Music Heals: DJ Kevin Cole on Addiction and His Personal Resurrection Day

Music Heals
Kevin Cole
photo by Charina Pitzel

It may surprise you, but KEXP's own DJ Kevin Cole has had his own struggles with addiction. In this very special piece for Music Heals, Kevin offers the powerful story of his own relationship with alcohol and drugs in the hopes of reminding fellow addicts: you are not alone.

Resurrection Day

Last Easter marked the 30th anniversary of my being sober. My Resurrection Day. The day I chose life over death.

Several weeks before then, after having been up for a couple days, I smoked some coke, took a hit of heroin, got up, grabbed my briefcase, and walked to work. 30 years later, I can recall the day vividly. It was a beautiful sunny morning, blue skies, birds chirping, and plants coming to life, awakening to the changing season and the promise of Spring.

Walking in to work on this beautiful morning, I remember thinking how fucked up it was that I just smoked coke and heroin and felt absolutely, 100% normal.

I started using in junior high school. At first, alcohol and later, pot. In part to experiment and in part because, like a lot of kids in the late sixties and early seventies, smoking pot felt rebellious and cool. I also strongly identified with the youth counterculture of the time, and, of course, rock & roll.

In college, I began to use differently. On occasion, it was social, or to get fucked up, but mostly, it was to get more done. I didn’t use drugs to escape. I never liked losing control... that’s why I didn’t like downers, pills, and was scared of LSD. Amphetamines never seem addictive. They just seemed like a boost. They amplified life. Or so I thought.

Post college, I started DJing at what became the First Avenue nightclub in Minneapolis at night and running a record store by day. To keep fueled, I was doing amphetamines and drinking to take the edge off. So when cocaine showed up on the scene, I was curious. Before I really got into coke, I actually researched the drug, and the prevailing thought at the time was that it wasn’t addictive, not the insidious drug that it is, one that steals your soul and holds you hostage.

No one ever plans on being a drug addict. I certainly didn’t.

Waking up feeling emotionally spent, drained, exhausted, and sick. Feeling such shame and guilt for treating myself the way I had, for spending all that money, hurting family and friends... telling myself I would never do that again. Telling myself that over and over throughout the day and later as I got in my car and drove to my dealer’s house.

“I am never doing that again, I am never doing that again, I am never doing that again.” Sick, depressed, in pain, until you take that hit, that blast, and suddenly you feel good again... for a while.

In the final couple years of my addiction, I excelled at being a drug addict. The key? Honesty. At least with myself. After going through the shame and guilt cycle night after night, week after week, I finally just admitted to myself that I was an addict. Once I accepted I was a drug addict, it all became easier. Not that I was happy about it... I just quit beating myself up and accepted it. I also started to do things about it, realizing willpower alone wasn’t going to work.

All of my drug buddies either died or went through treatment before I did. And, they all relapsed. For them, it was a constant cycle. The shame, the guilt, the struggle, the relapse. And, while sober, they never seemed happy.  Always white-knuckling their sobriety. I knew I needed help — Minnesota is known the land of 10,000 lakes, and many will say 10,000 treatment centers, which was convenient — as I actually shopped around for treatment options. All of the traditional programs I looked into basically said I would need to quit working at the club, to stop working in the music business, and make a career change in order to extract myself from the environment.

I held out. I knew that wouldn’t work for me, but I knew I needed to do something. At first, I tried quitting myself. That’s when I first became macrobiotic, which is known as a great healing and centering diet. This helped; I would occasionally make it a month without using, but something would always trigger a binge.

In hindsight, I’ve come to realize that my drug use was in part self-medication. Fighting depression. In high school and in college, I was a star runner. Now, I see that running was a form of self-medication, too. I was trying to alter my biochemistry — to release endorphins and endocannabinoids to get the “runner’s high,” or in my case, just to feel normal by lifting the depression. The skies cleared when the owner of my favorite vegetarian restaurant recommended a place called Health Recovery Center, a non-traditional treatment program in Minnesota.

The basic premise of Health Recovery Center is that addiction is a physical disease and to cure it you need to take a physical approach.  Health Recovery Center focused on getting my biochemistry in balance, and once in balance, eliminating the cravings for drugs and alcohol. Once I was clean and the cravings were gone, then I had the power to actually change my behavior without giving up everything I loved — I was back at work at First Avenue eight weeks later, loving music and life more than ever, and I’ve been sober ever since. Going to treatment was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.

I’m confident I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t, and I’m confident that all the amazing things that have happened in my life would not have happened if I hadn’t given up drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t always hard either. I learned to take care of my body and mind, to recognize I had so much to live for, to see the good in everyone, including myself, to ask for help, and to let love be my drug of choice.

I’m sharing my story because I want you to know that you are not alone. That many people struggle with alcohol and drugs and that you can get through it. And, when you do, something beautiful is waiting for you on the other side. It's ok to ask for help — to reach out to your friends, your family, to somebody. There are people and there is a community out there that wants to help and wants to see you healthy and happy and wants to support and contribute to you being your best, highest self. We need you.

I hope the music that you hear on KEXP heals, comforts, enriches, and uplifts you. Everyone’s path is different, and there are a lot of different roads to recovery. If you’re ready to get started, here are some resources for you:

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