By JT James JAN. 6, 2018
Earlier this month marked 4 years since I had my last adult beverage. It came and went with not a whole lot of fanfare just the way I wanted it. I’m grateful that it just isn’t something that I think about so much anymore, and I’m happy with where I have found myself since that last early morning/afternoon on New Year’s Day in 2014.
I came into the world of DJing through passion and necessity. My ambitions to attend university and get a degree in business were stymied by my sudden lack of finances and well, place to live. Shortly after my first year of college, I remember waking up with a vicious hangover to the sound of sheriffs removing everything from our family’s house. We lost our home and everything in it and I was faced with the sudden harsh realities of life. I squatted in an old house my dad used to own on the Surrey-Langley border with my sister and a few other rotating roommates.
One of these roommates was the drummer in my sister’s band. His name was Zak and he was the first person I met whose hip hop knowledge exceeded that of my own. This guy knew his stuff and it instantly occurred to me that this just may be the coolest dude I’d ever met. I soaked up all the knowledge he had on the four elements as well as dissecting the comic genius of the Jerky Boys and discussing philosophy over Okanagan Extra ciders on Sunday afternoons. He captivated me with his plan to get a student loan and spend it on turntables and a mixer. A month later he moved out and started one of his first club nights in Vancouver. He was officially the first DJ that I met, and ended up being one of the first people I learned the craft from. Probably unbeknownst to him, but closely watching him and other DJs and the way they manipulated the records, mixer and turntables gave me valuable knowledge about the craft.
Barely 19 years old, I struggled with finding any sort of occupation that didn’t make me angry, bored, depressed or some sort of combination of the three. I never faired well at jobs that required me to get up early in the morning. The whole concept struck me as a mild form of torture (and still does at times). I was drinking pretty regularly at that point to calm the effects of a yet undiagnosed ailment, so early mornings were usually painful to some degree. I am definitely a night owl and have been that way since I was a child. The only time I felt truly happy was when I was drinking with my friends and blasting some music. Ding ding: Lightbulb!
Near the end of my drinking days I used to call DJing “the gift and the curse”. There are not many occupations out there where you can drink for free, play music really loud and get paid a full days pay for a few hours. In those early years, it truly was a gift. And to this day, I still think it is a gift: I play music for a living. I’m extremely grateful for that. But let’s talk about the curse for a minute.
It came to a point where the every Friday party routine, turned into the every Friday, Saturday routine, which often spilled over into Sunday. From there Thursdays quickly got added to the mix, with the occasional Wednesday, and I found myself in funny little binge pattern I now like to affectionately call – alcoholism. It’s a fun word. I don’t have a better word to describe it, but that’s what it was. That’s what it is. I’m not gonna lie to you, in those early years, it was a whole lot of fun dusted with the occasional horrible. I had no idea that I was actually trying to make myself feel normal. To numb the trauma, pain, rejection, depression, anxiety, or any other feeling I didn’t like. The medicine was working. This liquid anti-depressant (which is actually a depressant – go figure), quickly brought out my confidence, stripped away my inhibitions and most importantly made me just not give a shit about a lot of stuff that I really shouldn’t give a shit about. It put a muzzle on the shadowy narrator in my mind, who is always more than eager to tell me just how much I suck. My liquid mute button. My carbonated happy place. My intoxicating friend.
Eventually, some ten years later or so, I found myself in a situation where I wanted to remove booze from my life, but I couldn’t escape it. The occasional dustings of horrible among a splattering of fun times had turned into a blizzard of incomprehensible demoralization, with little upside. I could go a couple days without a drink, but then I would find myself back in the club or working a party and unable to stop myself from taking that first drink: ie. The Curse.
There are lots of ways this thing can mess with you, but the big one is convincing you that somehow, this time, contrary to what history has revealed, it is going to be different. That mixed with the dream all us former imbibers hold dear to our hearts – that one day we will be able to control our drinking – is the fuel for the three headed dragon that lies beneath. Your addiction doesn’t need to tell you to drink a 40 pounder of Jameson’s. It just needs to convince you to have one. Then it’s got ya.
I tried for years to get a handle on this thing and miraculously strung together a few months here and there. Every new year in January I would hold tight and white knuckle it till the wheels fell off. Sometimes a few months later, sometimes a few weeks. As much as those first attempts were futile, I convinced myself that I needed to keep trying. I couldn’t give up – non deficere. I began researching modern cessation methods and reading the biographies of people I found interesting that I know had turned their lives around. I immersed myself in those books, captivated by the harrowing stories of survival from people like Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Grand Master Flash, Russel Brand, Artie Lange and Steve-O.
At this time, I was getting a bit of success from developing a robust exercise routine: yoga, free weights, and hiking. These habits helped calm my mind, increase my confidence and helped vastly improve my sleep quality. I can’t recommend this enough for someone in recovery. But, they weren’t enough to keep things from eventually spiralling out of control. When I got near the end of these books they all ended in a similar manner. The personalities in question ended up in some community centre or dark church basement with a group of other drunks talking about their feelings. Damn. That’s not what I wanted to hear.
I had tried a similar program years before, in a moment of crisis, and was sure they weren’t for me. But, I was desperate. It was different this time. I had tried almost everything else. So, I gave it a whirl and jumped in with both feet. I met some really nice, successful, and more importantly, happy people that were all more than willing to help. Here I found the last piece of the puzzle – support. I approached a friendly looking dude at the end of the meeting and asked for his help (this is key). He became my mentor and with the work I was already doing, this was the difference maker that helped me get over those first very difficult months.
Now I know some people may have no interest in doing such work. It involves taking a long, hard, honest look at yourself, which can be a daunting task. But, if you’re struggling, I would highly suggest you at least give it a try. If I had any other disease, I would definitely want to talk to other people who have suffered and recovered from it, to get their perspective and learn from them. You’re gonna find that there. You also need to start building a social support network of like-minded people who want the same thing. You’ll find that there. This is the way most people do it, and you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t explore the possibility of using these programs, fellowships and networks as a tool in your recovery. I wish I would have done the work sooner, it would have saved me years of misery. There are programs and meetings everywhere at all times of the day in most major cities, most are free, and they contain the social element and peer support vital for any recovery program.
This worked for me, and in fact, most of the people I know that were able to successfully quit drinking did it in a similar way. Trust me when I say, not only will this help you quit drinking, it will make you a better person. You need to do something. This will not fix itself without changing the way you think and the patterns you’ve developed. There are a variety of different programs and paths you can take, such as SMART meetings, Talk Therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Psychotherapy, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I don’t care how you pull it off, as long as you find something that works for you, and you stick to it. If you are looking for a place to start, make an appointment with an addiction counsellor and use their knowledge and expertise to your benefit.
Don’t let your ego keep you from getting well because of the spiritual aspects of some of these programs. I know, because it is the same stumbling block that I experienced and what I’ve heard from friends who are struggling that have approached me for advice. For myself, when I look at all the miraculous ways that life flourishes throughout the world, it’s easy for me to realize that I am not the apex of intelligence in this vast ever-expanding universe. Don’t let this be your excuse, because it is just that. You’re listening to the same voice that has led you astray for too long. Every program is designed to use whatever belief system you have and cater it to your personal recovery.
I’m currently reading Russel Brand’s latest book, ‘Recovery’. Whether you are a fan of his comedy or acting or not, you can’t deny his intelligence. Go on YouTube and watch some of his philosophy on the human experience, if you doubt that. In the book, he goes into depth and puts into simple terms just how a program of recovery can work for you.
“I did this step with help from an atheist and at the point I took it, I would probably have said I was an atheist too. The step stripped of reference to divine power becomes ‘You don’t know what you’re doing – you’d better make a decision to accept help.’ This is a big stumbling block for most addicts.”
Another great excerpt from the book is his first interaction with an addictions counsellor, a former addict herself (as is often the case).
“A counsellor at the treatment centre where I got clean, herself a woman in recovery, surprised me when she said, ‘How clever of you to find drugs. Well done, you found a way to keep yourself alive.’ This made me feel quite tearful, I suppose because this woman, Jackie, didn’t judge me or tell me I was stupid or tub-thumpingly declare that ‘drugs kill’, no she told me I’d done well by finding something that made being me bearable. Addicts talking to one another are apt to find such means of connection. To be acknowledged as a person who was in pain and fighting to survive in my own muddled-up and misguided way made me feel optimistic and understood. It is an example of the compassion addicts need from one another in order to change.”
I believe a world with more compassion is a happier and more productive place for everybody. If you have someone in your life that is struggling, I strongly suggest you find compassion for their struggles. And if you are reading this and struggling, ask for help. And have compassion for yourself. You deserve it.
*For the record, I am not a doctor or licensed addiction counsellor. This preceding account is just an example of one path to freeing yourself from addiction. This is what worked for me, and is what I saw work for many other people, which is why I put in the work and found some success. Anything as serious as addiction should be talked about with your family physician before deciding on a proper means of treatment.
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