Friday, February 5, 2016

CONFESSIONS OF A LIFELONG MUSIC ADDICT-How music saved my mortal soul

Addiction is an awful thing. I know this statement isn't particularly earth shattering or profound, but when you're 50 years old, trapped inside a prison of your own making, it's not so simple. I was born in 1952, this  makes me a full-fledged, in-all-the-way, child of the sixties and all its trappings: music, drugs, concerts, living every day as if that day were all that mattered. In retrospect, even from the vantage point of someone twelve years into recovery, I most likely wouldn't change a thing about those early years. It was romantic and exciting, seemingly filled with endless possibilities, while of course steering clear of those horrifying adult  words like responsibility and maturity.
What happens though  when that child of the sixties  rockets forward into the nineties but maintains that same teenage maturity level. It doesn't seem to work so well when you smash against the limits and constraints of the real adult world.
I will not be going into a year-by-year drug- or drunkalog: the end result is what's important, and the end result is that at 51 years old, what started out as fun and exciting, ended miserably with my daily drinking and drugging, mostly alone, nothing social or romantic about it. On the outside, everything seemed normal because the insidious nature of an opiate addiction is that it can be hidden, it is secret. As long as the addict can feed a daily habit, he or she can go about the  business of life as if everything is fine, when it is anything but.
So at 51, in an effort to save my life, I found myself at a lovely little resort area called Silver Hills in New Caanan, Connecticut, supposedly the rehab to the stars.Trust me,  no one I met in the K house detox unit was tabloid material.
Miserable with the pain of withdrawal,  coupled with a sense that my life as I knew it was over, I stumbled down to what was called the “med room”. I sat  patiently while the rehab residents got their vital signs taken and were administered  whatever meds they needed to help with the process.

Out of the corner of my eye, on an old beat-up end table, I saw a small CD player with a bunch of CD's  scattered around. I wandered over and asked politely if it would be okay to play some music.  I started shuffling through the CD's to see what might be listenable. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Montavani, Peggy Lee (not so bad but not what I was looking for)… but then, lo and behold, Johnny Cash, the album American IV with producer Rick Rubin. I was not familiar with the record. I put it in,  and settled back on  the sofa… to this:

  Johnny, who had gone through his own addiction nightmare, seemed to be talking directly to me. That's how I felt as I sat back, closed my eyes, and let the music take me over. And then amazingly the second song on the album:

"I focus on the pain, the only thing that's real.”

And there, in that little room, Johnny spoke to me again.
The realization that for the past two years I had completely ignored something which had been an integral part of my life since I was 10 washed over me. For the next few days these two songs served to remind me that I had done damage to my soul, I had physically and metaphorically dug myself into a dark and dangerous hole. Listening to these songs over and over each day were my first few wobbly steps back into the light.
The album, of course, has other great songs, but I played those two songs in a loop, until eventually a lynch mob of angry addicts formed and told me to knock it off.
After six days in rehab, I was released back into the real world. Between the acute care lock-up and the rehab I had been sober for a grand total of nine days, which wasn't encouraging because I had gone through the pain of withdrawal several times over the past few years, and always fell right back into old habits as soon as I would start to feel better. But this time, I had two things to lean on, the 12-step program, introduced to me in rehab, and music, which amazingly enough, had to be re-introduced to me.
And so, with a singleness of purpose I started going to meetings, at least one a day, sometimes multiples a day, for the next three years, and when I wasn't going to meetings, I was listening to music. In 2003  Napster was still alive and I must have downloaded 2000 songs in the next few weeks, when I wasn't downloading, I was burning CD's, giving them titles, rating them, giving them to friends. In short, I was like a musical mad scientist.
And slowly, the little pieces of my soul that addiction had chipped away, much like Andy Dufrense systematically chipping his way out of prison in The Shawshank Redemption (the difference being I was chipping my way into a prison), slowly began to fall back into place, a little at a time.
And now, when I listen to music, or go to a concert, I am present and open and able to fully appreciate every nuance -- and amazingly, sobriety is fun and romantic and exciting. Like Brandi Carlile says; 
"you can dance in a hurricane, but only if you’re standing in the eye.”   

"It really breaks my heart, to see a dear old friend, go down to that worn out place again.”

So now 12 years later, music, as well as all the other things that matter to me are back in my life, and I still attend 12-step meetings on a regular basis.
It's a tricky situation given the fact that “God” and a belief in such plays a huge role in the 12 steps, and that dynamic doesn't really work for me. But I am a very spiritual person with a strong belief in the power gained from one person helping another on their respective roads to sobriety. The power isn't necessarily a higher power. It's more an earthly power, and it's felt every time I sit in a meeting surrounded by people who, whether they like you or not, want you to succeed. That's a dynamic that doesn't exist in many other facets of society.
So although the power isn't higher, step two of the 12 steps reads: “came to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity.” Well, for me in many ways, that power was, and still is, music.
  So back to Brandi. Besides “The Eye,” she has also written one of the greatest  songs ever about addiction:

  The person that let music, as well as everything else important, slip from his life -- well, that wasn't me.


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