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Julien Baker On Sobriety: "You Can’t Hide Behind Substances All The Time"
For anyone who has ever struggled with substance abuse, or simply opts to lead a substance-free life, sobriety is not always easy. For musicians, the risks and challenges can be even more daunting with the constant temptations of life on the road, and staying creative while fighting addiction can be a double whammy.
Fortunately, the narrative of overcoming addiction continues to blossom, as more and more musicians and music professionals are sharing their stories, providing inspiration, perspective and awareness. Most recently, a mix of nine artists from various corners of the music world, including Julien Baker, Jason Isbell, Soko, Ben Harper, Steven Tyler, Phish singer Trey Anastasio, and more, gave GQ candid insight on how musicians can thrive creatively without using.
Take indie-pop super-talent Julien Baker, who keys into the difficulty of pulling away from drugs and alcohol. Opening up about her path to a healthy, creative life provides a window in the terror recovery can include.
"The other fear is that when substances aren’t there and I’m alone, I’m going to have confront something even scarier, which is myself and my own consciousness," said Baker. "Now I have to sit there and be with myself, and that is most terrifying of all. However, as hard as it is, it’s an extremely necessary skill—the ability to be alone and to confront yourself. You can’t hide behind substances all the time. But yeah, it’s scary."
But pushing through the fear can also be rewarding. French singer/songwriter Soko described how her life opened up once she overcame the monster in her life, and inter-connected her physical health was with her ambition.
"It was very easy for me to stop," said Soko. "On top of being addicted to alcohol, I was also bulimic. I stopped food addiction and alcohol all at once—vegan, gluten-free, no processed food, no sugar, no alcohol, no caffeine, overnight. Just by being like: “I’m done. I’m ambitious, and I have things to do. And I want my life to have meaning.”
The GQ roundtable also poses the question of what advice has been the most helpful along the way. Harper's answer taps into a critical pitfall common among creatives, who, as they become more successful, can run the risk of being surrounded by people who won't always tell them the hard truth.
"Don’t try to tell yourself a story that only you would believe," he says.
But in many ways, in the best ways, creativity can and does help artists push through the hard times to find a better version of themselves. Isbell, who admitted to getting sober because of his wife, fellow songwriter Amanda Shires, used creativity as not only therapy, but a tool for forging new connections.
"I wrote my way through it. I think part of the process for me of sobering up," said Isbell, "was using my work to connect with the world that I had always felt so isolated from. And I think probably my survival instinct kicked in and said, 'Well, what you do is you use these songs to connect with people in a way that you’ve not connected with them before.' And after that, I sort of felt like I belonged in the world."
If you or someone you know is also dealing with any of these challenges, it is important to know that you are not alone and there are resources where you can seek help, including the services of MusiCares.