Being Sober in a Music World

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9/8/2005 was the last day I had a drink. Well, it was more like a couple dozen, maybe even three dozen. Up until that point I was a daily binge drinker. Every day I would drink a bottle of wine, a six pack of beer, and a fifth of hard alcohol…every day. On that fateful day, I was rushed to the ER and nearly died. My BAC was close to 0.40. My BAC was higher than Bon Scott, Keith Moon, and John Bonham. I was very lucky and I haven’t had a drink since that day.

I’m also fortunate that I was not an actively gigging musician when my time came to stop drinking. I’ve had years to fine tune my personal program. Yes, I went to rehab and then 12-Step meetings for quite a while. Several years ago, I got to a place where I no longer felt I needed to attend those meetings.

Have I had rough times while being sober? Absolutely. I’ve dealt with a divorce; a white-collar job that went south; financial ruin; and even the death of a parent and several friends. In all of these cases, I never felt the need to pick up a drink. Is it any different being an active musician? No. However, I can imagine it being very difficult for those wanting to quit while in the industry.

There are many professional musicians we know about who have become clean. The first two that come to mind are Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue and James Hetfield of Metallica. Like me, they had gotten to a point in their addictions where they could no longer move forward in life. Both are great examples of strength, effort, and tenacity.

Being an actively gigging musician, every place I’ve ever played out, except one, has served alcohol. Does it bother me? Not really. I enjoy knowing that I’ll be able to get up on stage and play to the best of my ability for the moment. I’ll be able to drive my wife and I safely home. In the morning, I’ll wake up without a hangover and remember everything that happened the night before. This would not have been the case during my drinking days. I would have driven drunk and most likely, blacked-out a part of the evening. I would also be broke due to the high costs of drinking nowadays.

Is it easy staying sober? For the most part. The one thing I dislike about it is that I don’t like going to friends’ house parties because it makes me feel uncomfortable. I mean I can get pretty crazy, but drunk crazy is a different matter entirely. I’m sure my friends wouldn’t care, but to me it’s just weird…even after 12 years. I’ve turned down offers to hang with bands backstage because they offered drinks. When I said I didn’t drink, some looked at me like I had three heads and the offer died.

For those that feel like they need to quit, the only thing I can say is that you truly have to WANT to quit. I have several friends that have tried to quit and went back out. They all fell prey to personal triggers and I totally understand that issue. This is my second time trying sobriety, I understand. They all say they want to stop, but until that desire is felt in the bones and understood in the mind, it won’t happen. Also, you can’t quit for someone or something, this is a very personal issue. The only person you have to quit for is yourself.

Quitting can feel like an overwhelming task, whether in the music industry or not. Two of the biggest tools I use when confronted with a possible drinking situation are as follows: If I drink because of something or someone, the issue will still be there the next day, and I’ll have to deal with it while having a hangover; If I start drinking again, I most likely will not stop. It will destroy everything I have achieved thus far in life and will most likely kill me. These are the thought processes I use…and they work.

Being sober in a music world can be difficult at times but, the rewards are great. If you’re struggling with addiction, know this, you are not alone. There are many of us out there who have gone through what you’re going through one way or another and we’ve made it through to the other side. Most of us are willing to help, if asked. Just make sure that YOU’RE ready for the task. You’ll know if it’s your time, you’ll feel it in your bones.



-Scott Duncan - MU Columnist


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