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My MWMF Story
Discovering Sobriety
at a Music Festival

Michigan Women’s Music Festival, 1979



I traveled alone to the festival from Cleveland, where I had moved from Detroit to attend graduate school. It was my first women’s/lesbian festival even though I had been “out” for ten years prior.  I went mostly in anticipation of getting to share my music at the open mic and to promote myself as a lesbian-feminist singer-songwriter.


When I arrived at registration, I was given a choice of staying in the general camping area or “chemical-free camping space.”  I hesitated for a moment, feeling a panic set in. At that point in my life, I knew that to be around alcohol meant that sooner or later I would start drinking, and once I started drinking I had no control over how much I drank, or when or if I would stop. So I opted for the chemical-free camping space, which seemed like a safe choice, relieved that I would not have to deal with that struggle for the weekend.


As I was setting up my tent, a woman approached. She greeted me, introduce herself and said, “We’re starting a support group for the women in the area.”  I’m sure she realized that as I looked at her with a friendly but blank look, there were no lights coming on in terms of recognizing what she was talking about.  Still, she continued her invitation and said to me, “you’re welcome to join us if you like.”  This to me was the beginning of the warmth and acceptance I was about to experience all throughout the festival. She gave me the time and location and went on her way to tell the others who were also arriving and setting up.


I went back to finishing establishing my campsite, thinking about her words.  As I considered her invitation, the thought that came to me was this: “These women are letting me use their camping space - the least I can do is go lend support.”  Although I was still basically clueless as to what I was about to lend support to! Still, it seemed to me to be a fair trade for being able to stay there.


So I went at the appropriate time to find a large circle of women sitting together on a hill. I was welcomed and offered a place to sit. There was already a discussion going on  - it seemed there were other women there who had come to lend support, and they wanted to meet separately.


I can’t really explain to you why things unfolded as they did, but for whatever reason that it can all come together to reveal a personal truth in a single moment in time, when the question was put to us to divide the group, “Who here is dealing with an addiction to alcohol or other drugs?” it was with a quiet recognition of what my struggle had been about all those years that I raised my hand and went with those women.


The details of this realization aren’t important to the purpose of my story for this sharing – the real story is the love and support and nurturing I experienced for the next three days. I lived inside a protective cocoon after saying the words “I’m an alcoholic” for the first time in my life that night.


There were many support groups that met during the day, many opportunities to talk and listen and learn, and there was a group of us who sat together in the chemical free section at the concerts at night.  I was surrounded by sisters –  women who had been strangers to me at first – caring women from all over the country who took time to share with me. Not judging, not preaching, just sharing their own stories and experience.  I met two women who were part of one of the major women’s labels at the time. They took extra time with me, presumably because they knew I was a musician with “high aspirations.” They shared something with me that I have carried with me to this day. Something that had such a profound impact as to be life changing.


They both said in one of our conversations as we sat one afternoon on the grass under a clear blue sky that if it came down to a matter of a choice between their involvement in women’s music or their sobriety, they would “pack up and head for home in a heartbeat.”  I think I stopped breathing for a moment.  That one statement got my attention. I remember the kindness, the caring, the offering of phone numbers and the gift of an inspirational book.  But more than anything else said, those words I remember after all these years.


See, from my perspective these women were where I aspired to be, and I’m sure they sensed that.  That gave their statement even more impact. It was a profound moment. It gave this thing called “sobriety” a definition of importance I have never forgotten.


(I have also come to understand since then that we all have our unique place on the Wheel of Life, the grand scheme of things, if you will, and that we each have our own path to walk and our own place of achievement to fulfill – be it in women’s music, or whatever.)


I was so grateful for the safe haven that had been created for me. I have since learned that the decision to create chemical free space was a controversial one, with substantial opposition. I can only express my sincerest appreciation to those women who held their ground on this issue and insisted on its being a part of the festival. I know without hesitation or reservation that I am alive today because of their courage and commitment to their convictions.


Please understand that I didn’t go to that festival to “get sober” and had I been home that weekend, I certainly would not have been out shopping for a recovery group. Creator, as I understand it, wove together some 10,000 women on a remote farm property in the middle of my old home state of Michigan and surrounded me with loving caring sisters who allowed me to make the most important self-realizations of my life and give me a foundation for a new beginning, a new life.


I struggled some when I got back to Cleveland, and I had one more time trying to “prove” I could drink, but by then I had found a nurturing circle of women at home who became my support network and family in recovery.  Since that time I have enjoyed continous sobriety.


The changes in me became reflected in my writing and music, just as my drinking had been.  (It seems my struggle had been crying out through my lyrics long before I got the “message.”)  My first sober song was called “For the First Time In My Life” which was included on a cassette tape I produced and distributed independently and through Lady Slipper Catalog.


As I traveled to coffeehouses, special events, concerts and halfway houses and treatment centers, I got to meet many extraordinary women and share the story of my experience at the fourth Michigan Women’s Music Festival.


Whenever I am asked to share my recovery story, I always talk about the special festival in Michigan which was for women only - where, unlike Woodstock, there was consideration for the physically challenged, deaf and hearing impaired concert-goers, and chemical-free camping and concert space.  I also share about the two women whom I have never had contact with since, who spent their time with me and delivered such a profound understanding of what the bottom line, for me, is really all about.


I have not been back to the Michigan festival since then.  I am of Cherokee and Celtic lineages, and it seems that each year the festival falls on a date that I have a commitment to traditional ceremonies of my T’salagi Grandmother at our ceremonial home grounds in southeastern Ohio.


But every day I live is a gift I have that began that August in 1979 when I attended  MWMF.  I am grateful for this opportunity to express my appreciation to those who were there and those who have come since, and to share.. 


My love to you all.

Deb Adler



More to come...

You can read an extended version of Deb's Recovery Story in her new book "No Change No Gain, It's All About Choices".
The title "No Change No Gain, It's All About Choices" is a take-off on the saying "no pain, no gain." This well-written book provides an entertaining and insightful look into the traps that we can set for ourselves through habitual patterns and addictions and how to break free! Includes a personal sharing of Deb's journey from alcoholism to recovery as well as fun, easy and practical exercises for clearing away the past and welcoming the life we desire and deserve!

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