I thought I had lost the love of my life for a second time. Something I learnt today changed my mind.
Over a decade ago, an injury forced me to give up my lifelong dream of being a musician. Music was something I’d always known. It was my first language, my whole identity. When this dream was taken away from me, my mental health collapsed with it. I spent many, many years in a deep depression. Drinking became my escape, and how I survived.
What I didn’t do was give up on live music. I never felt more at home than when enveloped by the warm hug of a symphony of sounds: the feeling of being compelled to move by the way a beat or rhythm echoed through the walls of my chest; of feeling the full spectrum of emotions shared through melody or song.
And yet music, specifically live music, has become drenched in a culture of binge drinking. Especially in Australia. It felt like the very thing that was keeping me alive was also killing me. Of course, I launched myself head-first into this habit, this life, this way of fitting in. Drinking at gigs was a way to come out of my shell, to belong, and to escape my own feelings of deep sadness and loss while listening to others living their dreams of playing music to an audience.
When I stopped drinking, in March this year, I thought this would be the end of live music for me. I’d need to sacrifice one of my favourite things in the world to live this wonderful new life. A life in which my mental health battles are more like knee-high hurdles. A life in which colours seem brighter, sounds and smells evoke my curiosity instead of annoyance, and I have a glimpse of the kind of optimism I have for many years assumed was a myth.
Being unemployed during COVID-19 means having to pick and choose, and so I’ve paid for two virtual gigs during the pandemic. Blues music is really special to me, and so Ash Grunwald’s gigs were perfectly timed to coincide with two different milestones in my journey of sobriety. The last time I went to one of Ash’s live gigs, I loved it, but was too caught up in thinking about my next drink to really experience it. Not just the next drink, but the one after that and how I was going to afford it. How I was going to get home, and how many drinks I could have and still be OK to get home. Thinking about how I’d feel the next day, and whether I did have a problem. Why does everyone else get to drink and enjoy themselves, and why shouldn’t I? And so on, into oblivion.
These two live-streamed gigs brought me more joy than I think I’ve ever felt experiencing live music as an audience member. Even through a screen, Ash is an incredibly talented musician with a special knack for storytelling and connecting with his audience. But it wasn’t just that. It was that I was also finally experiencing the music I love, unbridled. Without dulling my feelings or senses.
I felt in the back of my mind that this might be a one-off for me. I could see by the YouTube comments, as the gig progressed, that people were celebrating and drinking at home as they watched along. Not just celebrating drinking, but getting drunk. As soon as the pandemic would be over, would these kinds of events be too risky for me to attend?
Today I found out that Ash and his wife Danni have been sober for two and a half years. I listened to the first episode of Danni’s podcast, ‘How I Quit Alcohol’, where she and her husband talk about ‘quitting the booze’, alcohol in the music industry, their personal journeys, and how they never want to go back to drinking.
Listening to them speak brought tears of joy and relief. To think that while I was watching Ash’s live-streamed gigs, and feeling concerned about never being able to experience this kind of music live again, he was sober with me the whole way. There was something really special about the fact that of all the live-streamed gigs I could have chosen to watch, I accidentally chose the person who, alongside his family, is living the kind of life I’ve been striving towards.
I know that when the time is right, I’ll be able to enjoy live music again. It’s up to me to work out when the benefits outweigh the risks. I’m just so glad to have discovered that there are other people who, like me, live and breathe music, but have found a way to be a part of it in a way that lifts us up instead of bringing us down.
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I feel you; appreciate the profoundly encouraging revelation; we are indeed not alone-month three for me !
Love this! Thank you for sharing your experience!
Hey Erin, thanks for sharing your story. When someone fronts up, addresses their BS and is real with others about it it inspires others and gives hope. Like Ash did for you. I’ve been alcohol free for just over 12 months now and I’ve quit for good. Life is so much better on the other side. I too looked to people who had paved the path before me with an alcohol free life and those people gave me hope at a time when I didn’t feel it was possible for me. We inspire each other to keep going. You inspire me and others. We can live a better life and support each other in the process. Well done and keep going. You’ve got this!
Thanks for this story. One of my great concerns about a sober life is losing access to enjoying social experiences – this was really helpful!
Thanks for sharing. Creating, playing and listening to music sober wins hands down.
What a fantastic story. And a message which seems to relevant to many of us musicians, music industry personnel, and live music fans.
Really enjoyed it and felt motivated. Thank you.
So true, and so glad you found Ash early on in your sobriety.
I’m 12 months sober and the music gets louder and clearer with each day I don’t drink to numb myself! It’s heaven on earth in my soul 🙏🏻
I’ll have to listen to Danni podcast
Thank you for that information. Live music is also my downfall . In fact listening to music full stop. I just subscribed to Danni’s podcasts and will have a listen.
Thankyou so much for sharing this others who are on the same journey. Your honesty shone through!
Thank you for sharing your experience. I also love live Blues music and thought after needing to stop drinking, going to gigs was going to be too risky for me and my old patterns would resurface. I wasn’t expecting to have a deeper level of connection to the music without the blur of alcohol. I enjoy being able to meet and having meaningful conversations with people instead of spiralling down into blackouts and not knowing what I say or do. A great night out always ended in trying to piece things together and confusion. The music was lost.
Oh wow Erin. Thank you so much for this!! I just read it to Ash and he is so stoked as well.
You absolutely can enjoy music without drinking. It took Ash a while to get used to playing without being drunk and especially talking to punters sober was difficult but like anything the more you do something the more you get used to it. Eventually you don’t really even think about it. I’m so glad you are enjoying the podcast. I would love to read this out in the next one is that’s ok?
Big love to you on your journey.
Danni’s podcast has so much depth, especially the around the challenges of not drinking at gigs . It’s definitely helped me while coinciding with the start of my sober journey for the last few months. Her guests (including Ash) are just quality people to really be inspired by and I’d highly recommend a listen!
Good on you Erin !
My experience with the booze is similar. I have been a pro muso all my life and the best and certainly most memorable times are those when I was on the wagon at the time.
I have had long periods of abstinence for up to 10 years and shorter periods of 1 month. Right now I am 6 months into lifetime sobriety and I am done with it finally !
It is such a monkey on your back and as you said it is such a part of Aussie culture.
If you write a list of fors and againsts it really becomes clear. As my dear old grandma used to say “Alcohol never did any good for anyone”
God bless her and God bless you ! Congratulations 😊
I am trying so hard to quit drinking I only drink beer I hate wine beer puts me on high then I hit the high and then depression and the black dog is waiting everynight
Beautiful, inspiring article. I am going to check out Ash.
I have mostly not been drinking since feb. I am enjoying music SO much more than when i waa drinking. Not just when drunk but even on the days of not being drunk i wasn’t enjoying the music as much as I did. Now, having being away, my music love is back, like when i was young, this has been my biggest barometer that an alcohol free brain is a much healthier and better functioning mind. I have wasted so many festivals in a drunk oblivion. During my on/off journey, i spent one festival sober and it was the best one. Massively relate to the thought of where the next drink will come from or having to miss a band i love to have a wee and a alcohol top up. Peace people
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic.
I’ve distanced myself from doing anything ‘music’ for this very reason. Fortunately, I have a few music peeps in my circle who have given up the b-ooze and spoke of how they avoid alcohol at gigs.
For me right now, COVID times is possibly an unseen advantage to have that break – a break in mindset association.
Thanks also for mentioning Ash and Danni’s podcast – I shall look out for that!