Music makes the people come together
Music mix the bourgeoisie and the rebel.
I'm turning 9 on Thursday. That's 9 in sober years, thankyouverymuch ;) So my #12on12 squad graciously let me host this month's piece on The Sobriety Collective in honor of my sober birthday! Of course, the hostess gets to choose the topic, and what better topic than MUSIC! There are countless organizations focusing on music in recovery/mental health (You Rock Foundation, Recovery Unplugged), listicles galore (10 Greatest Songs About Recovery, per The Fix; 10 (more) of the Greatest Songs About Recovery, also per The Fix), and bands/musicians who are either in recovery or have dealt with addiction.
With that, I bring you July's 12 on 12.
When you lose everything to addiction and have lived a life of lies for over a decade, authenticity is the one thing I craved in sobriety.
Especially authenticity about life, love, loss and drugs.
1) Ryan Bingham: "Southside of Heaven" from the "Mescalito" album.
And that’s exactly what I found in Ryan Bingham. A New Mexico/Texas singer songwriter that spent time growing up on the streets and whose gravelly voice screams overcoming hard times. Ryan's mother drank herself to death and his father committed suicide. A novel that I have started (since abandoned due to time constraints) main character is based loosely on him.
I found this song shortly after detox and like most all of his music it spoke directly to me.
Excerpt of some lyrics-
"But on the south side of heaven
Won't You take me home
'Cause I've been broke down for so long
And Lord, it's getting cold"
"Can't you see that breeze
Nothing but a change in pace
Money can't buy my soul
'Cause it comes from a hard earned place"
2) Lucinda Williams: "Blessed" (The Kitchen Tapes) from the "Blessed" album.
There’s not much I can add or say about this song that the song itself doesn’t cover. The first time I heard it, it hit me like a ton of bricks. "The Kitchen Tape" version of this song is just Lucinda and her guitar and her strong yet fragile voice. Beautiful and powerful. And immensely authentic.
This song is incredibly poignant not just for those of us in recovery but for every U.S. citizen that is living through these dark trying days.
Excerpt of some lyrics-
"We were blessed by the homeless man
Who showed us the way home
We were blessed by the hungry man
Who filled us with love
By the little innocent baby
Who taught us the truth
We were blessed by the forlorn
Forsaken and abused"
"We were blessed by the blind man
Who could see for miles and miles
We were blessed by the fighter
Who didn't fight for the prize"
3) Rascal Flatts: “I’m Movin On”
“I've dealt with my ghosts and I've faced all my demons
Finally content with a past I regret
I've found you find strength in your moments of weakness
For once I'm at peace with myself
I've been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long
I'm movin' on..”
So, I’m a country girl at heart. You wouldn’t guess it by looking at me. I’m kind of a bohemian hippie wild child type. And I lived in Santa Monica for the majority of my twenties so that city speaks to me. But, you know what speaks to me more? Memories. Family. My Father. Road trips. Both my mother and father were born in Texas. My Dad is from Waco, and my Mom is from Beaumont. I grew up listening to country music and I’ve always, always returned to the 90’s and early 2000’s country music genre. It’s where my heart lives.
So, I was sitting in my car, listening to old mixed tapes (or CD’s, but tapes sounds cooler), at about four months sober, discovering God, discovering myself, and learning to live again and “I’m Movin on” by Rascal Flatts started playing. And what did I do? I started balling. Not the self-pity type of balling that existed in most of my addiction. But, the balling that comes from your soul, from your heart, from a quiet place that doesn’t use words, from a place that only listens. It’s the moment when music makes goosebumps radiate across your body, and you are connected to something much bigger than could ever be described. And the words, those words, they moved me that day.
“And I know there's no guarantees’, but I'm not alone
There comes a time in everyone's life
When all you can see are the years passing by
And I have made up my mind that those days are gone..
I've loved like I should, but lived like I shouldn't
I had to lose everything to find out
Maybe forgiveness will find me somewhere down this road
I’m movin on”
Listen here and try not to be moved. I dare ya.
So, there’s a toss-up between two songs. “I’m Movin On” is an anthem song. You can listen to it over and over and it can provide meaning in a variety of different contexts. I’m one of those girls who always googles the meaning behind the songs and the lyrics. Because, I like to know what the writer was thinking. How were these words born? How did they build such a beautiful story into one song? What is the meaning behind it?
4) The Format: "On Your Porch"
Ok. So another emotional attachment bomb. Nate Ruess. The lead singer behind Fun. Originally, he started a band in Arizona, called The Format. I was obsessed. I can’t even count the number of times I saw The Format play, because it was too many. I grew up in Arizona and I went to college in Tempe and they sing about this city, in the best way anyone ever could and ever has.
“And as I start to leave
He grabs me by the shoulder and he tells me,
"What's left to lose? You've done enough.
And if you fail, well, then you fail, but not to us.
'Cause these last three years—I know they've been hard.
But now it's time to get out of the desert and into the sun;
Even if it's alone."
Originally, this song spoke to me because I moved from Arizona to California in 2005. Nate sings “And now it’s time to get out of the desert and into the sun.” And I attributed the word desert to Arizona, and the word sun to California. It was a difficult decision for me to move away from home. I lived in Arizona for twenty-one years and as I grew and started discovering my passions, I knew I had to go to L.A if I ever wanted to truly make it in the entertainment business. And so I did, I left everything I knew, and I moved there to start school.
But, as my addiction took over, and my love for Nate Ruess only grew, the song started to take on an entirely different meaning. For context, the song is centered around Nate’s father and the advice he gives to his son. And I’ve always idolized my father. He is my hero. He is the kindest, most loving man you’ll ever know. In 2009, my father had to have quadruple bypass surgery. I didn’t go to the surgery. I was working and although, this is likely the type of situation in which you can leave work, I didn’t even ask. I was terrified of losing my father. I couldn’t see him hurt. Nate had a similar situation and sings about it in this song and many others.
“Well, my dad was sick,
And my mom—she cared for him.
Her love—it nursed him back to life.
And me—I ran. I couldn't even look at him
For fear I'd have to say goodbye.”
Like I said, the song took on a whole new meaning during my addiction. It spoke to me as a way to leave my addiction, the dry desert that offers nothing but devastation, and move into the sun, into the light, a place that provides warmth and comfort. It talks about how the last three years have been hard, and my addiction was rather short lived, it took me four years to move out of the desert and into the sun. But, getting sober wasn’t easy for me. I was a difficult case. It took me four treatment centers, several detoxes, and countless stays in sober livings and psych wards to finally maintain sobriety.
So I would ask myself, “what’s left to lose? I’ve done enough. And if I fail, well, then I fail but I gave it a shot...”
Even in writing those lyrics, tears gather in my eyes. Because, this song was everything, and is everything to me. Without my mother and father, I never would have gotten sober. They saved me from permanent insanity. And their unconditional love and support allowed me to actually feel love and know hope, during one of the darkest, scariest times in my life.
“'Cause what's left to lose?
I've done enough.
And if I fail, well, then I fail but I gave it a shot.
And these last three years—I know they've been hard.
But now it's time to get out of the desert and into the sun;
Even if it's alone.”
Listen here y’all.
Wow, I have found this a tough one. I met this month’s collaboration feeling a little stumped: I didn’t know where to start and, honestly, I hadn’t really thought of music as being a foundational pillar of my recovery… But this was, as with the rest of the posts in this series, a really valuable exercise to crystallise just what is important in my recovery.
Frankly, I don’t always listen to music, because I crave silence; in a bone-aching sense of the word. Silence feeds my soul. And I’d go as far as to say it represents just as much space and significance, if not more, in my life than music. Because, I am such a sensitive person and I feel like I often have sensory overload; too much noise can make me have a melt down!
When I do listen to music, which is a few hours a week, I listen to such a broad and varied range, and I do so in a really sporadic way. I find something I like and I listen to it to death - it is not uncommon for me to be listening to an album on Spotify for a month non-stop. Then I reach a point of having to turn it off. And so it goes…In terms of meaning, music, represents memories of certain times in my life. So when I listen to a song, it more often than not evokes some kind of emotion in me; from sadness, to elation, to fond memories that omit a feeling of warmth and fuzziness - those are my favourite.
And as far as my tastes go - this entirely depends of my mood and activity. So, cycling, for example, requires something upbeat and fast paced - particularly in the morning, to get me motivated to work. Running, requires really fast paced Swedish/European house music. In my quiet time, I love listening to Bon Iver, ALT-J (Hunger of the Pine is EPIC), 5AM. If I have to chose two, they would be:
5) Andrea Boccelli - "Time to Say Goodbye"
This man’s voice has such beauty and passion, I often cry. I listened to him live a couple of years ago and he has the effect of singing directly to my heart. I’d marry this guy if I could. And have his babies. Both would be preferable.
6) Florence + The Machine - Dog Days Are Over
I listened to Flo A LOT in my early days of recovery. I lived in the city centre of Manchester and that meant a lot of walking; this was my processing time. I needed to process that the dog days truly were over and her music has the ability to channel my energy, especially all of that repressed emotion, frustration, rage, anger, sadness and passion.
7) P!nk: "Fuckin' Perfect"
I’m a P!nk fan-girl through and through. Her songs bring out so much emotion in me which allows me to release tears, just as if I’ve been heard and understood. I actually had to run off stage one night while doing karaoke of one of her songs because I choked up and tears just took over.
When I was asked to write about two songs that have aided in my recovery, this was the song that came right into my mind. A phrase I use constantly in my recovery is “perfectly imperfect.” So needless to say, this song fits quite nicely, in a sassy way of course. You see, when I speak of being in recovery, it’s not just from alcohol… it’s also from depression. Negative self-talk has been a terrible obstacle I’ve been trying to overcome.
“You're so mean when you talk about yourself. You were wrong.
Change the voices in your head make them like you instead.”
I am reminded that it’s a choice I have in front of me. I have control over those thoughts in my head. I can choose to turn the negative thoughts into positive ones. The negative images I have of myself is really not a true picture of who I truly am. I have always known that somewhere inside of me was an amazing light that wanted to shine. I dimmed my own light with alcohol which only further spiraled my depression.
“Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than fucking perfect.”
There’s just something about having someone tell you it’s going to be all right, and that you are ok just as you are. When I hear similar sentiments from my fellows in recovery, it’s a feeling like no other. We remind each other all the time that we are complete, that we are fucking warriors, and that we are perfectly imperfect just as we are.
8) Plumb: "Lord I'm Ready Now"
Lord, is this title and song so appropriate for what I’m about to tell you.
I, Cristina Ferri, am a Christian music listener.
This statement has literally been haunting me for years. I’ve hidden it from everyone in my life minus my church peeps. I know the feeling of rejection and what it’s like when people look at you like the crazy God person. You want to know why? Because I’ve been on both sides of it, I’ve been the giver and the recipient of the looks. But let me tell you a brief history of how I came to here. When I was in school, I remember I was listening to my Walkman with a cassette single of Michael W. Smith’s Place in this World, and a teacher asked me if I was a Christian. I looked at him strange and asked why would he ask that, and he explained that the music I was listening to was a Christian song. I instantly felt guilty and ashamed. Being raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I wasn’t supposed to be listening to this stuff. But I just liked the way the song made me feel. Fast forward to about 6 or 7 years ago, I was listening to Pandora at work and a band called FireFlight came into my life. I liked every song I heard, so I decided to see if they were playing in my area anytime soon. Turns out they were coming… to a church. What? Oh man. They were a Christian band. I do believe my exact words were: “Oh shit, she’s talking about God.” Despite the fact that I really, really felt uncomfortable about stepping into a church I did it anyway. I was happy to get out of my comfort zone, but I definitely was an outsider at this time. So, it was right around this time that I said fuck it, and continued to listen to Christian music without telling anyone. I found Plumb along the way, and her music quickly became my go to when I needed uplifting.
“I was so caught up In who I'm not
Can you please forgive me?
I ran away from you
And did what I wanted to
But I don't want to let you down
Oh Lord I'm ready now.”
This song is very near and dear to me because I feel it describes my falling away from and coming back into a relationship with God perfectly. Well, now that that’s off my chest, I feel like there’s one less part of me I’m hiding from the world, and I feel that much more free.
9) Bob Dylan: “One More Cup of Coffee Before I Go”
Bob Dylan’s music bridged the mania of my addiction with the inspiration of early recovery. I think it’s rare to find music that can do that; music that can at once drive you insane, and then pick you up, dust you off, and tell you there is more to life than that. Dylan’s work is encrypted enough that the listener can impose whatever meaning he wants.
I was heavy into Dylan in my psychotic downward spiral. I stayed with a friend in Mexico during my bottom. I listened to this song on my first day sober as I literally descended to the valley of that Mexican town. I never imagined coming out of there alive. But, here I am! Grace (in the form of my friend) delivered me to San Diego and I’ve been clean and sober ever since.
I get chills listening to this song. And when I am facing a challenge, I still tell myself that it’s just “one more cup of coffee before I go to the valley below.”
10) Mason Jennings: “Never Knew Your Name”
If you deem your life spiritual in even the vaguest of definitions, please listen to this song. It describes in better words I could ever muster how desperation lead me to God, or if you like, a higher power.
The gist is, I found a power greater than me to handle the problems in my life I couldn’t. It was a power I carried with me my whole life but never used. It’s like walking around handcuffed your whole life when the key to unlock the cuffs is in your pocket. In that way, I understood and could say to my creator: “I’ve been loving you forever, but I never knew your name.”
I never, ever, EVER thought I would get tattooed. And then I got sober. Somehow all my priorities shifted and I wanted to celebrate life in big, bold, beautiful ways. Loud and proud and permanent: ink. So what was my first tattoo? A small black treble clef on the inside of my right ankle. What better tribute to newfound sobriety than an homage to my #1 passion, MUSIC.
Let’s rewind a year, before this love for tattoo culture even began. It was July, 2007. I had just turned 24 not even three months before and I was already facing a terrifying crossroads: get help for my dangerous drinking behaviors (what’s now known as substance use disorder) or continue down the rabbit hole of despair, lack of self-respect, and an inability to stop once I started drinking. As many of you know, and possibly just as many don’t (if you’re just discovering me/us now): I had a short, packed-to-the-gills drinking “career”: six years of fun, fun with problems, and then just problems. July of 2007 was the culmination of years of shitty consequences and bad decisions. Somehow, after getting hospitalized for the second time in two years, both instances direct results of alcohol poisoning, I found myself bathing in every disgusting, terrifying, gut-wrenching emotion possible. I needed to change. So I checked myself into an intensive outpatient rehab.
The CD in my car at the time was...
11) Regina Spektor’s Begin to Hope.
This album, symbolic in title, wasn’t meant to hold so much weight and emotion. But the universe loves to wink at us. Maybe I needed an album title that invited me to hope when all seemed bleak. Begin to Hope was, for me, *the* soundtrack to get sober by. Spektor is a beautiful songwriter and her music is light and heavy at the same time; she has an angelic voice and can tickle the ivories like nobody’s business. She’s also very irreverent in her lyrics and delivery. But none of that really crossed my mind at the time. Instead, I’d listen on my way to rehab and on my way home, on repeat. Three days a week for five weeks. The album became a security blanket to me when I needed a constant. I knew I had graduated from the fear and uncertainty when I was able to change out the CD for something new.
Every time I hear a song from that album now, I’m immediately transported back to those early days of sobriety, when I wasn’t sure if the actions I was taking to get help were meant for something permanent. I could hardly think in terms of “forever” but that album taught me that if I just began to hope, I could live a life beyond anything I dared dream (editor’s note: holy cliché alert but seriously, even with all the shit that accompanies a beautiful life, I’d pick said beautiful, sober life any day over what I had before!).
Listen to the full album here:
My top picks: ♫ On the Radio, Fidelity, Better. ♫
12) Laura's Recovery Mixtape
These songs aren’t necessarily about recovery, but since music is SO intertwined with my life and my life is all about recovery (or, rather, my life wouldn’t be what it is today if I wasn’t *in recovery*), here are a few of my favorite…songs. Youtube them, iTunes them, buy them on vinyl, do whatever it is you want, but step inside my head and enjoy.
1. Oh! Darling, The Beatles
2. Linger, The Cranberries
3. mmmBop, Hanson
4. Cupid, Sam Cooke
5. Don’t Worry Baby, The Beach Boys
6. I Found You, Alabama Shakes
7. One Find, Jason Mraz
8. I Never, Rilo Kiley
9. Stir it Up, Bob Marley
10. Creep, Radiohead
11. My Sweet Lord, George Harrison
12. Thank You, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats
13. Winter Blind, Radiation City
14. Sober, Kelly Clarkson
15. Bonus Track: On the Radio, Regina Spektor (see above homage to Regina)
My first year resident advisor in college coined me “Karaoke Queen.” That eponym stuck—I love singing and will belt out, unabashedly, in the shower, car, or more aptly, on karaoke night. Enjoy my silky voice in Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me.” You heard it here first ;)
Here are some more audio goodies for you, from me. <3 ♫ \m/