Words: Cam Atkinson

In November 2017 I was fired, and all of my worst fears were confirmed to me. I had been dealing with pretty severe imposter syndrome since my first day at work – waiting to be caught out, and finally I had been.

The reason given was that there were a number of high-pressure shows coming up through 2018 and management believed I wasn’t experienced enough to deal with the challenges we could face. I was shattered. I was asked to finish the last tour of the year and part ways thereafter, which I just about managed. That was a month of prolific drinking, emotional breakdowns and one notable, very noncommittal suicidal gesture in the back lounge of the tour bus.

I wasn’t in a great way, but the tour came and went, and I was unemployed and heartbroken. Certainly I would never work again, what idiot would hire me now? I took the last of my wages, and went on a three-month downward spiral towards what is known in such circles as my ‘rock bottom’. I had a horrific overdose, and shortly after started a street fight I had no intent on winning, but instead of release or escape, found myself curled up in the foetal position on my apartment floor, crying and covered in blood, terrified to die, but terrified to keep going on this way. I had no clue how to stop this pain, I didn’t think I had a drinking problem, but I knew I couldn’t stop while life felt this bad.

On February 28th 2018, I reached out to the charity, Music Support, and was put in contact with someone there who had also been a touring crew member. He had also been fired and struggled, but had ultimately gotten sober. He offered to take me to an AA meeting and I agreed to go along – despite my many reservations. I thought I had serious depression, and that I would maybe pick up some tips to kick the drink and get the clarity of mind to address the other stuff. I’d also considered that he might like me and give me a job. I’m not proud of it, but let’s be honest.

I think it was less than ten minutes in before I was in tears. I was sat with total strangers, all of whom I had pre-decided to hate, as I listened to them talk of my own fears, my own insecurities and my own poor solutions, from their own experience. No-one told me what to do, or how to do it, rather where they had come from and how they recovered. Within an hour I realised it was likely that I too was an alcoholic. Rather than a crushing blow, I found hope in the fact that programs and solutions existed to help me lead a life without drink. 

I wasn’t explicitly fired for my drinking – it was a drink-heavy tour for all involved – but upon reflection and time, I see the tragedy of errors I made. From losing equipment and forgetting vital jobs, to failing to learn from those who were willing to teach, it was all a result of my fear. I was afraid I wasn’t good enough and never would be, that I would be exposed at any moment. Rather than address those fears head on, I drank to escape, to wind down and to keep going. Working hungover day in, day out, lead to more mistakes, and so the cycle continued. A cycle that started long, long before I ever found myself in the music industry.

The conversation on mental health is gaining traction. More people are open about their struggles and understanding is growing. Now that I see things a little clearer, I realise that I was not alone in feeling the way I did, nor was I the only roadie to seek recovery. I feel very privileged that I’m now able to help others as I once was – and am still being – helped. It takes great courage for someone to come forward when they’re struggling. Showing weakness when you have hidden it for so long can seem unthinkable, but I implore anyone struggling to reach out any way they can. Organisations like Samaritans, Mind, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or industry-specific charities like Music Support or MusiCares can listen to you and get you to the help you need.

No matter how bad things get, there is always a way out of the darkness.

Music Support is a registered charity, founded and run by people within the UK music industry. They work with individuals in any area of music, suffering from mental, emotional and behavioural health disorders. More: musicsupport.org

See the video for Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ here: