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How Jason Isbell Got Me Sober

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There I was at the Magnolia Ridge treatment center in Johnson City TN with an alcohol problem I couldn’t control anymore. It was July of 2016. I had just gotten out of a 3 day detox and was getting ready to join the residential part of the program for 28 days. In the main gathering room they had two acoustic guitars in some old dusty cases. I picked one out and tried to play. Seriously y’all: I could barley play a G chord.

How had this happened?

In high school I was known as the kid with a guitar who was going places. Everyone knew that I practiced a minimum of 6 hrs a day. I performed everywhere and as often as I could despite living in a tiny town where a “music scene” was well…….nowhere to be found.

Yet here I was at rock bottom.

“Disappointed in myself” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Here’s the deal: growing up as a kid in small town East Texas, I never felt like I fit in. As a boy you were supposed to be tough and into football, fighting, hunting, fishing………you know “man” stuff.

But I was the kid who was a bit of a loner, and loved tinkering with musical instruments, reading books, and letting my imagination run free. I was also more emotional and sensitive than a tough East Texas boy was supposed to be.

Don’t get me wrong I had a good upbringing and a mostly happy childhood but I just never felt like I fit in w the cool kids. I felt less than. Apart from and not a part of.

Fast forward to my early 20s. I had toured the world playing in bluegrass bands. Played on lots of records. Shared the stage with a few of my heroes and even played live on Sirius XM radio a few times(Bluegrass Junction). Living the dream right?

Well around that time I also started to develop a bit of a voice as a songwriter and I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of my songwriting heroes(Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Tom Waits)had legendary drinking problems. Seemed like alcohol was essential to the creative process.

A few years after that I joined a country/southern rock band called “The Twang Bangers”(hey: I didn’t come up w the name) and alcohol was very much a part of the scene.

Booze at practice. Booze at soundcheck. Drinks onstage during the show. Bottles of whiskey and kegs at the after party. And I……..loved it.

And it was fun until……………. I started to spiral out of control.

What do I mean by “spiraling out of control”?

Unable to finish shows because I was too drunk, showing up drunk to soundcheck, making out with girls as we played(I thought I was sooooooo cool. Reality check: bullshit. It was tacky and made me and band mates look like complete idiots) getting into fights w bartenders, and totally pissing of my band mates and ruining my friendships.

Yet through it all: I thought this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

Aren’t artists supposed to dance with chaos?

I got a call one day saying they wanted me out. Yep: I was about to get kicked out of a country/southern rock band that played mostly covers for drinking too much. Our logo was the band name written on a beer bottle.

You would think that would be a wake up call.

But it took a few more years of spiraling downward before I finally reached out and asked for help. I got checked into a treatment center in July of 2016.

I learned that while addiction does have a physical component to it, it also has a psychological and spiritual component as well and I was gonna have to deal with my issues if I wanted to get better.

That whole “not feeling like I fit in as a kid” was still with me if only subconsciously.

So I sobered up.

Life slowly started getting better. My gf Sierra and I started dating while I was still a drinking man. She came and visited me while I was in rehab and we both decided that we wanted to be better and get our shit together. We decided to become adults. Together.

Now, I would love to tell you that we lived happily ever after and all has been well since then but…………that isn’t the truth.

I stayed sober for over a year and I was proud. I was an inspiration and everyone was proud of me.

Then one day I drank again.

And……… It was like I had never stopped.

Within just a few days I was right back to the out of control state I had been in before.

The reality that I had a disease that wasn’t going away punched me right in the fucking face.

I stayed drunk for about a week and then Sierra gave me an ultimatum: I had to quit drinking or she would quit the relationship.

So I put the bottle down.

Plug in the jug.

The next day we were going to Knoxville TN to see Jason Isbell at the Tennessee Theater(we bought the tickets a few months before my little relapse). I’d always loved his music and looked up to him as a role model in sobriety even though we’d never met. He actually played in my hometown back in 2011 for a very small crowd and now here was doing two sold out shows at a theater that sat 1,200.

There I was in the crowd having had over a year sober to having less than one day sober. Man that feeling sucks. I felt like such a loser. Such a fuckup. But then the music started.

It got me outta my head.

Made me feel better.

Let me see myself in his songs.

You know: all that amazing stuff that music does for people.

That was a little over three years ago and I haven’t had a drink since.

When I got out of rehab and was learning how to live again, I wrote a song called “Abriel”(Sierra’s middle name) about getting sober and learning how to live and grow in a relationship. I honestly didn’t know if I would ever play it for anyone. It was too personal. I didn’t think anyone would dig it.

I was wrong.

Everywhere I played it, people responded with lots of enthusiasm.

I once heard someone say that the more personal something is, the more universal it is.

I never believed it until then.

So I finally got my ass into the studio to record it last year

You can stream it here

Or download here

And check out the acoustic version here

It showed me that almost everyone is struggling with something in their life. Wanting to be better and grow in our relationships is something we all want. “The more personal: the more universal”

I hope this song speaks to you too.

Stay in touch.

Aaron

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