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

My Story, Part Four.

Not. Fucking. Guilty.

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

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

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

It was a miracle…

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

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Relapse.

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

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

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

But that is not me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(studio, before relapse)

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

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(studio, after relapse)

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

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

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

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

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(Born Like This)
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(Roxaboxen)

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

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

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

jon_julia

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

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