Greener Pastures: My story of addiction recovery
By FireDean Schilling
I’m a performing songwriter playing out both as a solo artist and with my bandmates ‘The Brooklyn Garden Club‘. I also happen to run a landscape business based in Brooklyn.
Twenty years ago my life was much different. An active alcoholic and intravenous drug user, 20 years ago I was sleeping in a homeless shelter in Berwick, Louisiana.
Then, sure enough, the proverbial amazing grace did in fact save the wretch. In an instant everything changed. In short, I had a spiritual awakening at the local Pentecostal Church which resulted in a an ability to walk cold turkey away from ever using drugs and alcohol again, one day at a time.
Not long after, drawing on childhood work experiences I’d been trying hard to forget, I was gainfully employed as a part a time gardener. And something else happened along the way. The Church I mentioned asked me to join the choir and with that began the musical journey I’d never imagined possible. I was 27.
This is a clip is from a song I wrote called ‘Betula Nigra‘ . It’s the title track from a a forthcoming CD.
Betula Nigra is the botanic name for a certain type of birch tree. This particular birch was a reminder that all was not well just because I’d gotten clean and sober. Sure, a life transformed makes for a good story but the truth is none of my ‘issues’ dissappeared the moment I stopped using. Ideas about romantic relationships for example were as deeply skewed as ever. As a result the new version of me, the one who didn’t smoke or drink, went from one tumultuous dating relationship to the next. I realize help comes from the strangest places but no one was more surprised than me when it came from a tree. Betula Nigra was the perfect metaphor for all I had missed. Unlike her more famous fair skinned sibling, ‘Betula Papyrifera’, Nigras’ bark was pockmarked and rutty. But where her sister may have been more beautiful; Nigra was stronger, more resilient, and grew to maturity very quickly. Basically, Betula had everything except maybe, perfect tits.
Here is a clip from another tune called ‘Camellia‘.
In this one I’m trying to give this and some other woody cultivars credit for boosting my self esteem. To be clear, I imagined it wasn’t every day that a revered institution like the Brooklyn Botanic Garden offered to put a former skid row inhabitant on the payroll as they had (unbeknownst to them) done with me.
‘Camellia’ is an overdue thank you to the part of recovery that gradually allows one a respected place in society. Why Camelia you ask? Well as a child I’d learned to propagate Camellias with my Father who had been physically abusive. As a result when I got sober the thought of working with them, or any plants for that matter, didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Lacking any other job skills however, off a-planting I went.
Years later, I discovered the truth about Camelia’s past. Turns out she’d overcome much adversity herself, including a genocidal winter that wiped out all but handful of her immediate family. Needless to say my feelings changed.
And then there is ‘Muelenbergia Capalaris‘….
Named after the Lutheran Minister who stumbled upon it in a field, ‘Muilli Grass’, as it is commonly referred, is precious. A delicate cultivar whose otherworldly powers rely on sheer numbers. In fact one Muilly Grass can’t be taken too seriously. Alone it doesn’t survive cold winters and looks like a forgotten clump of lawn. In order for it to perform its majic it needs a lot of help. Presented en masse it transforms into a pink cloud hovering just above the ground. Like a person in recovery who surrounds himself with others, Muilli’s odds improve as her numbers go up. Or like a musician who builds a tribe, the power to be noticed grows exponentially when followed by a devoted group. Muilli is a testament to the miracles that happen every day when we look for them the way Reverend Muellenberg did nearly 150 years ago. And to the feelings of profound bliss that can show up regularly without assistance from any substance.
Developed by Bill Radler, The KnockOut Rose is the little rose that could and Radler is a gardeners’ gardener. In the past ten years his KnockOut went from a lone rose hip he’d harvested to the most successful rose of all time. In fact the company he sold the patent too was entering bankruptcy proceedings when Bill showed up. Bill bought his first rose at the age of 9 with allowance money his parents had given him. Then for the next 20 years or so he went on a quest to develop the perfect rose, breeding them in his backyard. Like Bill, as a person in recovery I’ve also spent the better part of the last 20 years trying to create something beautiful – a life. So yeah…I’m a KnockOut.