From Fat White Drug Addiction to Solo Self-Care
Dan Lyons, former Fat White Family member and now solo musician, writes about his experiences recovering from addiction, the perils of growing up in suburbia and techniques for taking better care of yourself.
I’m currently living out a new chapter of my life. I’ve ‘turned a new leaf’, ‘started fresh’. When thumbing the pages back, I try to remember what it was that went wrong in my twenties. Lots of things went right of course, and I had a good time (all the time) but things did go wrong. I hurt myself and other people, was served a section 136, developed a steady relationship with the home care team at Homerton Hospital, and all the while continued to indulge a raging penchant for alcohol and drugs. I caused damage, lost a lot of friends and got kicked out of the band I was in. I’m trying to make things right again.
I was brought up in a small village in Kent, I attended the local comprehensive school and had an all round ‘good’ childhood. There was no abuse – we always had food to eat and my parents always encouraged us to be creative and to think outside the box. However, looking back I’ve noticed how life in the village and surrounding towns has affected me as an adult. My life inside the house was very different to the one I lived out at school and amongst friends. Mine is probably quite an interesting case to look at when thinking about nature vs. nurture.
Around the dinner table at some of my friends from schools’ houses it was perfectly acceptable to call the newsagents the “p*** shop” or the Chinese takeaway the “ch***y”. Some of my friends’ fathers would rant about ‘queers’ or the fact that Polish people were stealing our jobs, but that they weren’t “…quite as bad as the rest because they do actually work quite hard”. It was like they were asserting their position, letting us children know that they were in charge, and that there were people beneath them in society. Lesser beings. I’ve always known that this type of racist and ignorant language was wrong, and would wince and try to ignore it, but I never felt confident enough to speak up. Doing so is made especially difficult when the offending party is in charge of feeding and looking after you for the weekend. British society is set up like this, with the royal family at the top of the heap, the rich elite beneath them, the government beneath them and so on and so on. It needs to change.
Hearing this kind of small minded rhetoric was pretty much an everyday occurrence, it was engrained into the general psyche of small town life. Remembering what it felt like to say nothing has encouraged me to speak up whenever I hear people talking like that.
Another example of suburban vitriol and it’s effect on me took place one Friday night during year 9. I was at a house party, I wasn’t actually invited, but had been given the address by another more worthy friend and convinced my Dad to drive me over there. At the end of the night a group of us were in the living room playing spin the bottle and drinking Smirnoff Ice. The bottle stopped and I kissed a boy from my year – let’s call him Steve.
In the following days, news of the kiss got back to my friend’s brother. In response he printed hundreds of flyers with a photo of me and Steve inside a love heart. “Dan loves Steve” was emblazoned above in capitals, in bold lettering. These flyers were distributed across the entire school, stuck to lamp posts and stuffed into backpacks. The next few weeks were possibly the hardest of my educational life, and started a chain of bullying and mockery that continued until I was eventually expelled in year 10 for smoking Cannabis outside the school gates. Mockery + viciousness lead to escapism through drug use which lead to societal failure which lead to mockery & viciousness. This pattern has continued for my whole life. Ouroboros.
The universally unanswered question “Why!?” – echoes in my head every day. Where does it actually start? The destructive behaviour, the self loathing and self punishment, fear, anxiety, the way we lash out when backed into a corner? Society has a big part to play. It really doesn’t help that men are taught that it’s weak to cry or to show sadness or ‘weakness’. My Grandmother once told me that in 25 years of marriage to my Grandfather, she never saw him cry. Pink is for girls, Blue is for boys. It’s quite ironic that ‘our’ colour is the one most synonymous with sadness.
Men don’t speak to one another enough about our behaviour towards women either. In general, men rarely call other men out on bad behaviour. Whether it’s the the endless changing room back patting and congratulatory explosions of glee from groups of friends when talking about relationships, the forcing of an unwanted kiss on the cheek when meeting someone for the first time or a comment about how impressive it is that a female musician can carry their own amp into a venue (guilty!), this derogatory bullshit has to stop. I think most men know that these things are wrong, but they’re rarely called out when noticed. We usually silently side with the other male, and give him the benefit of the doubt. Boys will be boys…
Ultimately it’s our relationships with other people that affect the way we feel in ourselves, and the more we think about this, the closer we can get to creating a society that is inclusive, safe and exciting. If we all consciously make an effort to act in a way that helps other people, then our own lives will be all the better for it.
Tying to completely rid ourselves of the dodgy in built mechanisms and habits that are instilled in us from birth can feel like trying to run away from the rain. So, instead of buying you a new pair of New Balance trainers I’m going to sketch out the blueprints for the umbrella I’ve been trying to build over the last few years.
Consider this a small slice of self help from someone who doesn’t really know how to help themselves. Pieces of advice I’ve picked up, things I always come back to when talking to my friends about the mundanity of life. I try to take them myself when possible. Lots of the ideas might sound like they’re straight outta middle class bourgeoises echo chamber, they’re simple, and probably quite obvious, but maybe one or two will prove useful:
Every time you finish a book it changes your life. I have found so much inspiration and common ground with characters I’ve met in books over the years. To share feelings and emotions with characters created by someone you’ve never met is the ultimate solidarity. It helps you to see that you’re not alone, and that the chances are, if you’re feeling something, someone else has too. Of course, this all depends on what you’re reading, if you suddenly find yourself listening to Hip to Be Square and pacing the power tools aisle of B & Q, or drinking spiked milk, speaking in Russian slang and looking at renting a flat in the Thames Valley then I recommend changing novels. Having said that, there’s a certain type of beauty in being able to recognise that even the most violent and disgusting parts of our brains are normal. It’s also really important to read work by female authors – this is something I’d not done properly until a couple of years ago. Most of the curriculum at school when I was there was made up of texts written by men. Here are a few recommendations:
Ask The Dust – John Fanté
Just Kids – Patti Smith
Four Quartets – T.S Eliot
Les Enfants Terribles – Jean Cocteau
Girl In A Band – Kim Gordon
Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan
- Get Out
Go OUT. Wherever you live, even if it’s a tiny village just outside SubSuburbia (UK), there will be something or somewhere interesting to see that you haven’t already. Not the pub, try the library. Not the ten bag, a gig ticket. Changing your day to day habits on a small scale can have a massive effect in the long run. Spending time in nature has been proven to improve mental health, so go on a walk. Bring a camera. Spend time looking at something you would normally ignore. There are trees, birds, rivers, parks and forests in pretty much every corner of the UK. Take inspiration from nature and think about what you’re going to do next, and how you’re going to do it.
Practice speaking about your feelings. Start small. The next time your brain warns you against telling someone how you really feel, ignore it and tell them anyway. If you feel bad, say so out loud. If you feel happy say so, out loud. It’s allowed. And be brave with it. I’ve been in the position in the past where I’ve expressed how I feel to a group of friends and a kind of snigger ripples around the group as if everyone is checking to see whether I’ll start laughing too, it’s nerves. Hold your ground, and say it again. If they didn’t listen the first time, they will on the second. This goes with what I was saying above too, about calling people out. The next time someone makes another person feel uncomfortable and you think you could say something about it, then do. Talk about death, love, life, pain, about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, just talk. Don’t be afraid to argue or to disagree. Friends and family always have different points of view, and that’s OK. What’s not OK is letting things slip. Dialogue is essential in understanding one another, in the words of Steven Seagal (& my father) – ‘assumption is the mother of all fuck ups’.
This is a lot easier said than done, but try not to be scared. Life can seem endless one minute and like it’s going to stop the next. Fear often stops us from doing the things that we really want to. A good place to start is to be brave in your thoughts. It takes real confidence to believe in yourself, and the more confident you are in what you think the more you’ll encourage others to do the same. There are ways to practice too. Yoga is good. Stand up straight.
Wherever your home is, make it your sanctuary. Spend an hour doing your laundry. Clear a space for yourself. Make sure you have room for your thoughts and that you have a place where you feel comfortable doing nothing. Make sure your bed is your bed. Don’t eat in it. Cook – try cooking something new. Instead of buying 15 beers, buy one nice bottle of wine and drink it slowly. Watch a black and white film. De-clutter. Give old clothes away to charity, find all your odd socks and put them in a bag so that the next time you find an odd sock, it’s more likely to meet its partner. Open the blinds. Open the windows. Breathe. Throw away your Lynx aerosol. Light a candle. Meditate. Eat. Dream. Listen to the radio in the morning.
And that’s about it from me. Good luck.
‘SubSuburbia’ The Debut Album from Dan Lyons is out now: http://www.danlyonsmusic.com
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