D.O.A: Sober Firsts Of A Proper Punk Rocker

You guys might remember that a couple of years back I interviewed Mike Hodsall, British-born bass guitarist extraordinaire for legendary Canadian punkers D.O.A, here on this very website (you can read the interview HERE). Well, since then Mike has pushed forwards fiercely with his sober-journey, and is currently within a pube-width of nailing his 3 year soberversary!! Mike is a fucking top dude, and as a proper balls-to-the-wall-punker-gone-sober-but-still-killing-it he’s a genuine card-carrying authority on how to live life PROPERLY and with NO COMPROMISES. I’m therefore turbo-chuffed that Mike chose SoberPunks as his means by which to share his musings about getting sober with the world. Put on your helmet, grab the lube, and brace yourself. It’s Mike time…

The other day I was perusing the SoberPunks Gang Facebook page and reading through many of the success and failure stories, relating to most of them and feeling a real kinship with my struggling brothers and sisters. Amongst the banter I noticed someone use the term ‘sober firsts’ and it immediately brought me back to my first few weeks of sobriety. I’m now coming up on three years sober and so glad that I’ve been able to get this far, as it seemed an impossible task not that long ago.

I quit drinking on my birthday, July 23rd 2016. I was on tour in Europe and the UK with my band, D.O.A, and we’d just played the New Cross Inn east of London. I was born in England but grew up in Canada – interestingly my parents grew up in Erith, which is just down the road from New Cross. I had ignored the warnings of my doctors and my family one too many times regarding my drinking and got some uncomfortable news pertaining to my health the morning that I left on tour for three weeks. I had an 8 hour drive to Vancouver, and then a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt to let the news really sink in and spend some very dark quality time inside my head.

“Why didn’t you listen?!! Why didn’t you sort yourself out when you had the chance you fuckin’ idiot?!!! You did this to yourself!!!”

I heaped the guilt and shame on myself with every passing kilometre and thought about how my wife and son were going to go through hell because of my weak inability to not drink. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t deserve this. Not only was I feeling massive regret and shame, I was also bloody scared that I was about to enter a potentially slow painful death. If only I hadn’t needed another drink so many times.

Of course, I had a few of those wonderful little bottles of wine on the plane whilst thinking about how I’d fucked up my life and everyone’s around me. And of course I kept saying yes to another beer at the shows, and of course I should probably pick up a bottle of wine on the way to the hotel. With every drink I felt an extra level of guilt, knowing full well what had to be done if I wanted any chance of surviving my new health reality. A week into the tour, at New Cross, somewhat celebrating my birthday but mostly just drinking again because I was alive and it was night time, I took a big sip of my wine, looked at that beautiful crimson liquid splashing around and said, “FUCK YOU!!!! It’s over”. I put it down, half empty, not something I had ever done before, and told myself that it was time to man up and and do the right thing. – both for my own health, and for the future of my family. I can’t explain exactly what allowed me to stop at that very moment, but I knew it had to be done, just like cleaning the cat box or changing a diaper; eventually you just have to fucking do it, and I fucking did it. I haven’t had a drop since.

However, that’s not what this is about. I want to talk about sober firsts. What I didn’t realize until that first few weeks is exactly how many things I’d never done completely sober and how terrifying it was going to be. Obviously my first huge challenge was getting through the next two weeks of the tour. Talk about being in the lion’s den. But that’s another story I’ll save for later. My first real ‘firsts’ came when I got off the plane back in Vancouver. My family had travelled out to the coast to meet me as was our summer tradition in recent years to go camping in our tent trailer for a week or so immediately after I returned home from tour. It always helped me to ease back into civilian life after the lunacy of being on the road with a band. It really does fuck with your sense of reality. The constant motion, restless and rare sleep, unloading gear, loading gear, relentless loud noise and rarely an hour of down time, day after day, week after week. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Not exactly how it’s portrayed on the telly. It’s hard fucking work and when you finally get home you’re absolutely depleted both mentally and physically. Well, this time something was different. Instead of immediately diving into a bottle of crimson nerve-depleter, I had no way of battling my overworked nervous system and elevated anxiety. Normally I’d park the truck, make myself an excessively strong Dark and Stormy and then start setting up camp, not so slowly working myself into a reasonably relaxed, happy-go-lucky-normal-dad type facade ready for the family vacation and ready to hit the wine as soon as the smokies are sizzling over the fire.

As any of you other drinkers know, the truth is a little more sinister. Your main goal is to numb yourself to the point where your feelings and human connections are minimal. You want autopilot. I would have gladly climbed right inside the wine bottle and put the cork back in if I could have. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love and cherish spending time camping with my wife and son, it’s one of my true joys in life, but being a husband and a dad, and an adult in general is quite overwhelming if you’re lacking in certain coping mechanisms. Especially if you regularly run off and join a crazy rock’n’roll circus for a living where nothing is normal.

I realized very quickly that this time wasn’t going to be easy. I’d never had a family camping trip that didn’t involve me getting to some level of rubber-legged slurring. How does one walk on the beach at sunset without the crimson elixir adding to the fluidity of your movements? And how does one really experience the ‘amazing’ moon without being blurry eyed and ‘feeling’ it? How does one sit around the fire without having to get up and pace around without the numbing quality of the booze? How does one sit in the camper and play cards without the added stimuli of liquor? I don’t know. I’d never done it. Somehow I managed to get through the week and enjoy myself for the most part, keeping as busy as possible, even though I was screaming on the inside most nights, panicking quietly as I rode wave after wave of various anxiety induced fears. What if I have to talk to someone who I don’t know? What if the restaurant is crowded and noisy? What if I need firewood? FUCK!!!! It was a wild ride internally although I’m sure my family just thought I was really tired and reserved after an exhausting tour. At least I hope that was the case. Poor me, my holiday was challenging. What a twat.

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With the less-than-relaxing first sober ‘holiday’ now in the books, the next big ‘first’ was going home. Isn’t home supposed to be your comfort zone? I was somewhat ‘comfortable’ each night after a few glasses of red numbing agent but how was I going to be without it. On occasion in the past, I had gone a day or two without the drink and it was hellish every time. I couldn’t sit down for more than half an hour without getting up and pacing around the house. I was twitchy and itchy. I felt anxious, uncomfortable, and awkward. I needed the red joy to bring me down a few pegs before I was comfortable in my own skin. In the past, I generally made sure that I didn’t run out of the sauce except for those rare occasions where I would abstain for a night just to prove to myself that I wasn’t an alcoholic, which, clearly I was. As expected, I struggled. Again, I didn’t quite expect how hard being at home was going to be, the one place where I should have felt most relaxed and able to cope. But just like the holiday, I got through it. I had to. That was my new reality. And it got easier. I had to accept who I am and what that means. I had to build up my own self-worth and come to terms with the fact that alcohol was never my friend and wasn’t there for me like I previously believed.

Along came Christmas. I love going to my parent’s house and spending quality time over the holidays with the family. I always looked forward to it. Partly because I didn’t have to drive for a few days and could sneak shots of port and sherry all day long until it was the socially accepted time of day to crack a bottle of wine. We always had a Christmas Eve gathering and we’d all sit in my parent’s bar room and have a jolly good chinwag over a few (many) drinks. The neighbours would come over and some of my friends and my brother’s friends would join the festivities. It was always a great night, except when I drank too much and had to sleep it off on the couch and miss Christmas dinner the next day. A Christmas without being booze soaked? Another first. I had been sober at that point for five months so I was reasonably confident that I could handle not drinking but could I handle the fishbowl effect? I felt an extra helping of anxiety because everyone knew that I was off the sauce and everybody was watching intently to see if I’d fuck it all up. Whether it was just in my head or not is unclear but I sure didn’t like the feeling that everyone was walking on eggshells around me and trying not to be obvious with their own drinking. I personally don’t care if people drink around me. I’m a musician and spend at least 80 nights a year in drinking establishments. I have to be able to deal with that reality. Sometimes it really sucks but that’s the way she goes. I survived my first sober Christmas but holy shitballs did I ever eat a metric shit ton of sugary treats.

I enjoy being at home amongst my family, our cats, and my records and instruments. These people and things bring me happiness. I love where I live and I have an amazing network of hiking trails right out my back door…but it was never enough to make me content or calm or not have the all-encompassing need for a deep glazing of liquor to blur the edges. When you have everything that should make you happy, why in the fuck would you possibly need to drink yourself into zombie form just to cope with your fantastic life? It makes no sense at all. That… is alcoholism. It robs you of your ability to feel what matters. It casts you down a dark hole where only Gollum should be, always searching for your ‘precious’. The farther down the hole you get, the darker it becomes. Clarity becomes something that is barely visible in your rear view mirror and when it does rear its frightening head, all you feel is shame and regret. It’s a horrible circle, drinking just to numb the dark feelings and insecurities that are only magnified by the alcohol. Sobriety brings clarity, and with that often comes the awful realization that you have some baggage that needs to be sorted before you move on. That clarity can be painful sometimes, but it forces you to deal with your issues, which in turn starts to clear your mind and the weight on your shoulders. These things don’t happen overnight and it can be a long and bumpy road, jarring every sensitive nerve but the payoff is worth every uncomfortable moment because that initial fear of clarity transforms into that which magnifies all the good in your life. It’s all right there waiting for you to experience for the first time again. And if you, with the help of your asshole friend, alcohol, have managed to burn every bridge and lose all that you hold dear, now’s your chance to rebuild and savour every good thing that you accomplish moving forward. That good thing can be as simple as day one without a drink or making someone laugh and not because you just stepped into your own boozy puke and slipped on it like a cartoon banana peel scene. Day by day, rebuilding who you are and being proud of it and accountable for it.

Without alcohol, there’s a whole lot of reality at the end of your fingertips. I had to embrace everything that I was feeling both positive and negative. Life is a roller coaster, full of ups and downs (please excuse the obvious cliche) and shouldn’t be experienced through the fog of a brain melting substance. I learned to be thankful for all the good in my life and to enjoy all of the little moments that make up a day. The journey isn’t over, it probably never will be, but I’m so glad that I’m taking control of my life a little more each day and I can’t wait to go sober camping again.

Mike Hodsall: making sober reyt sexy since 2016.

Thanks Mike – this shit is just what I needed to hear today, and I’m sure it’ll strike a chord with everyone reading this.

Catch Mike and his cohorts live on D.O.A’s 40th anniversary tour! I’m hoping to get along to the Blackpool Rebellion show.

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Hugs and spitting,

Jonathan

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