Can We Still Enjoy The Music We Associated With Drugs?
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Can We Still Enjoy The Music We Associated With Drugs?


This post was originally published on August 19, 2014.

I never doubted the healing power of music. But a good portion of my musical taste was influenced by the lifestyle—for lack of a better term—that I carried out until I got sober at 30. In those early days of sobriety, my body was detoxed but I was still chained to my black-and-white mind. I therefore assumed that the best way to avoid another relapse was to dismiss en masse every note that reminded me of the dark, dirty past.

“I will never listen to Nine Inch Nails again,” I recall whining to a sober friend shortly after taking a chip for nine months. Listening to their songs triggered old memories, so the tone of my voice sounded more melodramatic than usual—as if it was the end of the world as I knew it, to quote another favorite song of mine. We were waiting for an outdoor movie screening to start at the Hollywood Forever cemetery and, as we walked past George Harrison’s gravestone, I noticed how everybody seemed to be sexy and comfortably at ease in their own skin. I, on the contrary, felt awkward and out of place. So in that millisecond, I missed the powerful effect of cocaine when NIN’s “The Hand That Feeds” would play out loud in the regular clubs where I used to hang out. I didn’t know then that the feeling I’d experienced had a lot more to do with the obnoxious amounts of blow in my system and not the music. That was also before the drugs brought on hallucinations and fever.

After a brief respite from my discomfort, at around one year of sobriety, I experienced a similar feeling as I went through a severe depression and recovery again became a very slow process for me. I realized that the obsession to use drugs hadn’t been lifted as quickly as I’d wished. So I listened to Layne Staley for days and chained-smoked like I had at the age of 26—a terrible year. Even though I rationally knew I had the tools to counteract these feelings, I opted for opiated lyrics and detrimental memories. I checked out and indulged in thoughts of a last hit, another overdose like my favorite singer. After all, I still remembered his words, the chords and every mistake from my previous life. But wasn’t I supposed to be different at a year of sobriety? How, I asked myself, could I be lying on my dusty living room floor, romanticizing using and craving oblivion, trying to get it delivered by means of a song instead of a rig?

Since I never stop asking myself questions—quite often the same ones over and over again—I pondered whether with time I would be able to soberly enjoy old tunes that I genuinely liked back in the day, songs I’d empathized with to such an extent that I’d believed they were written for me, songs I’d used as a way of justifying what I was doing to myself. As the introspection progressed, I began to wonder if drug music was even a real genre or only an illusory and excessive interpretation I’d created in my mind.

I eventually got a little better and so did my depression. My recovery became stronger, as usual in perfect proportion to the level of desperation and surrender that I’d used to claw myself out of discomfort. And with that, my question about music and sobriety returned.

I’ll be two years sober on August 13th and I don’t believe in happenstance. A couple of weeks ago, I set the iPod on shuffle while running on the treadmill and “The Hand That Feeds” was the first song that played; I worked out with a smile on my face and the thought of a drink, a line or a needle didn’t cross my mind. I thought about the night before, when I’d kissed my man and felt perfectly myself—loved and finally enough without the fake power I’d needed before. So it is with a great deal of pleasure that I can today answer at least one of my many riddles—the one about music: Not only can I enjoy it but it’s even more authentic when I can enjoy it with a present state of mind.

My musical taste has changed over the years. But this happened independently from sobriety—it was simply a matter of growing up and being exposed to different cultures and music genres. Headbanging and heavy metal grooves that scream words of rage don’t really suit me anymore.

As I’ve heard other people share, today I try to avoid using such categorical words as never and always. It turns out that most of the time, they’re not accurate. Music is one of the highest forms of intimate communication and I don’t believe there’s a side effect to its use. It’s our brain that has to do the work—detaching from the lies and horror stories we once misunderstood for fairy tales and escapades.

Most people can relate to the idea of associating a song with a relationship and feeling like it hurts too much after the love goes bad. Then one day you wake up with an open mind, ready for a new experience and a fresh understanding of both yourself and the old soundtrack that used to hold a meaning you thought would never change.

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About Author

Alice Carbone Tench is a writer and journalist based in Los Angeles. A former translator and interpreter from Turin, Italy, Alice moved to Los Angeles in 2010 and worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent for several Italian magazines, among which Vanity Fair, the Italian news agency ANSA and the online magazine Fine Dining Lovers. In 2011 she started a blog, Wonderland Mag, to share the American experience with her Italian friends, but the blog soon became something more, the source material for a book. Her debut novel, The Sex Girl, was published by Rare Bird Books in July, 2015. The book is currently out of print. From 2013 to 2015 she hosted the interview podcast Coffee with Alice. Today, Wonderland Mag has evolved into a candid portrait of Alice’s life: Stories of healing, of being a woman in today’s America, stories of food, love, and of how to dust off after a storm, to move forward stronger than before. Alice is currently working on her second book, a collection of essays from this blog titled Making Sense of Reality. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, keyboard player Benmont Tench and their daughter, Catherine Gabriella Winter.