Musical Recovery! – An Interview With Ted Brown

Music guitar

Music guitar (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Hi Ted, thanks for agreeing to do an interview with me. First off, I want to congratulate you on your clean time. It is a rough road I know personally, but very rewarding.  It is people like you that inspire addicts and alcoholics in recovery to keep that glimmer of hope alive, no matter how dark it may get.

1. I read your press release and you said, “After I got clean, I thought ‘What am I going to
do with my life?” I can relate to trying to transition into a life without drugs and alcohol. Was
it difficult for you to find something to do immediately?

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to be creative without drugs or alcohol and I’d almost made the
decision not to play music anymore! My thinking was that my creativity was too closely linked to my
drug use. Fortunately, the Universe had a different plan and opportunities in music presented
themselves more abundantly than they ever had before!
2. What brought you to the United States from New Zealand?

I moved to the United States when I had around 18 months clean as guitarist, co-writer and
backing vocalist with popular NZ artist Greg Johnson. I had started playing in his band and he
asked me to accompany him for some showcases for Record Companies. He ended up getting
signed, and we moved to L.A. to make an album..

3. What was your darkest moment while out there (using)? Was that enough to get you to wake
up and realize you could die?

I had a few brushes with death while I was out there. I think one of my darkest moments was getting
the news that my friend and fellow musician Matt had died from this disease. I was devastated and
although I had OD’d several times myself, it still took me over a year more to go back into detox and
try treatment again. He was so talented and it was such a waste, but I knew it could be me or any
one of those ‘smart, talented’ addicts I was using with.

4. What has been the most amazing part of your journey through sobriety so far?

There have been so many wonderful moments. I feel like all the great things that have happened in
my life have been since I got sober- getting married, traveling the world playing music, seeing all the
art I’d only ever seen in books, making albums.. Using provided me with a very limited view of the
world but recovery has expanded that view by putting me back in contact with human beings! Every
day can be an adventure if I can keep an open mind and remember to be grateful.

5. Now that you are clean and sober, do you look at people differently? Like, do you have more
tolerance?

I really had to learn how to deal with people again because I was just so used to being loaded all the
time and that had been my point of reference for so long! I think I’m more tolerant these days simply
because I feel more a ‘part of’, but it’s still a challenge (especially on the freeway!)
6. I actually love driving on little country roads, it helps me reconnect with my Higher Power and
regroup when life keeps being life. How do you relax these days?

I meditate, I read (for entertainment as well as for inspiration). I have 2 cats and a dog and I find
them to be a great source of relaxation! ( I never had pets growing up so it’s still a novelty for me). As
I said, I love art so going to museums and galleries is something I love to do.

7. Tell me about the song, “Bringing my Past Back (But Not To Haunt Me).

This is really a song about the ‘steps’ and the work that’s asked of me if I really want to get the most
that recovery has to offer. Sometimes that work is tough- messy and painful but if I’m prepared to do
it (and I never have to do it alone) I’ve discovered that the benefits are incredible. The trick is, that I
have to keep doing it if I want to experience growth..
8. Did you ever think that you’d be living the dream today? Getting to do what you love?

I don’t know what I thought when I was in active addiction! Mostly “getting, using and finding ways to
get more”. I always thought that I had the wrong life, that it, “wasn’t supposed to be like this”…my
fear was that I would die from my using. Every day surprises me!

9. Do you have any words of advice or wisdom for addicts and alcoholics still struggling with
addiction?

Anyone can get clean, lose the obsession and find a new way of life. But you need to have had
enough and of course that ‘rock bottom’ is different for everyone. One thing I know is that we can’t
do it alone, I tried many, many times. The disease of addiction is cunning, it will give you many
reasons why you’re different, why recovery won’t work for you, but it’s working for millions of people
all around the world every day! It’s important to just jump in feet first! It’s scary, but so is using..

10.I did not get to hear the song, “Looking for Home Down Hallways.” But it immediately gave
me a chill as I thought back to the days when I was so alone and just wanted to be loved.
Can you elaborate on this song?

This song is about looking for salvation. From a person, a drink, a drug, money, a location.. Anything
outside myself that I think might be the thing that’s finally going to make everything ‘O.K.’ The pursuit
of that ‘fix’ is what nearly killed me and it can manifest in recovery as well, even without the drugs
and alcohol.

11.When it came time to make amends to people, were you excited to get it out or nervous to
reach out to people you had wronged?

When I was new, the first step I noticed on the wall was #9 and I thought, “Oh no, I’m never going to
be able to do that!”. Fortunately the steps are in order so I didn’t have to make amends until I got to
that step. I did however try to make some amends before I got there and without my Sponsors
blessing- needless to say it didn’t go so well. The steps are a gentle slope, so even when I’m
apprehensive I’ve been able to move forward..

12.What is in the future for you and your music?

We just completed a beautiful clip for the song “Love Is..” which is due to drop on
10/15. I’m working on songs for another album as well as promoting “An Unwide
Road” The future looks musical!

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D – Decisions: How To Make One

Questions...

Decisions, decisions… we make hundreds a day.  Some are made with much thought and others are automatic.  Like, this morning, I had to decide what to wear (that took a little time since I hadn’t done laundry in a week!) and then I had to decide which way to drive to work (automatic – I go the same way every morning).

But there are other decisions we must make through our busy days. Bigger decisions we don’t even realize we are making!  Decisions like: which bill to pay first (for those with struggling finances), public school or home school (for our kids) and whether or not to work from home.

For those tough decisions, I like to do a “pro & con” list.  I actually did one of these when I was in outpatient therapy in 2006 for alcohol/drug addiction.  Being new in sobriety, I needed all the help I could get and kept that list with me for the first year of my new-found freedom.  In group, I had to list the pros and cons of using my favorite narcotic.  Honesty was important!  This list helped me much in the beginning, because abstinence from alcohol and drugs for someone like me is not just stopping.  To never use or drink again required a change in thinking and I was prepared to make that change no matter what.

The most important thing about making a decision is deciding what is the most important (a little Cheshire cat action there for ya).

So the next time there is a big decision to make, get out that piece of paper and make a ‘pro’ column and a ‘con’ column.  It sounds silly and childish, but the best decision is an informed decision.

How do you make big decisions?

Anger: The Truth

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

Angry Talk (Comic Style) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I noticed something about myself yesterday and it wasn’t one of those, “oh wow, this is so cool!  I didn’t know I could do that!” epiphanies.  It was more like an, “are you freaking kidding me, why do I do this?” glaring defect.

Sometimes I act a certain way, think a certain way or feel a certain way simply because I think that I THINK this is what I am supposed to do.  Like, I really get upset over unmonumental bullcrap.  Sincerely. This light bulb went off in my head this morning.

So then I ask myself: “WHY AM I SO DAMN ANGRY?”  Like, why do I let my head control me to the point of borderline insanity?  I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that it drives me batty and I am in the painstaking process of changing the way I think so I can change the way I feel there by changing the way I act.

Simple? 

Sometimes.

Did you ever tell someone something and their reaction is along the lines of, “Well, just stop doing that.” or “Think about something else.” or (and this is my favorite) “Get over it.”

Get over it?! Cue bitter resentment teetering on unabated rage. “Nobody tells me to get over it!  I’ll get over it when I’m good and ready!” “How dare you tell me that.  You don’t know how I feel.”

Yeah, somebody call me the Waaambulance. 

So, this morning after much coffee and a bowl of Special K Fruit & Yogurt (okay, two bowls) mature thoughts started to creep in my head (kinda like a black goo, only not as ugly) and I started to think:

  • I do not have to feel this way! 
  • Anger is a choice and it’s on me if I choose anger (or any one of the subcategories of anger).
  • I can come back to these ugly thoughts later.
  • I will feel how I choose to feel today.

Let me repeat that last one:  I will feel how I choose to feel today.

And that there is the truth about anger.  We choose to feel angry, resentful, jealous, bitter and any of the other byproducts of hate.  We also choose to feel many of the byproducts of love.  We get to choose how we feel about anything at any moment in any situation.  We have that power. That’s some huge stuff right there! 

Today I have a choice and so do you. Today I will choose love over anger, confidence over insecurity and acceptance over jealousy.

What will you choose?

People, Places and Things

Sobriety medallion

Sobriety medallion (Photo credit: annrkiszt)

When I was new in sobriety and going to my outpatient group along with attending four or five AA meetings a week, I heard “people, places and things” a lot. When I was out drinking, using and being a degenerate, my people, places and things were drug dealers, bars and excuses to give me the fuel to drink or use more.

My very first time in an attempt to get sober was in January of 2005.  Now, my reasons for wanting to get clean and sober were inwardly pathetic.  I told my dad I did not want to get high or drunk anymore.  He said, “Darlene, is this an attempt to detox so it won’t take so much to get drunk or high?”  “Of course not, Dad.  I really mean it!” So on New Year’s Day in 2005 my dad drove me up to Livengrin in Bensalem, PA and dropped me off to detox for four days.

Now, when I went in there, my dad was right on the money.  That was exactly why I wanted to go to detox. But after being in there and getting weaned off of opiates and detoxing from alcohol and spending time with people who had it far worse than I did, I changed my mind. I really did want to get clean and sober.

After four days in detox, I got out and felt refreshed.  I had a roommate who lived in Bucks County (I was living in Philadelphia at the time) and we exchanged numbers so we could hit a meeting in a couple of days.

I went to an AA meeting with her; it was the only AA meeting I attended in 2005.  My dealer lived right down the street from me and I knocked on her door about seven days after I had gotten out of detox, told her I just got out of detox and asked her if she had anything. She looked at me stupefied.  Looking back, I do not blame her.

See, people, places and things are huge in recovery.  I am not saying that everyone that goes into recovery or treatment or gets clean and sober should move, change their name and paint their dog, but it is a good idea to be aware of triggers (people, places and things).

How I avoided people, places and things:

1)      I moved.  This is not possible for everyone, but it helped me.

2)      For the first few months of my sobriety, I avoided passing establishments (places) I previously frequented.

3)      I worked on what my triggers were and went to great lengths to recognize them; not embellish them and use them as an excuse to drink.

For those who cannot move, I suggest building a strong sober network and keeping in touch with those people.  Addicts and alcoholics still active in their addiction/alcoholism feel resentful at those trying to get sober.  And while they will not necessarily try to drag someone down who is trying to get clean and sober, they will not exactly be on your cheering squad.

I have a friend I used to get high with and had coffee with him a couple of times after being new in sobriety.  I could not figure out why I had an awful knot in my stomach and wanted to get high each time I was in his presence.

Thankfully, I had a great sponsor and was in outpatient therapy at the time (both of these helped me greatly) that gave me the tools to recognize that he was a “people” and I needed to cut ties for a while.

Do you have any people, places or things that trigger you into bad behavior?

Building a Sober Network

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto: Taso de kafo. Français : Photo d’une tasse de caffé Español: Taza de café (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first came in the rooms, I did not know what to expect.  As an active alcoholic, I made it a point to avoid people (especially women) at all costs because of the shame I felt inside. So when I got sober, went to meetings, and saw people talking and laughing as they drank coffee from little Styrofoam cups I was kind of freaked out. It was one of those things like, “Ok, I didn’t know what to expect, but I surely did not expect this.”

Being a woman (and I hear this in the rooms and the stories) and newly sober I did not get along with other women.  I stuck with the men because I had always been more comfortable with men and apparently, I am/was not the only woman who felt that way. 

It took me a good three years before I took a deep breath and started chatting with women outside the rooms before the meeting, during the break and after the meeting.  There is a slogan “show up early and stay late” concerning meetings and that is the best thing any alcoholic can do to build a sober network.

There is also a slogan “the men stick with the men and the women stick with the women” that newly sober people should stick to, but rarely do (I did not stick with the women in early sobriety and wish I would have).

How I Built My Sober Network

The biggest thing in building my sober network was getting rid of the old, drunk network I once had. That was first and foremost as people, places and things are a huge part of getting sober and staying sober. So I had to weed out my old “party” friends and replace them with new sober friends that have similar goals in mind.

As I met people in the rooms and got phone numbers (from women!), I quickly realized that getting a phone number and actually calling that number were at opposite ends of the comfort spectrum level. I had to talk to these women or I was going to stay stuck in the rut of anger, resentment and bitterness that had consumed my life.

 This is what I did:

  • Said hello to women at meetings.
  • Made it a point to make small talk with women during break.
  • Got phone numbers and gave out my phone number to women at meetings.
  • Went to women’s meetings.

Doing all of those things was extremely uncomfortable but they needed doing and I could feel myself grow a little more each time I talked or interacted with another woman in the program.

Today I do not have many female friends, but the friends I do have are good, sober women that I can count on if I ever need an ear a shoulder.  We have coffee, chat about life stuff (not always pertaining to sobriety), are honest with each other about where we are, and if there may be a better way of doing things.

Tell me about your network (sober or otherwise).

Expressing Emotion

English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Emotions are a part of our internal make-up.  All emotions derive from two core feelings: love and hate.  Slice it how you want, all the positive feelings we have stem from a form of love, all the negative feelings stem from hate.  

I just finished reading a great book (I reviewed it – the link to that will be up within a couple of weeks) called, “Why You Drink and How to Stop” by Veronica Valli.  I was skeptical at first, but I kept an open mind and although I am over six years into my sobriety, I learned some valuable information from this book regarding emotions.

One of the worst behaviors I ever learned was “acting out based on emotion.”  Being a woman who wears her heart on her sleeve, if something made me feel sad or angry, I would act accordingly.  Likewise, if something made me feel happy or fuzzy, the addict in me would react in a positive manner and want more, more, more.

Now, human beings are emotional beings.  Duh, like I am telling you something you do not already know.   However, when we let our emotions rule us, we get into trouble.  There is no law or rule that dictates “everyone must know how everyone feels all the time.”

I will share a psychotic story from my past:

            When I was 22 years old, I was already married for six years.  Yep, I got married when I was 16.  It was part of that whole “alcoholic thinking.” As an alcoholic, I thought outside circumstances could fix the way I felt inside always.

            I had found out my husband at the time was cheating on me and I went ballistic.  Like full on rage mode:  seeing red, black, shaking, and everything else, that comes with unabated rage. Being ruled by my emotions (all stemming from hate) I decided to do what I thought was in my best interests and show him.

            So, being out of my mind (and to make a long story short) I wound up smashing my beautiful 1986 Monte Carlo into his pick-up truck.  Yeah, not smart.  This is not the best way to express emotion!  Now I had new feelings and emotions to deal with: remorse, guilt and sorrow.

           In the midst of the insanity, I thought I was expressing emotion in a healthy way!  I mean, I was pissed and needed to let someone know, right? Well, maybe… but there are healthier ways to express emotion. 

            One of the best tools I learned in sobriety is to take a moment and calm the hell down.  Just because I am feeling “some kind of way” does not mean I need to freak out, hop in my car to drive like a maniac or start throwing dishes. 

            Some of the ways I have successfully controlled my emotions:

  • Calling a sponsor or a friend and talking it out.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Chanting a mantra.  “Feelings aren’t facts, facts aren’t feelings.”
  • Journaling! 
  • Going for a walk or some other physical exercise.
  • And yes, even taking a nap.

                        I know I have brought up journaling a bit in previous posts, but writing does help.  Moreover, finding what helps (not hinders or hurts) to control and deal with emotions is the key. 

                        I still have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve, which may just be one of those character defects I have to learn to control if it has not been removed.

            How do you express emotion?

Keeping A Progress Journal

Image representing Penzu as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Keeping a progress journal is not “AA approved work” but it helped me.  As a writer, journaling has always been my go-to for jotting down ideas, writing my dreams and aspirations and detailing my day-to-day events. Journaling does not always have to be writing.  It can be doodling, drawing, cutting and pasting pictures from magazines and even using stickers.

There was a period of about a year in my early sobriety that I would cut out a meditation from “Meditations For Women” and tape it in my journal.  I would then reflect on the passage by writing my own ideas and finish it up with cute stickers on the page. It worked for me and when I went back and re-read my entries years later, it gave me hope that change is possible.

For example: on May 26, 2008 I celebrated two years of sobriety yet was still feeling insecure and helpless in a sense.  On May 26, 2010, after four years of sobriety, I could see that I was making concrete changes to the way I thought, which in turn changed the way I felt.  I had let go of old ideals and notions, replacing them with healthier ways of thinking (and living). On May 26, 2012, I celebrated six years of sobriety and still on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance of truth in my life.

Journaling allowed me to express myself without fear of being judged.  It allowed me to express ideas that may or may not be accepted by society.  Today I use Penzu, which is an online password protected website where I write my heart out.  Of course in the beginning (when it was all new and shiny) I was journaling in Penzu everyday, but like anything else in my life, the shininess dulled and I started journaling when the mood struck or I was really pissed off. I also journal when I feel elated (like when I met my new boyfriend).

Through journaling, which is really just a way of being blatantly honest with myself, I learned what I want in life, what mattered, what didn’t matter, what pissed me off, what made me happy, what I thoroughly enjoyed, what personality traits in myself (and others) I liked and disliked.  I learned that I always have the option of changing and adapting. The way I think can always be re-arranged until I am able to think in a way that leaves me feeling peaceful and full of love.

Do you keep a journal? If so, what kind?

Coping In Sobriety

Clean and Sober

Clean and Sober (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I first got sober, it was pretty easy for me.  I’m not bragging, but I had hit such a low point that I figured getting clean and sober might well be worth a shot.  The one thing I hadn’t discovered in my new sobriety was ways to cope with life on life’s terms. This was definitely something I needed to figure out quickly.

See, life just kept on happening to me. It didn’t matter that I was clean and sober, or that I was trying to do the next right thing.  It didn’t matter that I was making a valiant effort to see my kids, to stay away from people, places and things or that I was working a rigorous twelve-step program.

My car still broke down, I still got yelled at by my boss and I still had (very) bad hair days.

Of course I would go into the “poor me” cloud.  “Hey, I’m doing the right thing… what’s this crap all about?” I had this grandiose sense of self (huge ego!) that since I finally started to do the right thing (after years of doing very wrong things) that I should get a reprieve of sorts and nothing bad should ever happen to me ever again.  Ever.

Reality check: shit happens. I had to deal with life on life’s terms and I had to find out pronto how to do that.

The only way I could do that was to go to meetings, be around other sober people who had serious clean time and work a good program.

I learned that drinking or drugging was not a coping tool.  It just added fuel to the already out of control fire that raged inside me.

I learned that I should start writing again and that I am a pretty good photographer.  I learned my triggers and how to avoid them most of the time.  Sometimes triggers still invaded my head space (usually when my mind was idle) and I learned that the best thing to do in that situation was to call another alcoholic in recovery. Maybe they could help me.  Turns out, I was helping them just as much as they were helping me.

I couldn’t wrap my head around that one.  How the hell could I possibly help someone with years of sobriety when I was so new? Now that I have over six years clean and sober, I know how.  Because when I talk to someone new in sobriety it puts things in perspective and reminds me of the way I used to think. I no longer think that way.

Some of the ways I learned to cope:

  • Go to a meeting. Talk to another alcoholic in recovery.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Write.
  • Go for a drive.
  • Listen to music.
  • Go to a park.

I can always come back to the problem later.  Obsessing and keeping the problem at the forefront of my mind will not help me.  And trust me, I am huge on obsession.  After all, I am an alcoholic and everything is about me.

If I had a dollar for every time I asked someone “What’s wrong?” with the presumption that it had to be something I did, I would be retired and living in my dream cabin in the mountains.

See, another HUGE thing I had to learn to cope with was myself.  I had to learn that people pleasing was not a coping tool, rather a way to mask whatever guilt or remorse I was feeling. I had to cope with that.  I had to learn how to recognize the difference between actually coping and sweeping the problem under the rug or enabling someone or using other poor methods:

  • drinking
  • drugging
  • silent scorn
  • blame
  • defensiveness
  • ignoring the feeling
  • manipulation

None of these ways worked!  These were not coping tools, these were character defects that I used to hurt people to get my way, pretending I was right (when I knew I was wrong).  Because as long as I was sure other people knew I was right, I felt better, if only for a short time.

How do you cope with day-to-day life or problems that come down your road?

The Little Things

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There comes a point in sobriety when the pink cloud of perfection and “I got this” dissipates.  Life continues to happen as we settle into our newfound freedom.  We settle back into our old way of thinking if we are not working a good program.

There will always be little things.  Life will happen on life’s terms consistently ( we can bank on that!) and it is up to us to learn a new way of coping to deal with the enigmas of life.

Slogans like, “Live and Let Live” and “Life on Life’s Terms” are important throughout our sobriety.  When we were out there, we let everything bother us. We harbored resentments over a lot of crap.  We were angry at our family, friends, the system and God.  We felt wronged and justified in our anger.

This thought process destroyed us!  It destroyed me for sure.  Some of the things that made me angry were other people, traffic, television, my mate at the time and the weather just to name a few.  It took me years to get it in my head that I was letting people, places and things control me by thinking I could control them.

This makes for one ticked off individual.  And how ridiculous is it being upset over little things we have zero control over. It is the moments of perceived loss of control that the Serenity Prayer comes in handy:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Once we realize the only thing we have control over is the way we think and that the way we think affects the way we feel, we now have a sense of freedom.

One Day at a Time

Image: givecourage.net

Image: givecourage.net

One day at a time.  Isn’t that really the only way we can live?  When we were in our addiction, we were caught up in our past aches, resentments and fears.  But that wasn’t enough.  We had to worry about the future!  What will tomorrow bring? Will I still have my job?  What about a place to live?

Since I am inherently skeptical, this whole one day at a time thing puzzled me.  After all, I was a being who only thought about what would become of me along with all the crap of yesterday.  Well, I couldn’t change yesterday and had no control over tomorrow.  Still don’t.  Never will.

Before I got sober, I remember thinking about never being able to drink (or drug) again.  That thought overwhelmed me to the point of anxiety.  How would I function?  Where would I hang out? What about my friends?  All of these are serious questions to the still sick and suffering alcoholic.

The first couple weeks of my sobriety were a rough lot.  I lived one minute at a time rather than one day at a time.  I could not think about the future.  Again, it was entirely too overwhelming.  And holding onto the past was what got me in such a shit storm.  So I focused on keeping my brain occupied.  I should have kept a journal, but I didn’t.  Instead I consumed mass quantities of Pop Tarts and watched the Military Channel.  I only left my apartment to get cigarettes.

But it worked for me.

Of course these days, I do think about the future and there are times when the past creeps in or I see something that brings back a fond (or not so fond) memory. But when it comes to not picking up, one day at a time, one minute at a time, even one second at a time is the best way to live.

How do we live one day at a time in recovery?

We go to meetings.  We get a sponsor.  We read approved literature. We talk to people in recovery (this is so important). We share at meetings (this is something I need to do more). We keep our minds occupied with things besides drinking (or drugging).

I have met so many creative people in the rooms of AA.  I have met many artists, writers and generally people who are doing what they want to do with their lives.  How cool is that?  Maybe they were always creative or maybe they found their creativity while living one day at a time.

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