After one sweaty summer show in a park, I was approached by one of my loyal fans.
Let’s call him Sam.
Sam was one of those fans an artist dreams about having: supportive, active, an ambassador of your message. He had bought several large boxes of my CDs to give away to friends and family the Christmas before, and singlehandedly paid my rent that month. He was a good guy with a heart of gold.
Sam pulled me aside and told me this story,
and it changed my life:
Sam’s brother-in-law, let’s call him Jim, had recently become estranged from Sam’s sister.
Jim was a good guy, too. But, Jim had a very, very bad problem.
It was a sad, but all-too-familiar story: After several years of experimenting with drugs and alcohol, Jim had developed a devastating addiction to heroin.
Heroin? How? It was unclear to Jim how he got there. There was no decisive moment, no single misstep to blame for what came next. Everyone else seemed to have a better perspective on his fall from grace than he did. It felt like one day he was walking through his life, perhaps a little stumble here and there, and the next he was sliding slowly down an icy hill, picking up speed, until a rocky bottom came up at him faster than he could figure out what happened.
He hit the ground with a resounding clunk.
Jim's wife left him. He lost custody of his children, and then lost visitation rights. He lost his job, his home, his friends, and his health. His collarbone jutted out of his T-shirt, and his arms and toes were bruised and speckled with needle marks. If things didn’t turn around, he knew, he could soon lose his life.
Jim’s existence was spiraling completely out of control, but no matter what he tried, he couldn’t seem to stop it. A series of failures and slights along the way were blows that took chunks out of his soul. He had lost all faith in himself.
That Christmas, Jim found himself sitting alone on a cot in a homeless shelter, skinny, cold and pitifully lonely, with his few remaining possession scattered around him.
It seemed like the whole world had forgotten him. A black cloud of inescapable darkness had him tightly in its grip.
But, then... a tiny ray of light broke through.
Unexpectedly, Sam dropped by, and handed Jim the only Christmas gift he would receive that year, the “Breathe” CD. It was a brief and slightly awkward visit, but the gesture of kindness echoed through Jim's frail frame.
"Breathe" wasn’t the kind of music Jim would normally listen to, but life at the shelter was both painfully lonely and painfully overcrowded, and today he just needed a little peace. So, he placed the CD into his portable CD player (one of the few possessions he hadn't sold to pay for his addiction, yet) put his headphones on, and lay back on the squeaky cot with his eyes closed, hoping to escape his harsh reality, if only for a moment.
In a few minutes, the lyrics “When can we feel sober, now that we’ve hurt for so damn long,” floated through his ears.
His eyes flew open as the words struck a chord within him.
What was this about? He flipped the CD case open and pulled out the insert.
The song was called “Sober.” One simple word that, for so long, had seemed impossible to live.
“Hold on. Trust that solace finds you still…Trust your soul to miracles.”
He scoffed at the words.
Then, one line hung in the air, “We still hold everything, and the grace to make a stand.”
Something shifted inside him. A little more room to breathe. After everything goes wrong, what if we still have the grace to make a stand? What if it is possible?
For the first time in over a year, Jim felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe he was still worth something. Maybe there was a chance to prove it. If not to everyone else, then at least to himself. The possibility felt both terrifying and electrifying. It overwhelmed him and he found himself in tears, listening to the song on repeat, over and over.
Jim cried for what seemed like hours, then picked himself up, and made a decision that would change everything.
Within 6 months, Jim had gone through rehab, was 3 months sober, and had rejoined his wife and children back at home. He’d found the strength to conquer his demons, and to reclaim the life he thought he’d lost.
A month later, Jim asked Sam to thank me for changing his life, for writing the song and giving him the message that he still had time to change his life for the better. He was too shy to thank me himself.
After sharing the story, Sam left. I sat a long time contemplating what I'd heard. I was shocked, honored, and overwhelmed.
I also knew an imposter when I saw one.
Here’s the truth:
I hadn’t written the song about actually getting sober. "Sober" was a metaphor for completely different subject, a story about a friend of mine, the abuse she suffered in her relationships, and the illogical decisions we humans make in pursuit of connection.
Jim's interpretation of "Sober" was completely his own. And so was his triumph.
As a young artist, of course I tended to get all wrapped up in what I had to say, thinking my message was Important, with a capital “I”. I wrote to change the world for the better, but when it happened, it wasn't how I expected, and I certainly didn't deserve a single ounce of credit.
Here was proof that what I had to say to the world was not nearly as powerful as what someone has to say to themselves.
I was immensely humbled in that moment, and learned something I’ve held onto since then...
It is in our nature to evolve, to grow, to be resilient, and to become better versions of ourselves. All we need is a reason to let go of the anchor of our perceived limitations, so we can reach out and grasp who we really are.
Perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is not perfection, or solved problems, or righteous action, but to be willing to see possibility within each other.
Perhaps we don't need to define what that possibility is, but just to allow it to exist in all its evanescant glory, like a beacon in the night.
When I look back on that story now, I realize that Jim changed my life as much as I changed his. We both gave and got what we needed most. Jim needed to see that he could have faith in himself, and I needed to see that I could have faith in others.
In the end, we chose to become the cure to what ailed us.
So here's to Jim, wherever he is today. I hope warm, safe, happy, connected and always evolving.
And here's to Sam, for being a bringer of light into dark places with his kindness.
Amber Jade - Clicking my heels and irreverently tripping the light fantastic all the way to nirvana, with a 50lb bag of cheese puffs in tow.