Dissonance Collaborates with "Passenger Recovery" in Detroit

The two nonprofits look to help build a national network of artist-support organizations

One of our dreams at Dissonance is to establish a national network of like-minded organizations committed to helping artists maintain wellness, share their experiences with mental health and addiction recovery, and advocate for others. 

We are doing that work in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and, to some degree, in greater Minnesota. Now, we are looking to collaborate with other individuals and organizations pursuing similar missions.

One such organization is Passenger Recovery, a nonprofit founded by Christopher Tait, keyboardist for indie rock vets Electric Six. We met with Chris when his band's tour brought him to St. Paul for a recent show (opened by our friend Mark Mallman) at the venerable Turf Club. 

Sober Green Room Now Available in Twin Cities, Detroit

We whisked Chris away from the venue for a sober green room experience at the home of Jordan Hansen, a Dissonance supporter and blogger. We were actually testing out Chris's own idea. Passenger Recovery has a dedicated green-room space in downtown Detroit, available to any sober touring artist. After talking to Chris, we have decided to begin offering the same to artists traveling through Minneapolis-St. Paul, using a variety of spaces available through our local network. Chris had been on the road for a couple of weeks when we met, and he noted -- as others have to him -- how wonderful it was to get away from the van and the venue for a refreshing wellness break. 

New Tool to Find Support Meetings on the Road

For us, the time with Chris also provided an opportunity to discuss Passenger Recovery's new support-meeting finder called Compass. It's an innovative, GPS-enabled tool to help traveling artists locate Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Refuge Recovery (Buddhist-inspired) support meetings. The Compass database includes thousands of individual meetings, is growing every day, and likely will be expanded to include other types of mutual aid meetings as well. We’re grateful that Chris and his partner -- Electric Six bassist Matthew Tompkins -- did us the favor of making Minneapolis-St. Paul the second metro area to get populated, after Detroit. Check out the beta version of the tool and find a meeting near you, wherever you are.

On our Resources-Tools web page, we now have a link to Compass. The page also includes links for artists to request sober green rooms through us for Minneapolis-St. Paul and through Passenger Recovery for Detroit.

As we think about our dream of establishing a national network of organizations like ours, the immediate aim is to work with Passenger Recovery to create a northern corridor of artist support from Detroit to Minneapolis. We are now seeking like-minded organizations in Milwaukee and Chicago to fill in the major gaps. 

We are also beginning to establish relationships with other more far-flung organizations like the SIMS Foundation in Austin, Texas, and the BTD Foundation in New Orleans. If you are involved in such an organization, or know others who are, please contact us.  Let's build this national network/collective/community together.

Embracing the "Ugly Beauty" of Our Dissonant Lives

By Kevin O’Connor

I don’t really identify as an artist. But I am a creative person, albeit a highly reluctant and shy one. I write, paint and plow my way furtively through musical expression. And I create two-wheeled contraptions that are better labeled as art than conveyance. It gives me joy to ride them and even more satisfaction to build them for friends and family.

As a public radio programmer and host, I have devoted my life to supporting the creative endeavors of other artists, mostly musicians. I consider my own talents highly subordinate to theirs and am grateful to be in their company. I suppose there is an art to presenting the art of others, though I don’t expect the MacArthur Foundation grants to be rolling in anytime soon.

But dissonance? Oh my! I can certainly speak to that. In jazz and improvisational music, dissonance is never shunned. In fact, the most revered jazz artists always embraced atonality and what Thelonious Monk described in a famous piece as “Ugly Beauty.”

From the time I could hear notes, I was drawn not to melody or catchy phrasing but to tones of a decidedly more jarring nature. This was a logical response to a noisy, chaotic and traumatic childhood, or so I theorized.

My earliest heroes were people like John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, and Charlie Parker. Less astonishingly, these and many other geniuses paid dearly for their visitations with addiction, mental illness, or both.

It’s pretty etched in jazz mythology that everybody took heroin so they could play like Charlie Parker. A more apt exploration might be to imagine what he would have sounded like without the junk. He’d have been faster, for sure, which really boggles the mind.

It is these dangerous myths, my connection to art and artists, and my own desire to be well that drew me to the Dissonance community. I had heard about the nonprofit from a colleague and attended its Unhappy Holidays event last year in Minneapolis. The idea of creating safe spaces where creative people with (or without) mental health and addictive issues can share a bit of solidarity and comfort resonated with me instantly.

Freely sharing support—however that manifests itself—among artists who identify as depressed, anxious and/or chemically dependent is nothing short of inspirational.  Dissonance is at once focused and inclusive. And, frankly, it serves such a clear need that it’s surprising such communities are so rare.

As for me, I certainly was experiencing dissonance years ago.

Some kids fantasize about being rock or movie stars, practicing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush microphone and broom guitar. Well, at age 10, I was practicing what I anticipated to be my first remarks at an AA meeting. Out loud. Tears and dramatic inflection were well rehearsed by the time I was 12. I wish I were joking, but that’s how hard-wired we were in my family toward a sort of soused pre-destiny. I confess to a slight saturation of after-school specials as well. Who knew Mary from “Little House” could play drunk so well? Or was that Laura?

All too often, it is the creative person who runs toward the fire. For many of us, that impulse is always there, despite varied – and often damaging – results. Finding a balance between following the risky calls to the fire and seeking safety and serenity is a goal I have not yet fully achieved, and precisely why I’m grateful for a community like Dissonance.

Kevin O’Connor is the music director and afternoon host at KBEM-FM, the overnight host at Classical Minnesota Public Radio, and a person in long-term recovery.


Editor’s Note: You are invited to the Warming House, an alcohol-free listening room in South Minneapolis, for a Happy Hour on Thursday, Oct. 26, at 5pm. It’s a chance to learn about the mission and programming of Dissonance, the network of resources and how to get involved, from events to blogs like this one to board service. There will be refreshments, light snacks and music from Theyself. It’s an open invitation to come, connect and unwind a bit.

Let Go Out Loud

By Jennifer Gilhoi


When I discovered Dissonance, it definitely struck a chord with me.

Ever since my sponsor -- a sort of mentor for staying sober -- moved to Miami, I’ve been in a “recovery meeting” funk. Some days, I’m totally OK with the idea of scaling back my weekly attendance at Twelve Step meetings, which I’ve kept up consistently for the past two years. Other days, I beat myself up for having little desire to go.

Then, along came Dissonance, which offers additional options for supportive fellowship, with an outreach component that I’ve been envisioning must exist somewhere in some shape or form.

That’s why I was so intrigued when I came across a Facebook post about a St. Patrick’s Day Happy Hour hosted by Dissonance. Meet up at one of my favorite coffee shops at 4 pm on a Friday? Count me in! This little gathering -- an informal and conversational meeting in a public location -- served as my first intro to Dissonance. No agenda. Just a group of people connecting with one another about struggle, wellness and life. And enjoying it.

I then discovered that Dissonance had held a public event last December with musicians, storytellers, food, and wide-ranging conversations about recovery and mental health. And that an upcoming event -- also open to the public -- promised music and yoga. Again, count me in!

I became enamored with the concept behind this group. I get the rigor of Twelve Step programs and their tradition of anonymity. Indeed, Twelve Step meetings have been critical to my recovery. At the same time, I’ve been wondering about other forms of growth-oriented support. I’ve also been wondering about the powerful role that people in long-term recovery can have in shattering the stigma of addiction simply by letting their recovery status be known. More and more, I see how stepping out of church basements to embrace a more integrated presence and acceptance in society sends a clear invitation to others that it’s OK to seek help sooner than later.

If I’ve learned anything in my 20 years of active addiction and nearly three years of continuous sobriety, it’s that ego and confidence can be a double-edged sword. My confidence can serve me well. But for two decades, my ego also kept me from setting foot inside a recovery meeting room. And while I avoided what I knew to be true -- that I had a drinking problem -- the people around me also turned away from the obvious.

Meanwhile, during those same 20 years, I never met a single person in recovery who noticed my behavior and reached out. Nor did I know a person living happily in recovery who might have attracted me to the path. Or, did I? Did they exist? They were mythical in my mind.

Of course, it turns out I did know people living well in recovery. I just didn’t know that I did, thanks to the culture of secrecy that surrounds addiction and its solutions.

Could being more open in recovery -- and less anonymous -- help smash some of the stigma attached to addiction? Could it subtly but effectively invite others to find help sooner? Could we actually meet publicly in normal social settings? Could we hold conversations that let us experience vulnerability with both others in recovery and “normies” … at the same time?

For some of us, experiencing Dissonance-styled fellowship in normal social environments strikes a helpful balance between Twelve Step support group settings and the typical "bar-concert-restaurant" scenes that, without the added context of recovery, can be uncomfortable and unhealthy. The idea of acclimating back into society -- maintaining the priority of protecting my recovery while at the same time re-integrating humor, fun, activity and celebratory shared interests (like music concerts) into my life -- appeals to me. I also like the idea of finding my own recovery crowd. Though we share a common condition, we are anything but a monolithic bunch, which should come as no surprise given there are more than 20 million people in recovery in the United States alone.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating against Twelve Step recovery or any other path. To me, it’s not an “either/or” proposition, but rather a “both/and” idea. I believe that the more I can do to lead a healthy, fulfilling life, the safer my recovery will be.

I appreciate what a daily gift recovery is and how tenuous it can be, especially at first. In fact, when I initially got sober, my confidence soared so high, I ended up drinking again. And I didn’t understand. I was doing so well on my path; why would I return to alcohol use? As it turns out, of course, that is the nature of addiction; my mind fought relentlessly for the belief that I could drink normally, even though that was clearly not the case. I also realize today that my recovery -- ostensibly, my life -- was missing something. I had cut out friends and social engagements in fierce protection of sobriety, or so I thought. The truth is that I avoided typical social settings because I no longer felt comfortable in them -- a reality my ego could hardly stand. I longed to just be normal. Comfortable again. Confident. Or at least secure. Twelve Step meetings were helping in important ways but I was separating myself from other important aspects of life that I thought I had to give up.

Dissonance -- and the idea of finding recovery fellows and allies who share my interests and passions -- is opening my eyes to broader possibilities. I love that a Calgary bar recently hosted an alcohol-free bash and that others are paving the way, like the Sober Bars brand in Pennsylvania and HazelFest right here in Minnesota. Can we do more of this? I think yes!

I spent the first year of recovery pouring out my soul in safe, supportive, anonymous rooms where others generously shared, through their own experience, “promises” of what recovery could bring. My second year, I began to see the world with fresh eyes, my perceptions expanding in the beauty that practicing gratefulness daily reveals. Now, in my third year, even more is unfolding. For example, I can see that the fourth step in my recovery program, which involved conversations and making amends to others in my most immediate circle, was actually the first step in bringing my condition out of the shadows.

Since then, I’ve slowly continued the transition toward a more unfettered openness -- the kind I see embraced by Dissonance. The kind that calls out to my own longing for a well-balanced life and allows me to fully explore my passions. The kind that may one day call out to others who come after me. I’m not doing any trailblazing just yet, but am on the cusp of restlessness and happy to discover there’s more to be explored in recovery. I knew there was. After all, part of this is outlined in the Twelve Steps themselves, which encourage us, not to passively hold onto recovery, but to actively be a role model for others. Sponsorship, service work, advocacy and activism -- as far as I’m concerned, just different ways to express our voice in recovery.

Some may choose a different path entirely, and that’s OK. But for those of us who are ready and inclined to do so, let’s share more openly about both struggle and wellbeing. I’m ready if you are. Let’s recover out loud. Let’s publicly model what the promise of recovery looks like for us. It’s time to let go of shame, fear and secrecy. In the name of social progress, let’s let go together.


Jennifer Gilhoi is a marketing, social media and events consultant, avid yogi and the co-founder of the wellness community Empowering All.