Punk Rock Saved My Life.
By Joi Honer
By the time I turned 17, I was in recovery. It was 1981. Like most people in the early stages of drug recovery,
I hadn’t a clue who I was. I found myself pushing boundaries, bouncing between fits of boredom and angst.
My energy seemed unstoppable.
When I was actively using drugs, I was hanging out with addicts who were a lot older than me. I was under their influence in more ways than one. I listened to their ‘classic rock,’ I talked their talk, I walked their walk. They were a more significant part of me than me. In the early days of my recovery, I was pretty sure all of my “coolness” would evaporate and be taken away forever. Back in 1981, there weren’t many young people in recovery, so it was difficult to find a role model or just someone to talk to close to my age.
I managed to stay sober for a few years but struggled with developing a self-identity and discovering who I really was. I felt empty. Inside and out. Something was missing. Then came Punk. Enter the Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, Bad Brains, Ramones, Iggy Pop, Swans, Minor Threat, and so many more. Thanks to a local college radio station I got turned on to the punk scene and never turned it off. I found ME in that music! I shaved my head, bought some Doc Martins (combat boots), black eye-liner, and pierced my ears—12 times (one for each step of recovery.) I loved being the funky one sporting a Mohawk and sharing my journey.
Eventually, I moved to Philadelphia where I found more people like me in recovery. We connected. I went to punk shows sober—every single one of them. Unlike the concerts I saw when I was using and abusing, I remembered the shows and felt a particular pride in saying I only slam danced sober.
Music empowered me even when I felt powerless. It gave me the confidence to let myself go, to rebel in a safe way and escape in a way that’s healthy. Music was and will always be part of my spiritual journey. It’s who I am. It helped me discover and nurture my inner voice.
It’s been a long, strange trip but I can gratefully report that today many musical genres acknowledge their fans who are in recovery. Plus, several groups provide active participation at live shows that offer recovery support.
In a conversation with Erik Mahal, Editor in Chief of EDM Sauce, a website dedicated to Electronic Dance Music and festivals, Erik shared “There are a ton of support groups. Many music festivals even have specific areas for people in recovery. Electric Forest in Michigan has a special camping area called Camp Traction for those in recovery. Shambhala Music Festival also has an entire campground for people in recovery!”
Erik, who is in long-term recovery, has published articles on his EDM Sauce website sharing his insights and experience. He offered me this excellent piece on attending festivals and rehabilitation:
Before I sign off, I want to strongly emphasize that the decision to attend a musical event is not a choice to make without careful consideration and should never be made alone. One approach to recovery is not a ‘one-size’ fits all. You need to find the path that’s right for you.
As the Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous states, the best time to consider attending any event where there may be substance use is when one is on “firm spiritual ground,” which is not something typically achieved in early recovery. However, if one is diligent and proceeds mindfully, there is no doubt that for many music fans, it can enhance recovery and provide meaningful connections for themselves as well as to others.
May your journey to recovery be lasting and filled with hope. Punk Rock on!
The Phellowship – sober support of Phish Concerts:
Support at EDM Festivals (Electronic Dance Music):
Camps at music festivals for sober people only:
Wharf Rats (follow the Grateful Dead and all of their current offshoot “jam bands” and have meetings at shows):
Sober support at Disco Biscuts:
Sober support at Widespread Panic: