On June 23, 2009, Daniel Casasanta got his third DUI. He was 23 years old.
On June 23, 2020, he celebrated 11 years of sobriety.
It’s an impressive feat by any standard, but even more so when you realize that, as a professional musician, Casasanta has spent much of the last 11 years in close proximity to the very thing that nearly ruined his life.
“A lot of times I’d look down onstage and have shots and three or four beers at my feet, and I was going to drink all of it. That’s what an alcoholic is.”
How does one navigate that path and stay sober? That’s what I wanted to talk to him about.
As a young man, Casasanta was an accomplished bass player with a busy schedule of gigs around the Upstate. He was also an alcoholic who preferred Rolling Rock and Crown Royal but would drink anything you put in front of him.
And whenever he played at a bar, a lot of drinks were put in front of him.
“People want to show their appreciation,” Casasanta says, “or feel like they’re part of the band. And one of the ways to do that is with alcohol. A lot of the time, it was just given to you. A lot of times I’d look down onstage and have shots and three or four beers at my feet, and I was going to drink all of it. That’s what an alcoholic is.”
Then in 2009, Casasanta’s luck ran out: He got his third DUI and 64 days in prison to go with it.
“I was trying to make it to my dad’s house, which is where I was living at the time,” he says. “I tried to make it home, but I didn’t, because beer, liquor and Xanax kept me from getting there.”
Even as he sat in prison, Casasanta was a slave to his addiction to a disturbing degree.
“When I went in there, my first thought was, ‘How am I going to get out of here and drink with an alcohol monitor on my ankle?’” he says, still sounding a bit horrified. “My gears were still turning.”
The longer he was forced to stay sober, though, the more he realized how dire things had become.
“After being in there for a little while, I started thinking, ‘If this doesn’t stop now, it will kill me, or I’ll be in and out of jail for the rest of my life,’” he says. “I just knew that it had to stop right now. But it took all of those 64 days. I needed to be in there. Those 64 days saved me.”
It’s easy enough to stay sober when you’re forced to, though. What was it like to know you’re an alcoholic and play at bars while you’re trying to stay sober? How could someone see those beers and shots at their feet and not be tempted?
“The hardest part for me wasn’t jail,” he says. “And it wasn’t temptation. The hardest part was accepting that I can’t drink, and I can’t do drugs. I cannot control it. Pride and addiction go hand in hand for a lot of people, and I never wanted to admit it.”
Not that he didn’t waver a bit, especially in the beginning.
“Early on, there’s the temptation,” he says. “I could taste it. I knew exactly what it would taste like. But I associated it with trouble. I associated it with what put me in jail. I just kind of accepted that my days of drinking were over, and I didn’t want to go back to it.”
“The hardest part for me wasn’t jail,” he says. “And it wasn’t temptation. The hardest part was accepting that I can’t drink, and I can’t do drugs. I cannot control it.”
Of course, it helped that Casasanta’s friends and fellow musicians were looking out for him.
“If someone asked if I wanted a shot, someone else would say, ‘He doesn’t need it,’” he says. “The people I played with looked out for me.”
That’s one of the main points that Casasanta wants to make when asked if he has any advice for other musicians who are both in recovery and playing shows surrounded by alcohol or drugs: Look to your friends for help, and know that it’s going to be tough.
“There’s more support for you than you realize,” he says. “But it’s not going to be easy. I’d tell them that first, you have to make your mind up that it’s not working for you. If something’s controlling you, it’s so good to walk away from it. I felt like it owned me. It doesn’t own me anymore; I love that. When I leave a gig now, I know that unless someone else hits me, I’m going to make it home.”
- Casasanta has played with many Upstate bands, but his main project is a trio called Sly Sparrow.
- He also owns a studio in Inman called DC Rehearsal Studio, which offers music lessons and practice space.
- In 2019, Casasanta launched Monday Recovery Night, a weekly support-group meeting for those struggling with addiction.