Sober Art: Mishka Shubaly Talks Living as a Clear-Eyed Author and Musician

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Mishka Shubaly is a musician and best-selling Kindle singles author. He’s toured internationally alongside major bands including The Strokes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. His latest book, I Swear I’ll Make It Up To You, tells the story of his 17-year struggle with alcohol addiction and eventual personal redemption. Shubaly recently celebrated seven years of sobriety.

In his exclusive interview with Recovery.org, Shubaly talks about getting sober without rehab, why he still considers himself sober despite using hallucinogens as medicine and why rock and roll remains his biggest addiction.

When did your drinking first begin and when do you feel like it started to get out of hand?

Mishka:  I started drinking when I was 13 or 14 and probably recognized I had a problem when I was 17, but wasn’t ready to do anything about it. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I saw some of my peers to try to quit drinking and just flail around, stop for a bit and then go on colossal benders. I made up my mind that I would have to drink until I was done with it and then never drink again, but didn’t realize how much drinking I still had to do before I got to the end of it. (Laughs). I had no idea how bleak things were going to get.

I drank until I was 32 and then did a tour of England with my band. You could drink on the street there, so I did and it fucking broke me. We were on the airplane on the flight back and I thought, “This is it.” I feared death less than I feared continuing to live as an alcoholic. I white-knuckled it and just sweated it out in my apartment. I never went to rehab, never went to AA and just never looked back.

Was not going to AA or rehab a conscious choice because you intuitively knew it wasn’t a right fit for you?

Mishka:  I didn’t have health insurance and knew how expensive rehabs could be, so going to one wasn’t an option. I had no safety net because I was out of touch with my family, unemployed and was afraid of losing my apartment. It wasn’t a sink or swim situation – it was swim or swim. I knew I had to get better and knew that I was the only person who could help because there was no one else to help me.

Intuitively, I knew that AA wouldn’t be a right fit and didn’t appeal to me, and still doesn’t. Ever since I was a child, I’ve been pretty firm on their not being a God or any proof of God. And there were some people I knew in AA who were smug about sobriety and condescending towards people who drank. I didn’t want to leave the cult of alcohol for the cult of no alcohol. I wanted to build my own life and didn’t want to be in recovery forever.

To live as an alcoholic is a pretty humble life, so I didn’t want to go from that humble life to a different kind of one. I just fumbled forward and figured out the tenets of my own sobriety.

Anyone in AA gets unconditional support from me because whatever it takes to get better is great. I just knew early on that it wasn’t going to work for me.

You’ve been open about using hallucinogens as medicine, but some people view that as not being sober. Others view not going to AA as white knuckling. Do you see these as archaic approaches?

Mishka:  AA doesn’t have a monopoly on the definition of sobriety. They have theirs and the Oxford dictionary has a different one. I’m suspicious of any organization that seeks to change the meaning of words. Sober is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “abstaining from alcohol” and that’s what I do. I don’t drink kombucha or non-alcoholic beer. I don’t eat foods with alcohol in them. For lack of a better word, I’m religious about that.

I think it’s time people understand that sobriety isn’t binary. It’s like when I’m on tour and people tell me, “I was a junkie for 10 or 15 years, but now I just smoke pot.” That counts. It falls on the spectrum. Here’s a person who was engaging in an incredibly destructive behavior, broke that addiction and now their life is immeasurably better. They shouldn’t be denied our accolades and support because they smoke weed.

I’ve been outspoken about my use of hallucinogens and will continue to be. There’s a lot of hard evidence that hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin have been helpful at combating addiction. And anecdotally, how many mushrooms addicts do you know? Whenever I eat mushrooms, the next day I think “I’m not doing that again for a long time.” But it helps me and has had a lasting effect. Marijuana was criminalized at one point and I think that 20 years from now, people by and large will recognize that mushrooms in particular have a huge therapeutic effect.

You’ve also talked about how being an avid runner has helped you. Between that and music, do you see it as replacing one set of addictions with another?

Mishka:  I don’t believe in the whole replacing one addiction thing with another and push back against that as hard as I can. It strips away all the incredibly hard work I’ve done to get better. I never had to goad myself into taking a drink or going to the bar. With running, it’s the exact opposite where I have to make myself go outside at 8:00am. I hate it! It’s an unpleasant process that I take on because I know it’s good for me.

Touring relentlessly and playing music, sure, that’s an unhealthy obsession. Out of all the drugs I’ve ever done, rock and roll is the worst and most poisonous drug that has done the most amount of damage to my life. And I’m still addicted to it. [Laughs].

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