILLE, PA ON NOVEMBER 6, 1973, THE SON OF TWO UNIVERSITY PROFESSORS.

I’d grown up on university campuses and around academics for the majority of my early life. My father accepted a job with NC State University in 1976, so we moved – and save for two self-imposed moves on my part (one to Baltimore, MD, and one to Wilmington, NC), I’ve lived and worked in the Triangle area of central NC for most of my life. North Carolina truly is my home.

For the first 12 years, things were pretty typical. While my parents certainly weren’t well off, I never wanted for anything. There was always food to eat, a roof over my head, and I always felt loved. As an only child, I was spooled rotten, and rarely if ever was asked to do chores. As early as I can remember I was anxious, my hands always had a slight tremor, and frequently I would bite my fingernails and wring my hands. I had stage fright which only seemed to worsen as I entered adolescence. I was also terrible at athletics, though my dad desperately tried to teach me baseball and basketball. I was painfully shy and introverted, living most of my life in my own head and imagination. Ultimately, this imagination provided me an escape – writing stories, drawing, listening to tons of music, and making animations on one of the earliest Apple Macintosh computers, which my father purchased in 1985.

I HAD RARELY IF EVER SEEN MY PARENTS DRINK, AND CERTAINLY NEVER SAW MY PARENTS DRUNK. 1986 CHANGED ALL THAT.

My mom had begun teaching at a prestigious private school in Raleigh, which I had the (mis)fortune of being able to attend because I was her son. She began attending faculty functions where alcohol was served, functions which my Dad really didn’t enjoy. So he and I would frequently go see movies whenever my mom went out. On one particular occasion my dad and I came home to find mom’s car parked sideways in the driveway. Scared, we both went inside and found her sitting indian style on the floor, blackout drunk (which I didn’t understand at the time). The only example of a drunk person I’d ever seen was Otis from “The Andy Griffith Show.” This was quite different. The next day my parents sat me down, my mom explained what happened, and that it wouldn’t happen again.

THIS WAS A PROMISE THAT WOULD BE BROKEN OVER AND OVER.

I also became aware during this time that my mom had begun a relationship with one of the other teachers, who happened to be a woman. My parents were fighting quite often, and I couldn’t parse any of it. My mom couldn’t possibly be gay, I thought, because I *existed*. I was “proof,” right? I simply had no understanding, and no one was explaining anything to me. I would frequently sit at the top of the stairs holding the cat, listening to them yell. One Saturday morning, my dad came downstairs as I was watching cartoons and told me mom was moving out. He probably remembers what he said better than I do, and I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been for him. It wasn’t until much later in life that I would understand all of my mom’s struggles. What I know for certain is that within a year of seeing my mom drunk for the first time, my family – such as I had known it – was over. I would never trust or rely on the idea of “family” the same way again.

I began doing things which were very uncharacteristic for me. Back in public school, I came close to failing the 8th grade and to conceal the fact, began forging my dad’s signatures on official school documents so that he wouldn’t find out. I also began shoplifting, mostly CDs and porn magazines. All of this came to my dad’s attention at different times, and while he was very, very angry with me for it he never seemed to take it as a warning sign that something in me was changing, and not for the better. I never saw a therapist, was never told to go to one, and was never made to attend an Alanon meeting. To the best of my knowledge, neither did he. We did, however, start going to church – which I began to immerse myself in as time went on.

I was able to turn things around in high school, got my grades back up to A’s and B’s, and started playing trumpet in the marching band. I was bullied almost daily by a popular upperclassman, which made high school a scary place to be. No matter who I told, no one seemed able or inclined to do anything. But no matter how scared, anxious or hurt I was, I never picked up a drink. Friends would periodically offer them to me, but I turned them down flat. After seeing what had happened with my mom, I wanted no part of it – for the time being. She began reaching out to me, so that we could begin rebuilding our relationship. One day after school, probably in 1990, I’d gone over to her apartment to rest, and sitting on her dining room table were the divorce papers. It had been finalized in 1988, but no one had told me. What I realized at that moment was until I’d seen those papers, there was a tiny part of me that had always hoped my parents would get back together. No longer.

My dad and I also had a strained relationship at times, and no wonder. We were two angry men – one of whom had lost a wife, the other a mother – living in a big, empty house which for my dad probably represented everything he hoped their marriage would be. Now, it was an albatross around his neck. And neither of us were getting any help for our pain, save for church. I was also a latch-key kid, because my father had to teach sometimes until 7pm. By the time he got home he was tired and probably not in the mood to deal with a teenager. Sometimes, I would be the typical smartass adolescent and start arguments, sometimes my dad would just be in a foul mood and lose his temper. So while I kept my grades up and kept quiet, I confided in him less and less as time went by. The only times I knew for certain that we would be okay (i.e.. not arguing) were on Sundays. Church, it seems, brought us together – more for the shared experience of it than the spirituality I think. But my dad always did his best to explain and discuss scripture with me, and we prayed together nightly.

My mom bought me my first guitar at age 16 and I began listening to very loud, angry metal music. It was an ideal release for me and I still play guitar to this day, at least an hour a day. I also met my first girlfriend in high school, which was a transformative experience to say the least. The night I called her up to ask her out, she had been drinking. Her parents allowed her to drink alcohol as long as she and her friends remained in the house. Again, I never partook and was always very clear about it. We broke up at least 3-4 times that I’m aware of – but such is the nature of high school relationships. With all my “mommy issues” I imagine I was an insecure mess to say the least.

The night of my high school graduation, some friends and I went out and snuck into a local pool which, at 10pm, was locked up. So we scaled the fence. They’d brought some vodka and sprite with them, which I broke down and took a few sips of. I don’t recall feeling anything, nor did I really like what I was tasting. My dad found out and the next day and confronted me. He told me the following, unequivocally:

“SOME DAY, YOU’LL BE OLD ENOUGH TO BUY ALCOHOL, AND WHEN THAT DAY COMES YOU’LL HAVE A CHOICE TO MAKE. I HOPE YOU WILL CHOOSE NOT TO, BUT IT WILL BE YOUR CHOICE. HOWEVER, GIVEN YOUR FAMILY HISTORY AND YOUR GENETIC MAKE-UP, IF YOU CHOOSE TO DRINK YOU ARE PLAYING WITH FIRE!”

By my senior year I had already tuned out his warning messages, and the messages of my mother. I didn’t trust or care about either of their opinions. In my eyes they could barely keep their own lives and sanity together, and college was my first opportunity to try my own hand at living life. I was a ticking time-bomb: insecure; naïve; self-righteous; and under a *lot* of pressure to perform. I was already adept at lying and stealing – no drugs or alcohol required.

When I moved into my dorm, I snapped a “selfie” on an old Pentax K-1000. This picture would represent the last time either of my parents could reach me.

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addiction, Adult Child of an Alcoholic, Consequences, Recovery

Adult Child.

(originally posted to tumblr Feb 5th, 2014 – revised, edited and re-written)

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In addition to being an alcoholic and addict myself, I am also the “adult child of an alcoholic.” So what does that look like? During the early part of my life the only drug I had ever seen with my own two eyes was alcohol. It was mass media that gave me my first inklings of drugs other than alcohol. My parents drank wine occasionally, but I never saw beer or liquor in the house.

As a kid in the mid-1980s, crack cocaine was all over the news, and “just say no” was the catch-phrase of the moment. I can tell you for a fact that my parents had no access to crack cocaine, wouldn’t have known where to buy it, and probably wouldn’t have been able to buy it from a street dealer even if they wanted to.

Of course, crack wasn’t the only drug I’d learned about through the media. The first time I’d heard of LSD was the case of Jeffrey MacDonald, a clean-cut Green Beret and doctor who was convicted in 1979 of killing of his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He himself blamed the killings on Charles Manson-like hippies doped up on LSD. He was first indicted by a North Carolina grand jury in 1975, so the case was all over the local news, and spawned the book “Fatal Vision.”

I didn’t know what LSD looked like, didn’t know what it did, and knew of no one I could buy it from. However, based on what I’d heard from those many news reports, I thought I “knew” two things:
– LSD makes you want to kill people.
– Hippies are dangerous.

That remained my impression for many, many years. In my real-world experience, I have found neither to be remotely true. All of it seemed so far removed from me.

The only “drunk” person I’d ever seen up to that point was Otis of “The Andy Griffith Show.” He seemed silly, clumsy, and I could never understand why he would go to the courthouse and lock himself in jail – all the while the TV sitcom laugh track running in the background. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized he was doing for the sheriff what the sheriff would’ve done anyway: lock him up so he could sleep off the booze.

None of this is reality. But I was about to face reality for the first time.

I had never seen either of my parents drunk until 1986. My mom had gone to a faculty function at the private school where she taught, and my dad and I went to see the movie “Gung Ho” with Michael Keaton. It was a typical mid-1980s movie about American superiority over other world cultures, and this case the Japanese and car manufacturing. We both enjoyed it a lot, and it was during those trips to the movies that I really got to know my dad for the first time. We drove home laughing all the way.

(Side note: it was through watching movies that I was first able to find ways of coping with cravings for alcohol and drugs in early recovery.)

Once we got home, the laughter came to swift end. My mom’s car was parked to the left of the driveway, diagonally and very close to the lone tree in the middle of our front yard. Dad and I looked at one another, and were both concerned (read: terrified). When we walked into the house, I called out “Mom? Mom?” Her response was delayed…”I’m right here.” It was faint, and at first I thought I heard it coming from the living room. So we went into the living room, and she was not there.

“Where are you mom?”

“I’m right here,” her response again.

When Dad and I went upstairs, we saw my mom sitting indian-style on the bedroom floor, with a towel wrapped around her head. “Mom?” I said again. “I’m right here.” She thought that she was sitting in the bathtub taking a bath. She didn’t seem to be aware of where she was. I couldn’t understand the disconnect – did my mom not see me? Her eyes were sometimes closed, sometimes open, but she didn’t really seem to know I was there. It would be many more years before I saw another person who was black-out drunk, and several years after that before I’d find myself black-out drunk.

As with the fights my parents had during my childhood, my parents sat me down in the living room the morning after. My mom told me what had happened, that she’d had a mixed drink for the first time at the faculty party. That drink led to another, and before she knew it…you can probably extrapolate the rest. My guess it that it wasn’t the first time my mom had tasted a mixed drink. In any case, they reassured me that they loved me. This time, however, they promised me “it would never happen again.” Fights between parents were normal, drunkenness was not. As you can probably guess, her promise was broken time and time again.

All of it left me feeling sideways. I was still thinking about the version of my mom I’d seen the night before, thinking about Otis. It scared me to the core, and I remember thinking how wrong the media was in their portrayals of alcohol, drugs, and addiction. For me, this was the beginning of wisdom and betrayal.

For years I struggled with the pain of that moment. For years I imitated the examples I had been shown in both my parents: my mom, the active alcoholic trying to put her life together, slipping, getting back up, slipping; and my dad, the codependent and the rescuer, who also took some of his anger towards my mom out on me. At first, being terrified of alcohol, I was the rescuer – as well as wanting to be rescued myself. Neither of my parents really directed me towards any kind of therapy, so I had no idea that I was falling right into those typical self-destructive patterns. I honestly didn’t trust either of them anyway. They both seemed earth to me.

So once I finally gave in and indulged in my first drunk, I became the epitome of the walking wounded. I surpassed even my mom’s worst days, and over the course of 14 years probably consumed more drugs and alcohol that all the members of my family now living combined. I’m not proud of that. I wish my life could’ve gone any other way than it did. Today, I’m in long-term recovery and my life is better than it has ever been.

After I got sober the first time, my dad asked me, “what could I have done to prevent this from happening?” The simple fact is that an untreated ACOA is a ticking time bomb. Of course, there’s no guarantee that someone will go down that path. But the risk goes up exponentially, and in my case – even after years of fear being drilled into me, years of church, years of attempting to find friends in any social group that didn’t revolve around alcohol or drugs – ultimately I chose that path.

Scare tactics aren’t enough, fear isn’t enough, even love isn’t enough. If your child is the son or daughter of an alcoholic, and there has been trauma in the family, treatment is a necessity. Allow them to go to Alanon meetings, talk with them about their feelings, find a therapist they can talk to. And be active about it – not all therapists work with all kids, and not all support groups work for all people. Help them find the thing that works. Listen, be interested, be engaged – because while they are still young, they can still be reached.

Maybe we didn’t know in the 1980s the full extent of an ACOA’s dilemmas and struggles. But we know today. We have access to the sum total of human knowledge from our smartphones. Alanon meetings, therapists and help are a Google search away. We owe our children – our adult children – our best effort. To do anything less is to risk a life being caught up in the jaws of addiction.

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