THOM YORKE HAS JUST STOPPED BOTHERING TO WEAR SHIRTS. I blame Flea, obviously.
Today, I have been sober for 731 days.
That's one regular year, and one leap year if you're counting.
I am celebrating my second sober birthday by visiting my best friend in Philadelphia and taking her to an Atoms for Peace show, where I will shimmy and shake it and dance it out with Thom Yorke and Flea and Nigel and I will sing along and smile as Thom dances that way he does. And Erin will laugh at my ridiculous love for all things Thom, and he will sing and I will be fully present, and my heart will go to that place it goes when I get to be in the same room with that voice. I will do these things with my full faculties intact, a clear head, and a vivacious heart.
I am grateful and humbled and amazed that I have made it here. It took a really long time. It was a big mountain.
There was a time in my life when I was unable to attend a show, or any social function, including a casual dinner at a friend's house, without booze. Let's be honest, any excuse, especially a band playing, was a fine occasion for boozing it up. I have always loved live music, but as time went on, my ability to show up at gigs was often more for the drink, rather than the music or performance I claimed to want to see. By the time the main attraction came on, I was usually four or five drinks in, and well on my way to being checked out. I actually thought being drunk enhanced my enjoyment of music. That's kind of the biggest lie ever. Although, I suppose it can feel good at the time, as much as being completely out of control of yourself, as much as total oblivion, can feel good. When you're in that state of living, it's hard to know that you're really hurting, because you can't feel anything.
It's weird to think about being that person now.
I've had the pleasure of seeing so many performances over the last two years, shows that painted vivid memories in my mind of the emotions I experienced, the people I was with, and of the music. I saw Black Rebel Motorcycle Club for the first time ever, packed with a thousand happy hippies in the rain and mud at Austin Psych Fest. I watched my dear friends Capsula play a sunny afternoon set on the same stage and saw hundreds of people falling in love with them in the span of a half hour. It was a magical thing to behold.
In 2012, I saw Radiohead play four times in one week, and somehow managed to get a ticket to their taping of Austin City Limits. I even remember that I was wearing my red and purple dress with the flowers, my red Doc Marten boots, and that I overflowed the gas pump on the way to the show I was so excited to be going. I was shaking with joy.
I stood on the front row of Red 7 with tears running down my face and let Caspian make my heart explode inside my chest. I've rocked out in Dallas with Frightened Rabbit, stood transfixed on the front row while We Were Promised Jetpacks played the last show of SXSW, watched a four hour set by Leonard Cohen with six encores at Bass Concert Hall, been transfigured by Sigur Ros, swooned with The xx, laughed my face off at Louis CK, seen Alan Cumming naked in his one man Macbeth on Broadway, and flown across the country to see The Boxer Rebellion play in New York City.
I cried when Macklemore and Ryan Lewis played "Ten Thousand Hours" outside at the old Emo's. And when Semi Precious Weapons played "Aviation High" at our last SXSW before Erin moved to Philly. I watched Sarah Jaffe play an acoustic set in a Mad Men living room, danced my face off at a Chvrches show at Mohawk and The Black Angels put me into a serious trance at their Austin City Limits taping last month.
Seeing music I love sober is one of the greatest things about my life. It actually hurts to think about all the years I went and dulled myself to the magical shit that was happening on the stage in front of me. I was never capable of making that kind of emotional connection when I was drinking. Not with music, not with anyone. But now, I listen. I have been purely engulfed in the moment at countless shows these last two years with nothing more than a dollar in my pocket, a friend and a smile. Again and again, I look to the stage and feel complete. I am here. I am with you. All is not lost.
Russell Brand wrote an article for The Guardian a few months ago, My Life Without Drugs, that I have been saving to read until today. Russell has been clean and sober for ten years, and in addition to being a pretty irreverent and sexy Cockney ragamuffin, he's actually quite the insightful, eloquent writer. While our journeys back from the brink of addiction are different, I think this essay in particular is a beautiful explanation of what it's like being a recovered addict and alcohol abuser.
Reading that article, I feel lucky. Lucky that I don't have to think about not using heroin everyday like Russell does. Lucky that my battles with my alcohol demons are fairly few and far between these days. Like Russell, I follow the inevitable train of thought when I fantasize about getting a drink. I let my mind wander through that first, refreshing sip of a cold martini or Jameson. And I roll on through to the next drink, and the next, and the next, where I feel looser, more crass, more sexualized and careless and rowdy and sloppy. Where I start to not like the way I am behaving. Where I forget where I am and who I am with. Where I start not to care who I am. Where I stop being me and the monster takes over.
Well, I'll let Russell tell you what that's like.
"I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce's yacht, it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house. I look to drugs and booze to fill up a hole in me; unchecked, the call of the wild is too strong. I still survey streets for signs of the subterranean escapes that used to provide my sanctuary. I still eye the shuffling subclass of junkies and dealers, invisibly gliding between doorways through the gutters. I see that dereliction can survive in opulence; the abundantly wealthy with destitution in their stare."My reality is this: The euphoric recall of enthused days full of bliss and carefree, drunken afternoons getting bombed and snorting lines are a lie. The reality is a woebegone nightmare, pissing your pants, spending all your money, and waking up covered in vomit with someone you don't remember. Or worse, waking up alone after a few reckless days on the white mountain and deciding killing yourself would be easier than coming off the ride again. It always struck me as ironic, how suicide seems like such a gift when you're in that much pain. People think that suicide hurts the one who does it, but it doesn't. By design, the only people who hurt are the ones who are left behind.
And although I chose a different path out, and don't participate in traditional recovery support groups, I had more than two years of extensive therapy that allowed me to learn how to cope with a new reality that did not include alcohol. For me, reliving my mistakes and fighting my addiction one day at a time wasn't going to work long term. I needed a solution that gave me back my choice and control and allowed me to accept the full responsibility of my behavioral choices. It gave me my power back. I needed to be able to go through hell, and still not pick up a drink. And I did. Over and over. My father went to prison, and then he died, and still I did not drink. Tragedy was my remedy. I can't thank my therapist enough for giving me the tools to get my life back. Howard, you are the best, and I owe you all the gratitude in the world.
I also could not have done it without my support system. Although I'm not calling a sponsor at 4am to help talk me down from the brink of scoring crack from a homeless man on the sidewalk, I do have a hardcore team of supporters who I know would come drag that bottle out of my hand and help me for any reason if I asked. In fact, I don't even have to ask. These people are just there for me. That's how badass these ladies are. Erin, Liz, Sara, Sam. Thank you. You are truly wonderful, lifelong friends.
No matter how we get to the sober place, the thing that matters is that we stay. We just don't pick up, as Russell says. I may daydream about having a glass of wine in a cafe in Paris someday, but I know I never will. I don't need to or want to take that chance. My desire for drink has mostly gone, because I have changed the reality I live in. I like it here. I don't need to cope with the horrors of daily life, because there's nothing wrong that I can't handle now. France is so amazing on its own, I don't want to miss a moment of that being inebriated. Sometimes I do get in that "listen to Morrissey or die" headspace and have a pity party for my lonely heart. But even then, I never lose hope. I remember the way I was, and I am grateful. I regret nothing, because I am the sum of my experiences and choices that led me to this moment.
I'm in a body that I love and care for relentlessly. I'm 60 pounds lighter and a hundred years younger. I'm comfortable, compassionate, rational, responsible, and reasonable. Instead of pure survival, I am faced with the problem figuring out what I want the rest of my life to be about, what kind of career I want, where I want to live, and who I want to spend my time with. I live inside the luxury of being faced with living up to my own potential and following my dreams.
If you are struggling with alcohol or drugs, there is a way out. I am a willing resource to help, and I know how you feel. Get in touch, no matter who you are. I will listen. I will understand. I will never judge you. Not ever.
(Two years sober! BOOM! And I will also remember with vigor the time EO and I saw Atoms for Peace play and no one wore shirts. BEST DAY EVER.)
731 Days on Spotify