One of the major misconceptions out there about people in recovery is that we hate drinking and drugs. Au contraire! We simply learned that we can’t do it responsibly. The fact of the matter is that we would never have become addicted if it all hadn’t started off being incredibly fun.
If you hang around recovery circles, you’ll hear people say, “First it was fun, then it was fun with problems, then it was just problems.” We like that expression. We get that expression. We wanted to have a column which examines that expression. And so we reached out to the most prominent recovery bloggers, writers and advocates out there to ask them about their trudge down that road.
This week, our focus is on DJ FM.
What was drinking/using like when it was fun?
For me, that depends on the time period and to be honest, the substances involved.
Early on all I did was drink (alcohol). From the beginning, it was my daily maintenance drug. Of course, it helped with social anxiety, it helped me come down after a long day at work, and gave me plenty of drunken anecdotes to have in common with my friends. I felt, for the first time, like I had a social circle, comrades. I felt included. As a musician, I was frequently playing in bars and clubs—and in the late 1990s I began DJ-ing and producing electronic music which opened me up to a whole new world.
I had my first few experiences with drugs in 1996. None of the experiences were positive or “earth-shattering.” This was later on during the first wave of “rave,” before its decline in the early 2000s. I tried Ecstasy a handful of times, with mixed results. I tried mushrooms once and had probably one of the worst drug experiences I’ve ever had. I saw friends get “dosed” (given too much of a given substance without their consent). I saw people get arrested and other people’s health in decline. And as much as I loved the electronic music of that time, I left that initial drug experiment behind after about 1998. In my mind alcohol was safe, it was legal, it was acceptable. And it always worked.
It would be nine years before I would actively begin experimenting with drugs other than alcohol again. I’d smoke marijuana from time to time, to take the edge off my many hangovers. But that was it.
Then in 2007 I found myself in a living situation with a very old friend, someone who I trusted and whose company I enjoyed. Between his interest in psychedelics and narcotics, and my excessive (read: alcoholic) drinking, I joked once that the two of us had a “cottage industry.” It was during this time that I tried Ecstasy again, and it had a profound effect on me. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a life-changing experience. It made me aware of a level of openness and communication that I didn’t know existed.
I became an evangelist for it, and got to the point where I was “rolling” every weekend. I lived for it. I was 33. Shortly thereafter I met my (now ex) girlfriend, who became my running partner. She and I would have small parties where we would invite people over to watch this video, filmed by Peter Jennings for ABC News not long before his death, and introduce our friends to the drug.
If alcohol was my day-to-day crutch, Ecstasy was my vacation from reality. It was like floating in a pool on a warm summer day, with a wonderful breeze gliding over you at precisely the right time. It was an endless sunset, experienced moment by moment. Here is a photograph I took of a sunrise at Burning Man, 2008—y first year there. I was as high (literally and figuratively) as I could possibly be at that moment. I can think of no better way to illustrate the feeling.
And of course, alcohol was always there for the comedown. As a naturally anxious person, any stimulants I added to the mix affected my anxiety. I had to have alcohol, or Xanax, or marijuana or GBL (Gamma-Butyrolactone, a lesser-known depressant which could be ordered over the internet with very little effort) to be able to roll, trip, or “candy flip”—taking Ecstasy and LSD simultaneously.
When and how did it become fun with problems?
“Fun with problems” lasted only a short while.
Hangovers were the first wave, followed by losing things—keys, wallets, credit cards. Then there were the lost memories…things I had said and done that I couldn’t remember. In the beginning these were just more anecdotes I could add to my trophy case, stupid things I could brag to my friends about and commiserate with them.
Then there were the close calls with police. A night of drinking and partying, followed by the inevitable “homing instinct” that always got me in trouble. I had to get home to my own bed. HAD to. Drunk driving was a regular occurrence—as was speeding. I managed to talk my way out of several close call DUI’s, but it was only a matter of time before I’d be caught.
Still, nothing was stopping me. I was having fun with friends. I was DJ-ing regularly in clubs and enjoying the benefits of nightlife and free booze. And like a teenager, I had no thought for the consequences of what I was doing, and no respect for what I was doing to my body.
What was it like when it was just problems?
The best way to describe that time is “unmitigated chaos.”
Once I began actively using psychedelics and Ecstasy, nothing else mattered. Jobs didn’t matter, responsibilities didn’t matter. Losing myself in that immersive, alternate reality that those substances seemed to conjure was all I cared about. The real world seemed like such a dark, unhappy place, not worth returning to.
The consequences mounted quickly. I was arrested for my first DUI in 2002, and convicted that summer. That was still just in my drinking days. But once drugs other than alcohol re-entered the picture, it took me just over two years to bring my life to a screeching halt.
In fact, it took barely three weeks. September 29, 2009 – October 19, 2009. I lost a job and was arrested for my second DUI the same day, after coming to behind the wheel of my car. Then two weeks later, I accidentally overdosed on a combination of depressants and spent almost four days in the ICU. With no insurance to cover my expenses, my medical bills were well over $18,000 in addition to legal expenses from the DUI.
The old friend whom I re-discovered drugs with, who I used with on multiple occasions, who was even the one responsible for saving my life the night I overdosed, put me in a car and dropped me off at rehab. That was two days before Thanksgiving, 2009. I was at the lowest point in my life.
How and when did life become fun again?
The process of life becoming fun again continues daily.
The first six months in early recovery were nothing but solid work. Finding housing (an Oxford House), finding a temporary job to be able to pay my medical bills (pizza delivery driver), working on the steps with a sponsor for the first time, slowly putting my life back together was my focus then. While I was living in that Oxford House, I began working on what was to become “Last Man Standing,” an album I had almost 80% complete by the time I moved out on my own again.
It was there—headphones on, volume up—that I re-discovered my love for music. It was pure joy, even though the music I was writing came from a dark, difficult place. It would be almost eight months before I would set foot inside a club again. When I finally did have the courage to take the stage again as a DJ, it was at the Hat Factory in Richmond, Virginia, in front of an audience of almost 1,500 people. It was the largest crowd I had ever played for, sober or no. It felt like a victory.
There were hard times to come—I would have to survive a relapse to make it to today. But I’m in a more peaceful, content place than I’ve ever been. My girlfriend and I have been together over two years and share our home with two cats and a dog. Collectively they bring more happiness to my life than I’ve ever known. I’m doing more with music now than I ever have. I have a network of sober friends, and am very active in recovery, both in my community and online.
It’s good to be back…and good to be here.
Jon G first began his journey in recovery from substance use in November of 2009. Under his musician alias “DJ FM,” he’s been a part of the southeast US EDM scene for close to 20 years. Not only has he DJ-ed from Baltimore to Burning Man, but as a musician he’s also performed his original electronic music with a live band, produced over 90 songs, instrumentals and remixes, and even had his original tracks used on MTVs Real World, Road Rules, The Hills and Making the Band. In 2015, he helped found the non-profit organization Rave Clean, which throws alcohol- and drug-free rave-style dance parties with donations of time, money and equipment. He also maintains his own recovery blog, My Last Stand.