My eyes open on a Monday morning. I look around my room and assess the damage from the night before. An empty bottle of whisky spilled on my bedside, the remnants of pills and powder covering my desk, and foam on the side of my pillow and mouth. By a miracle I made it through the night, but that is not what is on my mind. Gratitude has been gone for years; all that is left is this animal inside of me. A yell from my mom warns me not to be late for school, and like every other morning, I yell back in a faint and shaky voice. As I sit up and put my feet on the ground, the world begins to move from under me. My vision begins to blur and my body shivers with my first breath out of bed. While this can be seen as terrifying for some, it has become the norm for me. In a word, trembling defined me at that point in my life. With my body uncontrollably shaking and vision blurry, I was useless without my substances.
There used to be a person living in this house with my mom and brother. There used to be a happy teenager excited by life, filled with wonder, curiosity, and inspiration. That kid is one that I envy. I envy his ability to love, to participate, and to feel. I've lost everything now. I've lost myself. All that is living in this house now is a shell. A human being left without a soul. A criminal, a failing son, an alien from another planet who has lost the ability to communicate with the outside world.
There are some things that my previous self and I have in common. We both have to show everyone on the outside that we’re perfectly happy, but it's a lot easier for him. He's the popular kid in school, has lots of loyal friends, good grades, great with girls; he was everything society wants out of an early teen. On the inside, however, we are not so different. He and I are constantly searching for a place where we could let go. Always searching for a place where we could be ourselves, where we wouldn't hate ourselves. With the anxiety and stress of living in our own skin, we were lucky enough to find a solution. At this point though is where he and I differ. He loved music. He loved the dance floor, the lights, the repetitive beats, the uplifting emotions, and most of all, the community. He loved Electronic Dance Music. It was his savior, where he felt comfortable. For the first time in his life, it was where he genuinely believed that he belonged. He held onto this feeling for as long as he could. He never wanted to lose it. He didn't think he could survive without it. He had finally found his identity.
My name is Adam Leopold and I am a drug addict. I lived my life in a manner that I do not wish on my worst enemy. Finding and consuming substances was a 24/7 Job for me, and there was no time for anything else. I lost the most important things in my life because I could not stop. I lost my relationship with my family and friends, my peace of mind, my ability to live without a crutch. I lost my self respect, my dignity, and my memory. I had lost everything.
While my life spiraled out of control, I also lost the thing that matters to me the most: my love for music. I grew up listening to The Who, Led Zepplin, The Beatles, and many other classic rock bands that my dad fell in love with when he was a teenager. I saw that he still knew every word, note, and beat as he found solace in this music. He could call that music his own, and it helped to shape him into the person he is today. My dad was someone I looked up to, as I ever so dearly wanted to find music of my own that I could immerse myself in as he had.
I first heard EDM when I was 14 by being introduced to it by a friend who was of Argentine descent. Electronic music had mainstreamed itself much faster in other parts of the world than it had here in the United States. With this friend and his ethnic background, came an exposure to this different style of music. He showed me acts like Flux Pavilion, Skrillex, Swedish House Mafia, Avicii and many more. I wasn't exactly sure what I was hearing, but what I did know is that I loved every second of it. At the time I did not expect my life to be so heavily revolved around dance music as it has come to be today.
I traveled through the many genres and subgenres of dance music. Everyday was a search for a new artist or track that I instantly became hooked on. I never experienced something in my life that has taken over my thoughts and free time so quickly; it was like I could feel my soul latching onto the beat. I could feel the sounds entering my bloodstream and giving me a high that I had never experienced before. I may not have been exposed or old enough to completely appreciate what I was hearing, but at the time I felt that there was nothing else that mattered. The moments I experienced at my first few shows are still to this day the ones that keep me coming back to the scene. I couldn’t let it go.
When I was 15, I began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I wasn't looking to get high the first time I did. It just happened to be a part of a situation I was in and something inside told me that this looked like fun. My progression deeper into substance abuse was slow at first as I had no connections, no dealers, and no way of knowing what the hell I was doing. It was not until I began to experiment with harder drugs that my addiction skyrocketed to a level I was not able to control.
As I moved into the dance music scene in Philadelphia between the ages of 15 and 16, I began to discover that there was a lot more to getting high than just drinking and smoking weed. Blow, E, K, L, Shrooms, all of it was now at my fingertips and I felt like a kid in a candy store. The bright lights, loud music, gorgeous women, and everlasting freedom of EDM became tools to manipulate myself away from the things that made me human. I started to feel things less and less, and the time I spent in school was only focused on getting to the weekend to get trashed and hit the next venue. There was so much to try, and so little time to get it in all in my brain, I was really overwhelmed and I loved it. I had some hiccups with my family during this period, they began to see the iceberg of my drug use revealing it's ugly head. They caught me popping E one night, and came down hard on me. Getting messed up became a lot harder, as I had to get a lot smarter with hiding my usage. That's when pharmaceuticals became a huge part of my life.
By the time I was 16 going on 17, pills were a heaven sent in my life at the time. It was during this time I found pain killers and anxiety meds that helped to push my addiction along the dark path it was taking me. While the normal party drugs were still present, these new substances began to overtake me. Instead of being the happy Kandi kid I used to, my personality and overall vibe started to go to a much colder place. It no longer was about bouncing around shows, trading kandi, and making new friends like it was with E, it was about ingesting enough pills and alcohol to skyrocket me away from this planet. I needed to be on Planet Adam where the population was only one lonely drugged out psychopath. I found dark comfort in this period of my life. I didn't need the culture or the music anymore, I just needed a place to get hammered. Shows turned from a place of safety and comfort, to a zone of diabolical antics fueled by a fire inside of me that had reached new heights.
By the time I was reaching close to 18, my friends were starting to get extremely worried about me. I had experienced a lot of terrifying negative side effects due to my usage, and every time we went out to a show, they now had 911 on speed dial for me. I began taking so many uppers to combat the downers I needed, and that resulted in the loss of feeling in my hands and feet. When that would happen, I would drink more which would bring out my inner anger and selfishness. I would disappear for hours and come back barely still standing. I was a complete mess. The self control was long gone, the shame had vanished, and my demonic side was front and center. Episodes of screaming and fighting on nights out became regular occurrences. My friends didn't really know who I was anymore, and I was too obliterated to have a conscious thought, let alone care. I went into senior year of high school with very little left of myself, or the life I had built with the people I cared. I was close to my bottom.
Remember that Monday morning that I mentioned earlier? That was the day my life changed forever.
I went into school without anything in my system for the first time in months. My connections were dry and my stash at home was empty as well. I was called into my principal's office and proceeded to be interrogated about my life in a way I could have never imagined. They knew about everything and what was going on in my life, things I didn't think anyone else knew. I was nerve-wracked and horrified as my instincts told me to lie, so that's exactly what I did. The problem was, I could barely stand or see straight, let alone stick to a story. The next thing I knew, after multiple drug tests and a session with a therapist, I was in a car on my way to rehab.
In rehab, I went through more life changing experiences than I ever had in my 17 years leading up to that point. Imagine combining a week of crippling withdrawal, daily panic attacks, horrific guilt, and any and every other emotion you can think of into a five week period. Take that, and push it into a room with fifteen other early teens who are all supposed to work together to make themselves better people. There are few words that can truly represent the change I went through in this process of getting clean in this facility.
While I was in rehab, my obsession with music began to trickle back into my life. I was able to see that there were many voids inside of me that needed to be filled, and the one for music was one that drew most of my attention. I was lucky enough to find a friend in my group setting who had a song by my favorite group on his iPod. I listened to “Home” by Above & Beyond every single day that I was in there, and I found that it not only began the slow process of filling the void in my heart where music had once been, but it also helped me with my panic attacks and overall stress. I found solace and salvation in that song, and to this day, it's still hard for me not to tear up when I hear it. I'm convinced that it was one of the most important things that saved me while I was in there.
I came out of rehab a changed man. I was still close to an emotional or physical breakdown at all times, but I had the drive to be better. For the first few months I was sober, shows and music were extremely taboo topics in my family. I was constantly battering my parents and my therapist to let me back out into the scene. They were rightfully horrified to let me go, in the past those venues were my playgrounds for mischief. Inside I was afraid as well. I didn't want to admit the fact that maybe this music and this culture was just all about partying for me. At that point, I honestly didn't know if I was going to stay sober if I went back to the music.
However, there was something inside of me that told me that's where I needed to be. It seemed like a faint voice in my head that truly believed in the power of those repetitive beats. It believed in the highs and lows of trance, the grime of dubstep, the uplifting nature of house, and the energy of drum n bass. I believed in the culture, and in the people I met over the course of my years in the scene. It believed in the passion and the spiritual connection to this music that was inside of me. It was faint, but I followed it.
My first show back was a terrifying experience. I was set to see Dash Berlin headline at Soundgarden Hall in Philadelphia. My cousin who was also into dance music came with me, as my family had the condition of having a family member present for my first show post-rehab. We arrived at the venue and I proceeded to puke out of the side of the car as we parked. My anxiety was alive and thriving, but I pushed through it to get in the doors of the venue. Around me were those ever so familiar bright lights and pumping basslines that I had once used to fuel my addiction. The people inside didn't seem as welcoming as they used to, but maybe I was just seeing it differently sober. For a second I thought my horrible doubts about EDM and what it meant to me were true. We found a spot in the crowd, and I prepared for the doom of a horrific night.
Then something changed. Dash walked on stage to incredibly loud roars from the crowd, and as he began to play, I felt something happening inside of me. While I had been standing still, filled with fear, for the first few moments of the show, I now began to bob my head up and down. Then came my feet, who shuffled back and forth to the rhythm of the beat. Before I knew it, I was fully submerged in a sea of emotional breakthroughs. The music was heightened, the anthems were strong, and the vibes laid over me like a warm blanket. Dash played for three and a half hours that night, and not only did I realize that nights like this were what I now lived for, but I also cried like a baby the entire show, and it felt incredible. One of the biggest voids I had in my heart and soul, had found it's filler.
I slowly but surely made my way back into the scene. My anxiety got better each and every show, and finally subsided on my first trip to Red Rocks that August to see Pretty Lights. As I moved into campus at Temple University that same month, I hit the ground running with shows. I immersed myself every weekend in a plethora of music all over Philadelphia, and began to expand my EDM family. The friendships, the moments of true ecstasy (not E this time), and the kickass dance moves of the Philly scene had brought me home. My mental health became more and more solidified in my recovery, and in my music. Heading out for the nights of the weekend and coming back at 3am pushed my head to a place of peace and comfort. I was where I was supposed to be, doing what I was meant to do.
I've been sober for almost three years now, and my life has become something beyond my wildest dreams. I've had the chance to work with different facets of the Electronic Dance Music industry, seeing the most talented musicians in the world all over the United States, and I get to work every day with the thing that saved my life. I get to constantly give back through my contributions to the scene, with the ability to make a difference and open opportunities for others to experience the power of this music.
I love my family and am now close with them again. I am able to be present for my friends when they need someone there, as they had all been there for me throughout this process. I am able to wake up every day and not shake into oblivion only to pass out and do it all over again. I am not only surviving, but living life in a way that the old me could have never imagined.
These are things I am ever grateful for. I couldn't have gotten sober and wouldn't be the person I am today without EDM. It is my therapy. And now working here at EDM Sauce, it has become my career, my life, and my future. Life is made up of small moments, and I appreciate every morning that I wake up alive and breathing. I have the luxury to live a life that I love and that is due in large part to the electronic dance music scene. Thank you, to everyone who I've ever crossed paths with. Whether you taught me lessons, challenged my ego, or got filthy with me on a dance floor, you have made an impact on my life that I can never repay.