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Thursday, 27 July 2017

First Year at ACM: Reflection

This is going to be one of those posts where I self-indulge and talk about myself. For some spectacular reason, my controversial posts are the ones that generate the most views. This probably won’t get looked at as much as something on feminism or black lives matter or gay people would (cursed identity politics). It’s not going to be heart-wrenchingly emotional like the post where I talk about a traumatic sexual experience.. But what the hell; every now and then we’ve got to reflect.

I didn't like school much. One of the scariest things for me has always been other people my age. The idea of mixing with young people in AA freaked me out. Other young people think I’m a weirdo, laugh at me, don’t understand me or simply don’t like me. But in AA, everyone is like me. Everyone’s had a shitty past, internally and externally on some levels. Everyone’s wanted to kill themselves or felt out of place or tried to change the way they feel. Everyone’s had a drink/drug addiction. And everyone’s felt unsettled around their peers.

Primary school taught me to be assertive and not get walked all over by others. Secondary school taught me to believe in myself and shoot for my dreams. Sixth form taught me the dangers of putting too much pressure on myself. York uni taught me to pursue what I really wanted. Now ACM has taught me to accept myself.

My degree course is Songwriting and Creative Artistry: 2 Years. It’s an accelerated degree; three years within two. ACM stands for ‘Academy of Contemporary Music’, and it’s in Guildford, Surrey. At the start of the year I was broken; I’d had a pretty miserable summer of breaking up with a bad boyfriend, getting fired from a boring job, spending two months trying to quit drinking which failed and resulted in an 8 jack and coke binge plus cigarettes, and felt empty. My fresher’s week at ACM was nothing like my fresher’s at York. I’d spent most of York getting drunk, and most of ACM trying to get sober. I asked the receptionist if there was any help from the uni for alcohol addiction and she said the words ‘there is an AA...’ That’s all I heard. I’d known about a year prior to that that I was probably going to have to go to AA. But it takes people a long time. Even though I knew within months of isolated drinking that I was heading for the rooms, it took me another year to get there. It takes some people ten, twenty or fifty years, and many never make it.

Getting sober (and clean) has been a big part of ACM for me. (Currently 5 months sober). It’s also made socialising very difficult. At York, most of my socialising revolved around alcohol. The only thing that made me truly happy that I did sober was looking for musicians to jam on my songs with and form a band. My flatmates were sad to see me leave, but heartily pleased that I was going to do what I really enjoyed.

First term of ACM was hard. I kept skipping lectures. I did/do get along with my housemates and managed to make a few friends here and there. But during my first term at I got in trouble with the police; smashed up a lot of bottles, was put on antidepressants, started the 12 step program, kept whining about the awful ex and sending him lame messages as well writing an awful post about him on Facebook (long deleted), and self-harmed a lot. I saw a wonderful counsellor at ACM; I’ve had a lot of counsellors and she was my favourite. 

Second term things got a bit better. I became close with a few more people, and I was making progress with the band. I began working with a new drummer - we jammed a lot together on my stuff which was fun - as well as a keyboard player. Not to mention I started channeling my anger into drumming instead; now I have a third (after guitar and voice) instrument and a great skill.

Then things went pear shaped; I started having recurring panic attacks. I had them a bit in the first term, but second term they got so frequent to the point of being more than once a day. I couldn’t go to lectures or AA meetings; heck I could barely leave my room. I also relapsed, and decided with my sponsor to stay off alcohol and weed, even though weed wasn’t my main problem. Those panic attacks were fucking up my plans to get gigs with my newly formed band. For a couple months they pretty much controlled my life.

Around May they calmed down; I had some CBT at uni, and worked on breathing exercises and resumed meditation (I say resume because before I drank I used to meditate a lot, then decided I had booze to ‘relax’ instead. Sometimes I tried to meditate whilst drunk or high, but mostly was just kidding myself). My antidepressant dosage was also upped, and my sponsor gave me a brown paper bag to carry around to breathe into.

Then I felt shit again; my keyboardist and drummer discovered they couldn’t commit to my band as they had other commitments, and I had also thought having a set band had been too stressful for me and it would be easier to work with backing instrumentalists rotating as they would. I did a photoshoot, made a facebook page, found a great new boyfriend, and I’m currently working with my good mate who’s a bassist and another dude who’s a sick drummer and in a couple of bands.

I guess I’ve been frustrated because I haven’t gigged this first uni year, but I've had to deal with a lot of shit. Panic attacks are a bitch, and recovery is not an easy thing to do. I definitely feel like my artistry has improved, and I’ve found my voice musically. Sassy, punky, funky, upbeat and full of attitude. I bought an electric guitar in the second term as recommended by my dad and several others. I feel like I’m where I’ve always wanted to be musically.

Working with others has been a big thing for me this year. I’m approaching the end of the third term now and I’m sure next year (i.e. September – academic years are weird) I’ll be gigging. If you’d like to check out my music please click on the tab on my blog marked ‘Music: EPK’ for some sample stuff. I have stuff on YouTube and Soundcloud. My brother recently produced and recorded a demo track for me. I've also had a lot of fun with my elective module Music Journalism, and made a tumblr blog to submit for my summative which I'll link here. 

Edit: Several months later (now writing this bit in March 2018) and I have a different backing band and have been gigging. My website is:
Panic attacks have improved a lot. I've actually found uni to be not all it's cracked up to be, but nevermind. Finish in a few months. I'm currently 6 months sober after a brief relapse back in September, and determined to keep it going. 

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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