Today marks 15 years clean in my 38-year journey on this planet, but this day is a lot more than the label. For me, this is the day I woke up and chose to find my footing on a path away from self destruction and drug abuse. Don’t get me wrong, that footing slipped a lot. I fell, I made enemies, I lost friends, and I abandoned several aspects of myself. But standing at the top of the mountain today, (maybe the top of the Gorge is more like it), the only thing I feel is gratitude for everything that came to me on that path — the good, the bad, the downright ugly, and the divinely beautiful.
While every year I post something about this day, the last several have felt more performative than most. It’s not that I wasn’t proud of myself during those years or that it didn’t feel meaningful; I simply had nothing to say. But this year, I have [insert popular DMB song lyric here].
On Friday night, I sat by myself at the N1 Gorge show, something I don’t mind doing and honestly enjoy. Sometimes I just need it to be me and the band. It was the first of three killer setlists of the weekend, but for some reason, I was hearing the lyrics differently from the other 71 shows I’d seen and million and one times I’ve heard these songs on shuffle.
When Bronwyn got on stage to play the fiddle for Tripping Billies, I thought my sudden rush of emotions came pouring in because I (like the rest of the DMB community) have deeply missed that aspect of the band’s dynamic. And while yes, that addition to Billies was super moving, watching a badass woman battle Dave like Boyd used to do, it was the lyrics that did me in — which was the bait that brought me to this band in the first place. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy Billies, but I don’t necessarily call a favorite. It’s also a song that’s never made me feel anything other than happiness.
If you know nothing about Billies, the lyrics tells us to “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” But the line that caught my attention that night was, “So why would you care, to get out of this place? You, me, and all our friends, such a happy human race.” I lost it. I felt shockwaves of guilt and shame stemming from my years depressive episodes, the dark times in my life when I was just so ready to give up trying, and the times where I just pushed my body so far with substance I didn’t care what happened. These were the moments where I was so deep in the pit, I just sat down and called it home.
Juxtapose those feelings with me having one of the best years of my life, surrounded by known and unknown DMB family, and hearing what would be the top three shows of my entire DMB career — it was a lot to take in. I had come so far, but I felt so small standing in that crowd.
I calmed down during Spoon to immerse myself in a moment I’d probably never hear again, lost my shit when Molly and Bronwyn battled it out during Ants (EPIC), and was so pumped to hear Little Red Bird for the first time since 2015.
Then along came Pig. And this little piggy didn’t take me to the market. It took me into the depths of my memories and my soul.
Again, this is a song I love, a song I’ve heard a million times, a song that always lights up the hearts of everyone in the crowd, but a song that isn’t really ever at the top of my wish list. The main message: “Don’t burn the day.”
I could pick out myriad lines from this track which deeply connected to the emotional overload I was having, but the one that ironically made me cry the most was Dave singing, “Don’t beat your head, dry your eyes, let the love in there. There’s bad times, but that's okay. Just look for love in it.” And there she went, crying all the way home…well, to the camper, at least. But they weren’t tears of sadness; they were a mixture of joy and grief; love and despair. Damn, it was like he knew I was berating myself for years of depression and the moments I gave up when I wanted it all to end. And that line, delivered at an opportune moment, just broke my heart open in a very beautiful way.
However, I still couldn’t process it all, couldn’t quite grasp why I was losing it over these songs that have never done me in before, especially when I made the choice this Gorge to not drink during the shows. But when they closed out the encore with Crush, the song that I got tattooed on my chest for hitting five years clean, it all made sense.
Dave gave me the permission slip I didn’t know I needed to grieve my darkness and start over again in that moment. He told me through his lyrics that I didn’t have to carry any of the old weight anymore — the shame and guilt — any of those old personalities. And that the shame and guilt I felt was valid. He told me it was perfectly okay to not want to fight during those dark times and take the easy way out. That he, too, has been there time and time again, hence, all the songs that resonate so deeply with me — Rhyme and Reason, Out of my Hands, Grey Street, Seek Up, Some Devil, Save Me, Dreaming Tree, Grace, Big Eyed Fish, Bartender, Vein, Monsters, etc. etc. etc. It’s like I was finally not just seeing but FEELING the antithesis to his darker songs, his darker moments, and his darker experiences. And more importantly, mine. He just wanted to remind me that there is so much more in this life for me now.
This Gorge run was once in a Blue Moon — literally and figuratively. And I am thankful that I have amazing chosen family who ensured I was there. But my point here is that I WAS there. I didn’t give up. I kept fighting. I kept finding hope in the darkest of places. And experiencing all that I did just reminded me why it’s so important to keep fighting. Find faith in whatever ways you can and realize that he’s right: “There’s so much more than we can ever see here, so don’t burn the day.”
I think I got so emotional because I can’t imagine living without the year 2023 — solo backpacking to Central and South America, Malta with mom, SO MANY IRREPLACEABLE moments with my DMB family, and of course, that magical DMB selfie with my DMBFFs.
AND there is so much more to come — taking an incredible group of women to Bali to heal, another Vegas trip, and another fall tour with my chosen family all before the year closes out. And I built that. I did that. Because I didn’t give up. Even though it was really fucking hard.
Through this Gorge experience, sitting here with my legs hanging free at 15 years clean, I’m ready to adopt a new perspective. I’m ready to “wash out this tired notion that the best is yet to come.” Dave’s right — every moment is divine — there is no best or worst. What a life we could live if we believed this one little truth every single day. If we didn’t put so much weight in the events or the things or the labels, but actually enjoyed every experience we have as it’s happening — from Target trips to world traveling. Because every moment on this side is a blessing, even when it feels like death. Life is the gift — moments aren’t. Being here is enough — even when it sucks.
We’re sold a lot of things in this life, but most of them are invisible. And the worst part is, most of us don’t even know we’ve made the purchases. Store-bought perspectives, hand-me-down mind sets, and mimed ways of life.
I am always unpacking, reflecting, and reaching for new ways of being, even to my detriment. Because if we don’t, because if I don’t, I get lost in the madness that is this crazy, crazy world, and I find myself quickly fall(ing) back again to those autopilot purchases.
I’m not sure what my overall message is here yet, but I hope it’s a little bit of reassurance for someone who needs it. That yeah, life can really fucking suck sometimes. And nothing can go right for a long time — even when we do all the “right” things. But I don’t want you to miss your version of the Dave selfie. I don’t want you to miss that step that takes you to a new level of courage. That "first step that’s hardest of all" that will bring you to the best year of your life. Because I’ve finally accepted I deserve all of this. And so do you.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I had to take a lot of risks — financial and emotional — to build and rebuild and start over and dig in and find routine. And I’m sure I will again. What I am saying is that I’m grateful this body, this mind, and this soul that I beat the shit out of for a long time is still kicking and showing me the magic of this life each and every day. Even when it's scary. Even when everything feels impossible.
I know the Dave world always says we’re “so damn lucky,” and I know I fucking am, but that luck starts and ends with me. With you. With every action and inaction we take. The steps to change are typically dark, unlit stairwells in creepy alleys. A lot of people aren't willing to put aside their fear of the dark, of the unknown, to realize a few steps, moments, days, weeks, months of discomfort can lead to something better. And that’s really all you have to believe — no matter the situation — that there is something better with each step we take.
“In the dark, be the light. Don’t let go, baby, hold on tight.”