The long slog to sobriety

As always, this is my personal blog, so it doesn’t benefit from editing help. And my partner isn’t home at the moment to catch the stray commas that I am sure exist. But hey, writing is fun, so here are some words. — Alex

There’s an old Mark Twain quote about quitting smoking in which he notes that it’s very easy to do, having done it hundreds of times. He had a point. Dropping an addiction to a substance is often not a one-time event. Sometimes you have to quit again, and again, and again.

I did. I quit drinking more times than I can frankly recall before I finally managed to actually stop.

For a while I was actually quite proud of myself for hitting up the odd AA meeting. An achievement I would celebrate with a pint of bourbon purchased while walking home. The trick, I thought at the time, was to not have more than a few drinks before going to a meeting, that way no one would notice that I was only partially there. Then you could get back to serious consumption when the get together concluded.

Quitting, racking up a few clean days, and then diving right back into self-destructive patterns is a common cycle for addicts. I am tempted to say that some falling down is required for lots of folks to learn how to stand up again. Perhaps. It may have been for me. All the same here’s hoping that everyone struggling gets across the line soon, and forever.

Relapsing itself isn’t a moral failing, but it can be confidence-shattering. Especially if during a relapse you take a mallet to your life.

Relapses often happen out of sight, behind closed doors. But not always. Sometimes they happen to folks paid to write about themselves. A particular musician I’ve followed for a long time is an example of the exception.

Jonathan Matthew McCollum, a rapper better known by his stage name Rittz, is someone that I have a close connection with. Not interpersonally; I’ve done little more than send a Twitter DM or two back and forth with him. But I was listening to his mixtapes before he got a deal, and his early records were part of the soundtrack playing during my descent into the lowest days of my drinking odyssey.

I also played his then-new album Top of the Line in the car while my sister drove me from San Francisco to Sunnyvale after boozing put me in the hospital for medically-assisted detox. I wound up in another hospital that night and the next two weeks in rehab, spending evenings wandering around the South Bay summer listening to the album, burning off excess energy while my body got accustomed to eating food again.

Rittz is also an alcoholic. I’m not breaking any rules by saying so. He’s rapped about it for years. The good times, and the bad.

I can’t run you through all his lyrics on the matter as we don’t have the room, but the following bit from the track I’m No Good from the aforementioned album is illustrative, and raw:

Grey hairs on my beard
Feelin' like I can't breathe if I don't take a pill so I'm always on a Xan
Drink a bottle every night, I feel them doing damage to my liver
I ain't ever been this fat and disgusting
I don't wanna rap, I wanna nap on my love-seat
I ain't sayin' this to get no pity, I'm just feelin' shitty
Lookin' like a piece of metal rusting, and trust me

And I don't really like
The person I've become
This isn't who I thought I would turn into when I was young
But now I'm grown and they say I'm
No Good


When Rittz went to rehab himself a few years later, I was incredibly happy for him. A ways into my own sobriety adventures, I was excited on his behalf because life is much better without being drunk, sick, or both all of the time. I can attest to this.

Rittz got out of a residential program and quickly dropped a record that included a track discussing his own stint in rehab. I’ve listened to it, oh, well, maybe 700 times by now. I hum it when I walk around the house. It’s a bit of a personal anthem because it’s blisteringly honest. Rittz has long taken the personal element if rapping to the nth degree, content to bare his own ups and downs in spoken word. I respect that.

And then Rittz relapsed and exploded his life. It appears that he’s back off the bottle, but the issues that cropped up when he did backslide are still reverberating throughout his lyrics.

Again, I’m not sharing anything that he hasn’t put into a song, so I am not betraying trust. I’m just a superfan hoping with all the collected fibers of my being that he manages to stay away from that next bottle of Crown.

Mostly we don’t talk about addiction. And when we do, we don’t talk much about the struggle of maintaining recovery after someone gets a period of clean time on the board. It’s a race that you never finish.

So, I’d like to thank McCollum for being so open over the years.

By being open about our own failings we can better shine light on the winding, narrow path towards getting our shit together. There are a few folks who helped me get off the cycle of physical alcohol addiction. I won’t list their names here, but I love them. In turn, I’ve had the incredible blessing of helping a few more folks join our team. Thus we take care of each other.

But Rittz — with a roughly million monthly listeners on Spotify alone — has a far larger platform from which to speak. And he’s doing so with honesty and integrity.

Good on him.

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