Recovery song whisperer

I’m not sure if I keep finding songs about recovery or if they keep finding me…

A few weeks back I turned on the radio in my jeep and heard the type of song that makes me pull over so I can take in the lyrics.  I don’t usually listen to music while driving as sport radio or political talk shows are usually raising my blood pressure or making me laugh.  If I feel a need to be lost in lyrics or connect with God I usually go to a playlist of Christian or Country that help me meditate and shed my worries.

But this day I chose the local country station.  As I listened to the song, I googled a line in the song that jumped out at me, “To be wrong all along and admit it, is not amazing grace” to which Google replied with the rest of the verse, “But to be loved like a song you remember, Even when you’ve changed.”  I was now introduced to the singer Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile) and her song, “That Wasn’t Me”.  Brandi caught my attention with her soulful, bluesy voice similar to when I first heard Melissa Etheridge, Susan Tedeschi or Bonny Raitt.

It was the lyrics of the chorus that made me pull my jeep over.  There are some words that can only be stringed together by someone who knows the trauma caused by addiction and the recovery path we’re on.

“Tell me, did I go on a tangent?

Did I lie through my teeth?

Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?

Did I bring shame on my family?

Did it show when I was weak?

Whatever you’ve seen, that wasn’t me

That wasn’t me, oh that wasn’t me”

Those words tore right through my heart deep into my soul.  I’m not exaggerating.  The shame came flooding through me. Did I bring shame on my family? The feeling of shame from having someone who depended on me having their world collapse because of my inability to stop drinking is hard to get over.  As the late Robin Williams said of the demise of his second marriage in 2008, years after he’d managed to get sober again:

“You know, I was shameful, and you do stuff that causes disgust, and that’s hard to recover from. You can say, ‘I forgive you’ and all that stuff, but it’s not the same as recovering from it. It’s not coming back.”

Did I lie through my teeth? The lies that I’d hear coming out of my mouth during the final years of my drinking were insane.  I’d lie for no reason about the silliest things.   I learned in AA that the lie is a symptom of alcoholism.  All alcoholics lie.  All addicts lie.  I heard my mom say of my alcoholic father, and Sarah say to me, that the lying was worse than the drinking.  It’s a symptom of any addiction or I’d guess any behavior that goes against own own moral code.  You can’t put lying in a box and only lie about that one thing you’re doing that you shouldn’t be doing.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re drinking, watching porn, sneaking a cigarette, having an affair, or cheating on expenses.  You’ll lie about that area of your life to whomever you’re accountable to but the lie is contagious.  Soon you’ll be telling a lie about how you paid that bill still in the unopened envelope (yep, that was me).  It’s like a wild fire. I recognize it all the time now when I hear someone lie. I can smell a lie from a distance.

My last drink on February 6, 2014 led me strait to a lie.  I came home from a business trip and blamed the stitches above my left eye on a sober accident. The whole trip home I kept rehearsing how I’d walk in the door and admit that I fell of the wagon.  Yet when I opened my mouth out it came, “I wasn’t drinking.  I swear!”  I couldn’t help lying through my teeth.  I haven’t had a drink in over 2.5 years or 936 days to be exact. I’m just as proud that it’s been 935 days since  my last lie to anyone.

So this song by Brandi had me hooked!  After I listened to the song over and over for the rest of the day (seriously, I get crazy like that) I was convinced that Brandi was ‘one of us.’  The next song I selected was “The Story” in which she has as equally beautiful yet gut wrenching lyrics:

“You see the smile that’s on my mouth

It’s hiding the words that don’t come out

And all of my friends who think that I’m blessed

They don’t know my head is a mess

No, they don’t know who I really am

And they don’t know what I’ve been through like you do

And I was made for you…”

Wait minute … you had me until that last line. Let’s listen to the chorus:

“All of these lines across my face

Tell you the story of who I am

So many stories of where I’ve been

And how I got to where I am

But these stories don’t mean anything

When you’ve got no one to tell them to

It’s true… I was made for you”

There it is again!  “I was made for you?” Seriously? A love song?  But I could feel the pain before she went and got all sappy on us.  Doesn’t Brandi know we alcoholics end up alone???

Well that love song didn’t dissuade me from hanging onto “That Wasn’t Me” being about the wreckage caused by addiction.

As she told the song’s lyrics were inspired by the addiction and recovery. Brandi wrote the song from the viewpoint of the alcoholic, and the healing and reconciliation that comes with overcoming addiction. About not being as bad as you are on your worst day, about acceptance. “It’s about addiction, what’s happening in my family. An addiction recovery and the reaction people are expected to have after one recovers from an addiction after years of turmoil.”

“When you’re lost you will toss every lucky coin you’ll ever trust

And you’ll hide from your God like he ever turns his back on us

And you will fall all the way to the bottom and land on your own knife

And you’ll learn who you are even if it doesn’t take your life”

That’s pretty much how it works. Unless you’re lucky to be one of the few that find the solution before losing everything.  Most of us hit rock bottom, bounce around and then keep falling lower than before hitting our head on every rock on the way down.  And everyone around you suffers with you and as a result of you.

But she also accurately describes how we do everything we can to hide from God which is the only proven solution.

“The sorrow of God lies in our fear of Him, our fear of life, and our fear of ourselves. He anguishes over our self-absorption and self-sufficiency… God’s sorrow lies in our refusal to approach Him when we sinned and failed. – Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

Why do I connect so much with music about recovery? 

I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things. -Tom Waits

I guess finding songs about recovery for me is similar to hearing someone capture my story through there own at a meeting.  Alcoholics, addicts, are such loners and we carry this burden as if we’re the only one in the world who is this bad.  The stigma of addiction continues to make it a moral issue instead of how we look at any other sickness.  It’s why it’s so important to share our own stories.  It’s why the fellowship is so important.  For me, my Newburyport recovery community and my twitter #RecoveryPosse community is so important.  It’s why I started this blog in hopes that I can both release these thoughts out of my own head while hopefully passing on this ‘healing gift’.

“In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”  Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

Waiting for My Real Life to Begin

Another artist who had this impact on me was, Colin Hay, who you may remember as the lead singer of Men at Work.  My older son, Aidan, and I were listening to an acoustic concert of his to hear old classics like Down Under, Who Can It Be Now and Overkill.

One of his newer solo songs, Waiting for My Real Life to Begin, made me stop and play it again and again.  “This has to be an alcoholic!” I explained to Aidan.  What I didn’t explain to him was how the lyrics I was hearing described the purgatory I was keeping myself in.

“Any minute now, my ship is coming in
I’ll keep checking the horizon
I’ll stand on the bow, feel the waves come crashing
Come crashing down down down, on me

And you say, be still my love
Open up your heart
Let the light shine in
But don’t you understand
I already have a plan
I’m waiting for my real life to begin”

I was trusting God’s plan for me but I still wasn’t letting go of the repaired marriage that I felt had to be part of God’s will.  Colin captured this feeling of hanging onto our preconceived notion of God’s wil perfectly.  In the chorus someone is telling him to trust God and let his light shine in to which he replies, “I already have a plan. I’m waiting for my real life to begin”.  It only took my listening to the song enough to decide that just maybe I should start truly trusting God and His will…completely.

And sure enough after listening to hours of Colin, who is one of those fun performers who talks a lot to his audience in between songs, he did speak of his recovery from alcoholism.  His Aussie dry wit will make you laugh a lot too as he pokes fun of himself and others. In his song Beautiful World he describes his recovery.

And still this emptiness persists

Perhaps this is as good as it gets

When you’ve given up the drink

And those nasty cigarettes

Now I leave the party early, at least with no regrets

I watch the sun as it comes up, I watch it as it sets

Yeah, this is as good as it gets

That’s Deep
When I was still in my first year of recovery I found this song by a teenager named Chantelle Castello  (@FayDay270) from Kentucky who thanks her mom and her home group before going into one of the most desperate depictions of addiction I’ve heard. Listening to her sing the words feel as if she’s opening a vein.  The desperation in her voice is so painful as she describes all that she’s lost, “I’ve never been so low in my life, I was ’bout to be a mother, I was ’bout to be a wife, Now my only fuckin’ friend is the poison in my hand, And the gun under the bed to bring it all to an end.”

However she just can’t quit.  “Now that’s deep, but it ain’t deep enough to make me quit.”  We’ve all been there but Chantelle nails how alone we truly are when it has us in it’s grip.  It has nothing to do with will power or morals. Hearing someone else paint the dark picture we lived in helps us see that this addiction thing is not who we are.  It’s not Chantelle or Colin or me.  It’s what we suffer from.  If a relative get’s lung cancer do we stop calling them because we know they were a smoker?

What I love about this video is that you feel her joy when the story turns and she finds God. “Cause when my heart stopped, I got a new life. Now I get to see my kids, and I get to be a wife.” The first part of the song, the addiction, moves you to tears but the recovery gave me goosebumps and tears of joy because I’ve felt both of these feelings myself.  Another of Chantelle’s song, Beat Me, deals with the trauma of domestic abuse and breaking its chains. I’d recommend that you share it with anyone who has suffered from domestic violence as it’s no less powerful a song.  Such a talented young artist.

That will be me

This brings me back to Brandi and her song.  I appreciated the reminder of the shame that flooded me which I never want to forget.  And how I also hid from God at my worst and that feeling of being weak, the lost willpower, for the first time in my life.  I kept letting down the people closest to me and no matter how much I wanted to stop I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t stop.  I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror looking back at me.  I hated that person.  But you know something?  That wasn’t me.

Do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet

When you fall I will get you on your feet

Do I spend time with my family?

Did it show when I was weak?

When that’s what you’ve seen, that will be me

That will be me, that will be me

That will be me”

Thanks to God that truly wasn’t me. I don’t lie through my teeth.  I don’t shame my family.  And despite being caring, emotional, and easy going … I ain’t weak.  Thanks to God, AA, and the wonderful Christian and Recovery community in my life …that wasn’t me. Everyday I try to be a blessing to everyone I meet.  Everyday I try to stretch out a hand to help others get to their feet.  Every day I try to share my ‘healing gift’ with others in hope of helping them.  I talk about when I was weak and how God helped me gain strength I’ve never had before.  Everyday I try to spend time with my boys being the father they deserve.

So when that’s what you’ve seen, that will be me.  That will be me.

Greg, RagamuffinDad


2 thoughts on “Recovery song whisperer

  1. Great post! I spoke on the pod a while back about how people connect with certain songs – whether it be the lyrics, or for me, the tone or the melody of the song. There is something that connects with us when it comes to certain songs. While I don’t have a “sober” song that I feel attached to, I certainly do have songs that bring up certain emotions – and that is powerful as well.

    As for the lying – oh yeah, got that for sure. I wouldn’t have trusted the time from me back in the day. And my wife would agree that it was the lying that was the worst part. The betrayal, the secrecy, etc. The drinking was nothing compared to that – that she could handle. The others stuff- that was hard.

    Anyway, thank you so much for sharing all this. Wonderful stuff.



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