What I Learned by Meeting Bj Barham From American Aquarium

Updated on October 1, 2019
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Sara is a recovering addict who has struggled with depression, addiction, and the battle of self-awareness.

An Avid Lover of Sad Songs

Since I can remember, I have always been a lover of sad songs by artists like Patsy Cline and Lucero. About 10 years ago, I heard American Aquarium for the first time from a YouTube suggestion. I was blown away by BJ Barham's voice, lyrics, and raw talent. American Aquarium quickly became one of my most frequently-played bands. I didn't travel much, so I never imagined I would get to see them live. Surprisingly, they set a tour date in my town on January 20, 2018.

There was no question of if I would go, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to me.

Taken 1.20.18 at Love & War in Lindale, TX
Taken 1.20.18 at Love & War in Lindale, TX

Socially Awkard? Lets Drink!

I arrived at the venue and found it rather uncomfortable. The layout was a bunch of tables full of people eating dinner with their families, most of which had never heard of American Aquarium. Some were irritated there was a band interrupting their dinner. I was very out-of-my-element, and found that drinking heavily was my route to dealing with it.

A History Of Heavy Drinking

I started drinking at a young age and from the first time I tried it, drinking was never a casual thing for me. I would drink as much as possible when I was at a party or show. I never drank much at home, but anytime I was out, I was always drinking.

For me, drinking was an outlet, a way to drown my feelings, or at least avoid them. It was also something I enjoyed when I was celebrating and cutting lose from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Looking back it was clear how reckless I was, but at the time I didn't see it that way.

Fuel to the Fire

I am also a musician, I play guitar, sing, and write. For several years I was playing shows a few times a week, and it really upped my level of drinking. Every time I looked down I had a new drink waiting for me. There were times I played shows so drunk that I couldn't remember my own lyrics or how to play the song.

All of this for me was just part of who I was. I admired outlaws like Hank Williams III, the people that were unapologetically themselves and could express pain and trials through music.

Heartbreak and heavy drinking just seemed to be part of the job of being a musician.

Let the Show Begin!

The night of the show, I remember telling my friend "He probably won't play his good songs because he is all happy and sober now." I loved the sad songs BJ Barham wrote, and I loathed people that talked about being sober. I didn't believe anyone could write good songs if they were happy.

To me, being sober meant leaving the outlaw life behind. I swore I would never be that type of person.

Taken 1.20.18 at Love & War in Lindale, TX
Taken 1.20.18 at Love & War in Lindale, TX


As soon as the band started playing, I was absolutely captivated by their talent. BJ's performance is unlike anyone I have seen. His entire presence transforms into the song and you can feel the pain, anger, and emotion of each word. I was left speechless which does not happen often for my mouthy self.

He was completely sober and played the best show I have ever seen. His performance tore down every cynical belief I had about him.

Three Sheets

On the other hand, I was far from sober that night. I spent almost $300 buying the other band members drinks, and getting myself lit.

After the show, I managed to talk BJ into taking a picture with me. At that point I was slurring my words and I remember him looking at me like "geez lady take it easy." In my drunken state I asked him about being sober and he said it was the best thing he has ever done for himself.

Taken 1.20.18 at Love & War in Lindale, TX
Taken 1.20.18 at Love & War in Lindale, TX


I had no idea this night would change my life forever. On the way home I was arrested for a DWI. In the beginning, I was angry and bitter. I felt like I had just gotten caught and that it could've been anyone else. I defended myself endlessly and thought I had been wronged somehow.

At that time in my life I was going out multiple times a week. I was falling down on my obligations and not in a good place mentally. When I would get home from a long night of drinking, I couldn't stand the loneliness and inadequacy burning inside me. I was desperate...something had to give. With all that said, I never once thought about quitting drinking.

As the months went on, I had to appear in front of the county judge. For the first time in my life I had to face my poor choices head-on.

I didn't believe I had a problem until my problems were staring me in the face.  

The Battle Within

I can say today that I am lucky the state stepped in and required me to quit drinking, because it was not something I would've done on my own. I was also sentenced heavy counseling, recovery meetings, and a lot of classes. One of the biggest struggles I had in recovery was feeling like I could never be myself without drinking.

I believed that no one would take me seriously if I was sober. I battled myself for months trying to make sense of who I was.

5 Things I Learned From Meeting BJ Barham

With almost 15 months of sobriety, I can see now that meeting BJ Barham was divine intervention constructed specifically for me. I desperately needed someone relatable that could break the barrier of my false belief system. BJ Barham taught me:

  1. Being Drunk Doesn't Make Me a Good Musician. No one wants to pay money to see someone stumbling that can't even sing or play because they are out of control. I play much better shows when I can focus on the music and not trying to remember words or how to hold myself up.
  2. Sobriety Isn't Selling-Out. The people in my life would much rather have me sober and not being careless with my life than a drunken mess because I was dead-set on being loyal to an outlaw lifestyle.
  3. Being Happy Isn't a Bad Thing. I was so cynical that I had no desire to be happy. I wallowed in my own self-pity and felt isolated from the world. I have realized a lot of that had to do with my alcoholism, and being sober gives me a chance to actually be happy.
  4. There is No Shame in Bettering Myself. I have held back a lot about my sobriety and what I have been through because it felt almost shameful for a while. But today, I am proud of the changes I have made in my life.
  5. I Can Write Good Songs Sober Too. My experiences aren't gone just because I am sober. I don't have to live on the streets and be a drunken mess to have something worthwhile to write about.

Thank you BJ Barham for sharing your story, and unknowingly helping me on my journey in sobriety.

It's like someone who needs glasses and finally gets glasses...

— BJ Barham

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Sara Magee


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        6 weeks ago

        I love it babe you are an inspiration to everyone you come in contact with.


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