When I started playing live shows for Lady Lazarus, I played completely sober because I was a very novice piano player (still kind of am) and I was afraid I’d mess up if I had even the tiniest of buzzes and wouldn’t be able to fully focus.
Here's me all beaming and excited and nervous (can you tell?) and sober as a clam (yes, I intentionally mix my metaphors) before my very first show:
That being said, it never really bothered me to play this way. Adrenaline would kick in and the thrill of being in the moment always eventually took over any nerves I had. I didn't ever feel the need to have a drink to make a show "work."
Over the years, I would mellow out a bit to the point where I felt comfortable having a drink before I played, but usually only one and rarely ever two — not even when I opened for Youth Lagoon in front of 200+ people, the biggest show I’d ever played.
But since moving to Austin a couple years ago, it’s been hard for me to socialize sober let alone think about playing shows. I have some ideas as to why that I'm still working through, and hope to share them soon when I find some firmer ground, but it's left me feeling powerless and dependent, where I once felt so much freer from needing alcohol to feel like myself out in public.
It's because of this dependency creeping back into my life, that I’ve been flirting with stone-cold sobriety as of late. In November of last year, I went two weeks without drinking, which is the longest I'd gone since I can't remember when. And now my goal is to go a month without drinking (I'm in about a week at this point.)
The reasons why are many, but one is to learn how to better moderate my drinking if I decide I can at the end of this trial. To put it bluntly: my drinking has been way out of hand at times since moving here, and at so many various points in my life also, I'm just kind of sick of the awful after effects and poor decisions made that instead of getting too sick and fed up with myself before things turn really ugly, I've just decided to cut out the alcohol for awhile to find out what's going on underneath. Seems reasonable enough... though not at all easy.
Austin is a drinking town. And it's a town that knows how to throw a party. SXSW just blew in and out here like a wildfire and of course the Lone Stars and the Tito’s were flowing. But I was resolved to stick with my 30 days of sobriety, no matter how awkward or strange it felt.
I wanted to avoid a lot of the downtown madness, so I went out way on the Eastside to the Sahara Lounge for an unofficial night of shows. The place ended up packed for local act Big Bill and I found a spot right in the center of the crowd where I put my social anxiety to the test, trying to just focus on the music and lose myself in it... lose all thoughts and insecurities. The band was super fun and entertaining, so it was a lot easier to do than I'd thought. And the Sahara's intimate, low-key vibe took me back to seeing shows in my hometown of San Jose, like I was amongst unpretentious neighbors and peers and where the crowd felt united around the music and just out for a good time. No drama, no judgment. I danced, I smiled at people. I felt connected and not at all edgy or alien as I'd felt out recently. I let a natural joy flow through me and felt like a teen again.
After the set, I went outside for a smoke (can't rid myself of all vices at the moment) then came back in to check out the next act. I made my way to the back of the crowd and saw a girl I know from Facebook who I'd connected with online, but hadn't met out in person just yet. I knew it might be awkward, but I wanted to say hey and not miss the opportunity, so I went up to her and introduced myself. "Hey, I think we're Facebook friends..."
We ended up having a great chat about music, Austin life, sobriety, and lots of things in between. We opened up about our shared addiction journeys and the serendipity of running into each other that night, to which she cheerily said, "Well, like attracts like," and I felt reassured that somehow I was on the right path. That maybe I was attracting this cool person to me now, and it was a gift or a sign that I was doing the right thing.
I went away from the night feeling like I did after ending a music set, still sober as a clam: on top of the world.