the despair & depression disco dance party playlist

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The road map of my “journey” with drugs and alcohol can be done by venue. Journey is a hilarious word as if it required some old-timey scroll map and a brass telescope. Anyway, the progression for me is easy to chart. What started at teen goth and alternative clubs moved into raves and warehouse parties which moved to gay bars followed by all kinds of clubs and bars in Los Angeles which landed me at dive bars and soon enough drinking seven nights at home on my couch.  All of those locales naturally came with a soundtrack and as a lifelong music freak, one-time record store employee and DJ, I really thought the reason why I went out was because of the music. Knowing what I know now, I can see it was about the music but it was also about getting fucked up. And towards the end, it was just easier to get drunk and listen to music at home on my couch.

2009, the year I got sober, also had a soundtrack. I was riding the bus an hour each way everyday from Echo Park to Santa Monica for college which gave me lots of time in my headphones. Most days, I’d find a spot on the bus and hide in the back to listen to Jenny Lewis on repeat so I could cry my face off. When you’ve recently been evicted, watched you relationship of 11 years implode and quit drinking and using drugs, you kind of don’t give a shit about what people think so crying on the bus came with zero shame. Plus, its Los Angeles. People are so self-involved you’d practically have to be naked and on fire to get people to notice and even then they probably wouldn’t unless they recognized you from a reality show. In addition to my boo-hoo playlist, I was oddly drawn back into the electro music that I loved and played in my drinking days. But this time it happened in my headphones while waiting at downtown LA bus stops.

Although that little iPod I used to clutch onto like Linus does his blanket has long flown off to the electronics heaven in the sky, some of those songs still remain. Thanks to the Cloud and Apple’s inability to let anything go, I still own a lot of what I listened to the year I got sober. I recently looked at some of those songs again as they now follow me on my phone as if it’s still 2009 and was surprised at the soundtrack that pulled me through the hardest year of my life.

Basically everything off M83’s excellent Saturdays=Youth record tells the story of my 2009. Moody, teenage in spirit but adult in loss, the album was the perfect soundtrack for someone whose life was being rebuilt. I specifically remember listening to this beautiful track walking around downtown LA and waiting for the bus.

This is the song that pushed me down the rabbit hole of playlists past. I heard it on Pandora a few days ago and was immediately transported to that year and all of those feelings. Undeniably dancey and catchy, I’m sure I identified on some level with the dark as hell lyrics like:

In the darkness, A killer awaits
To kill a life, And the lies you make
You do another, So this death can live
Just keep on dancing.

Tapping into my 1980’s soul who loved bands Human League and New Order, “Lights and Music” was one of those songs I could just blast and not think about anything. Sure, I was a million miles away from the party atmosphere they talk about in the song but the dance party in my mind was lit, y’all.

Speaking of the 80’s, Cyndi Lauper is so ingrained in who I am as gay man that it would require another post and a box of tissue to really scrape the surface of how much she changed my life as a child. So of course she was there again in 2009 with this track from the tragically unappreciated Bring Ya To The Brink.

Turned up loud enough, this song by Everything But the Girl frontwoman Tracey Thorn was best enjoyed in 2009 while walking at night and participating in text fights with my ex. Like I said, everything has a soundtrack.

Seeing Karen O live on stage is like watching a hurricane turn into a person. I had totally forgotten until I scanned my library how much I played the hell out of this song. Maybe in my weakened state I was hoping to summon Karen’s fierce magic would rub off on me.

The epitome of #Underrated, this rollicking jam sums up every ripped open, pissed off desperate emotion I was going through at the time. Lyrics like, “Oh my god. You think I’m in control” and “Find a cure for my life” still punch me in the gut today and take me back to that place where the world felt like it was ending.

To listen to these songs now is like watching a movie about another person. They vividly compose a picture of a life in peril, a life in progress, a life with no certainty. But it’s a life so alien to the cozy and relatively sane one I have today. I can hear these tracks and sing and dance along to them but the picture of this guy in utter despair is still crystal clear. Nobody told me as I schlepped myself on the bus to school and AA meetings that the chances I’d come out the other end and stay sober weren’t good. Nobody told me that I was walking a thin line between life and death. Nobody told me that the numbers and statistics of a person like me staying sober weren’t exactly in my favor.

Or maybe they did and I just turned the music up and kept walking.

 

8

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Here’s something crazy: 8 years ago today, I stopped drinking and doing drugs. Even crazier? I haven’t started again. As in 2920 days in a row without a day drinking, night drinking, late afternoon drinking– any kind of drinking at all. Oh and no drugs either which is really something because I like drugs a lot. Designer drugs, designer imposter drugs, over the counter, under the counter–whatever. I’m like Oprah with bread but with drugs–I LOVE DRUGS! But for some weird reason I haven’t done any, not even a shady Benadryl to help me sleep, in a 8 whole years. Like I said, fucking crazy.

A few days ago, my husband said, “That’s right- you have a birthday coming up! How has year seven been?” To which I replied, “Uhh. Ehh. Um. Interesting. Hard. But good. But like I wouldn’t want to do it again.” This is a fairly accurate response. As I’ve lamented on these very pages over the last nearly 7 months (thank you for reading them, by the way!), I feel like I’ve been in an intense game of emotional blackjack for the last year. Each day brought on new challenges and new emotions who showed up to the party like some crazy ass long-lost relative. It got to the point by September where I found myself thinking, “Oh. Even more emotions? Fabulous.” There have been long periods of sadness and feeling uncomfortable as well as extreme moments of joy where I stop and look at my life and can’t believe how good it is. Suffice to say, I’ve identified a lot with the character Maeve on Westworld  , the robot who wakes up in chaos and struggles to deal with reality and having emotions. So that’s how year seven has been—sad, chaotic, bizarre and beautiful. Yet if I’m gonna get really real here, there’s something else that turning 8 helps a lot with: fear.

Back in February, I came clean with my sponsor. After a few weeks of acting cagey and distant, I let it out. I was in a lot of fear about being seven years sober. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy of course. I mean anytime sober for a person like me is amazing. But I couldn’t help it I was scared shitless. A few months before I turned 7, someone in my extended sober family with 7 years relapsed and then killed themselves. A few more months before that I had received word that somebody with days more sober than me from my old home group had relapsed and had vanished. Couple this with even more friends who had turned seven, relapsed and never came back. I was really freaked out that my fate in year seven would be exactly the same. My sponsor, this sweet man who helps me for free and listens to my bucket of crazy on the regular, told me it that this was a healthy fear.  Like not wanting to die or relapse are pretty legit things for sober people to be afraid of. He then asked me what I was going to do about it. Sigh. You mean I have to do something about it too? I couldn’t just wallow in fear and hope for the best? Ugh.

So I did exactly what I did back in 2009, I did the 12 Steps and am still currently in the work. I won’t ramble about them here because it’s a well tread topic that I don’t have anything new to add to. But they’ve saved my life and I’m a happier, more honest less shitty person to be around because of them. The point was, this fear, this urgency to not feel awful turned out to be a miracle. I think wanting to not stay stuck in destructive states of mind and wanting to keep changing/growing instead means progress is still happening, even 8 years later. I hear over and over again that recovery is something you don’t graduate from. I guess I believe it but I’d be lying if I said that I’m not holding out to meet that person who graduated from recovery and now can drink like a normal individual. They haven’t showed up yet but when they do, I’ve got some questions! Anyway, I think this unconformability has turned into an asset. It’s put a fire in me to try to face life head on and to stay open for personal growth. Note that I use the phrases “try” and  “stay open” because  wanting to get better is still not automatic.

I marvel at people who have had everything just click into place once they’ve gotten sober and poof! All of their old crappy behaviors just vanish. This has never been my experience. Each tidbit of emotional and spiritual growth I’ve had has taken for fucking ever and many of life’s lessons are ones I need to repeat about 60 times before they sink it. Not only is this poetic and hilarious karma for an instant gratification junkie like myself, but it is also okay.  When I first got sober the people who helped me the most were the ones who shared about life being hard and not feeling great all of the tine but who miraculously stayed sober anyway. I feel like I’m one of those people today: somebody who’s life is real and raw and not perfect but also somebody who stays sober, no matter what.

So here I am walking into year 8 with less fear, more hope and a shit-ton of gratitude for a life that I could have never dreamed possible. Like I said, crazy.