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He found sobriety through his band My Dog Junior -- plus a new genre (Lumbercana)
Saint Paul Pioneer Press - 9/15/2017
Sept. 15--"I started off by taking pills," says Mickyle James. "Vicodin. 'Friends' gave it to me.
"I was just dabbling. One thing led to another -- it's kind of scary.
"I was 17 years old."
Fast forward a decade. James, 27, is now in recovery. While he is only one person, his story illustrates a nation in the midst of what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls an opioid epidemic -- an epidemic that kills 91 people every day.
James was just a kid in Indiana when his personal crisis began -- although it didn't feel like a crisis at first.
"I thought I was just having fun and experimenting," says James. "It started off as as weekend thing: 'You got some?' I played around with it. It grows without you realizing it. Before you realize it, you are physically dependent."
And once you are physically dependent ...
"One of the people I was hanging out with brought around some heroin," James says. "It took a long time before I gave in to the idea of doing it. But pills are a lot more expensive."
He thought it would be OK.
"The whole needle thing came later," James says. "They told me that snorting it was less harmful. I tried it once. It was cool. I liked it. It kept evolving."
It didn't evolve so much as descend into a heroin addiction, an addiction with all the cliches: needles, desperation, crime.
This is where the hope starts.
"After I got arrested for breaking into cars (to steal things to support my habit), I got into a drug court program and then a halfway house," he says. "It was beneficial for me: It provided me proof that I can, in fact, get clean. Although I was forced into it, I decided to make the most of it to get clean. It showed me that it was possible -- and it was a significant amount of clean time.
"After all that, though ... I ended up going out and using drugs again," he says. "I relapsed and went on another binge."
It was 2016. As he was shakily starting over again, an old friend called -- a real one this time.
"I was three days clean when Adrian, one of my best friends from high school, called me to go fishing," James says.
James agreed, because:
"Unlike the majority of the people from my past, Adrian was a positive influence," he says.
So were Adrian's roommates: A wholesome crew of bearded millennials who worked hard as landscapers and shared a big house. They even had a dog, a German shepherd named Junior, who kept watch over them all.
"I started hanging out at their house because they had such a vibe of youth and positivity," says James. "I was struck by their sense of fun and youthfulness -- they went fishing in the river, they built stuff, they were so creative -- it brought me back to my childhood."
It was his turning point.
"They showed me that I could have fun without using drugs -- I could live a life without heroin, a life that was fun and free and at peace."
A life of peace -- and music.
"At their house, I noticed a drum set in the corner," James says.
That drum set reminded James of the positive role that music had played in his life.
"My grandpa had played the guitar his whole life, but I had never had any interest in learning -- it seemed like a big hassle," he says.
Then came high school.
"By the time I was starting high school, my grandpa had passed away," says James. "I was trying to figure out which classes to take when I saw a guitar class. My dad suggested using Grandpa's guitar to take the class.' I thought, 'Well, if I'm going to be there anyway, I might as well learn to play.' It seemed kind of cool, to play my grandpa's guitar."
It went well.
"I loved it," he says. "It was like a drug for me -- I could not get enough."
Years later, that drum set seemed like a sign.
"Hanging out at my friend's house on Runnion Avenue, when I saw that drum set in the corner, I said, 'Let me grab my guitar and let's jam.' It went really well and evolved from there."
This is how a band -- My Dog Junior -- was born.
"We started with one song," says James. "We decided 'Let's just sit here until we're all good with this song.' We had a whole list of songs we needed to learn, but we learned a song at a time."
A good lesson for sobriety, too; one song at a time ... one day at a time.
Their days soon became busy.
"It was a busy year -- shows every weekend, radio invites -- all within the first year," says James.
Perhaps it was due to their genre, a new one they've coined "Lumbercana."
"It's a blend of folk, Americana and grunge, with subtle flavors of reggae and bluegrass," says James.
In 2017 -- a year into his sobriety -- James and his girlfriend relocated to Minnesota.
"My sister lives here," James says. "And I was blown away with how big the music scene is here. There is so much opportunity."
He's seen some of that opportunity already: James, who is currently living in Golden Valley, found a year-round job with a landscaping company and is building his music career here -- although he still peforms and tours with My Dog Junior.
He is sharing his story because:
"I can use my life as an example," he says, "to show what is possible for anyone who has a lack of hope -- and not just people who struggle with addiction.
"I start every day with now."
IF YOU GO
* What: My Dog Junior
* When: 10 p.m.Sept. 26
* Where: Palmer's, 500 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
* Tickets: $5
* Info: Facebook.com/mydogjunior
(c)2017 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
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