The COVID Pandemic and a New Orleans Musician’s Fight for Sobriety

By Katey Greer

“Here, wear this.” MC was handed a risqué one-piece lingerie item that looked like it belonged to a model in a Playboy Magazine. The racy piece covered MC’s body with intertwining snakes. MC had never felt so vulnerable. The “Liberating Lingerie Party” was happening at Gasa Gasa on Freret Street right next to Domino’s. This party is designed to be a safe place, for people to come as themselves.

“The [Liberating] Lingerie Party is a show where bands play and everyone shows up in lingerie,” MC described.  MC’s band, Mars Cooper, was thrilled to perform. “Mars stems from my birth name and Cooper was the city I was raised in,” MC explained. The venue was sold out that night.  The crowd cheered as Mars Cooper entered the stage and MC saw their friend supporting from the first row. “I went to kiss [her] on the cheek and she just started making out with me during the show,” MC remembered.

From the blur of emotions and the excitement of the show, MC forgot why they felt vulnerable. They forgot why they were ashamed of their body. It was a “great night, amazing experience,” MC reflected. For a moment, all was perfect. That was February 23rd, 2020.

That performance was one of the last live performances Mars Cooper would do for a while. After that, the COVID pandemic would take off, and all performing musicians would stop in their tracks in New Orleans. Mars Cooper was not immune to the effects of the pandemic either. “I thought, ‘It wasn’t going to last long.’ ‘I’m not going to be able to gig that much, that sucks.’ ‘I’m not going to be able to work with my band for a while,’” MC recalled. Nights like the lingerie party would not happen again for a while. 

Meanwhile, MC was unable to attend their AA meetings. “I love going to AA meetings. I love the sense of belonging and that everyone thinks the same way I do” MC said. WIthout the support system of AA and the added stress of COVID, MC had a hard time maintaining their sobriety.

MC is 24 years old and uses they/them pronouns. They have short hair with blue frosted tips; however, next month it may be another color. They do not care what others think of them and do what makes them happy. MC is unapologetically themself. Tayla Kervin, a former high school love interest of MC’s, explained that “They were confused about who they were at first. That was back when they used she/her pronouns. They seem a lot happier now that they figured out what they wanted. Watching someone go from confused to someone who is gladly and vibrantly themself is inspiring.”

Tayla described MC as “really outgoing. They are always the one to make someone laugh when having a bad day. MC is very creative and hardworking.” MC remembered “when I was 10 or 11, I realized I could listen to songs and play them like that.” Without a skip of a beat, MC could play Taylor Swift’s entire discography by ear.

Fast forward to senior year, MC’s high school was putting on a talent show called “Balwin County Star Search.” MC thought to themself, “I’m not gonna see these people again,” and decided to put together a band to perform. MC wrote a song to sing, and their friends Clair (on piano), Josh (on drums), and Danny (on bass) supplemented those vocals. “We ended up taking second place which was really cool,” MC reflected. “I realized I wanted to keep doing that and write songs. [It] was a last-minute career shift from music therapy to writing songs and music industry. Music has been a part of my life since I could remember,” MC said.

MC moved to New Orleans to attend school at Loyola University and to kick-start their music career. However, they started to struggle with addiction. “In January of 2019, I spent time in a psych ward for bipolar disorder, and I learned that substances and bipolar are really bad together,” MC recalled. Upon getting out, MC told themself, “OK, I’m just going to smoke weed and that’s it.” Yet, as time went on, it became increasingly difficult for them to stick by that. “I hit this blunt, and I started crying, and my anxiety got so bad. [I] couldn’t control drinking” MC said. “It’s like you haven’t eaten in three days, and someone puts a plate of food in front of you and says you can only have one bite.”

The anxiety that COVID-19 has enlisted on people is immense, and MC was no exception. It was about to be Thanksgiving, and MC tested positive for COVID. On the 2nd day of isolation, MC was cooking dinner and opened the pantry to discover canned wine in the house they were staying at. They thought to themself, “This is a safe place to try it,” and helped themself to a glass. Before they knew it, they found themself at the liquor store to replenish their stash. “I exposed people [to COVID] so I could get drunk,” MC confessed. “[I] stayed drunk the whole two weeks and told [my] parents that I can drink like a normal person again. In reality, I was sneaking liquor and had a dab pen,” MC recalled.

Zoё Garry, the Pastor at the NOLA Wesley Campus Ministry that MC works for, explained, “I don’t think MC was very honest with themself at the beginning. They were like, ‘I broke sobriety, I had one drink.’ But I started realizing that when they are saying they had a couple of drinks, that they actually had gone off.” 

Zoё and MC are constantly in contact with each other, whether that be via texts or calls. “Our relationship is very dynamic,” Zoё described. “They were foundational at the beginning of my work here at the ministry. I would rely on them to help out with music or take over for music if events came up. In that dynamism, there are also moments when MC really just needed a pastor.”

It was not until March 4th of 2021 that things started to turn around for MC. After months of disguising liquor as cans of Diet Coke during Zoom calls, MC reached a breaking point. “During worship dinner they kind of left and had a breakdown in the back” Zoё recalled. She told MC, “This isn’t how you should live. This feeling of being overwhelmed, of being out of control, of just everything having a say in your life but you, is not what you are made for.”

MC had concluded that in-patient help was the best solution for them. “They were struggling with who was going to take them and I was like, ‘I’ll do it,’” Zoё remembered. “A lot of the times, especially with rehab, the moment of checking in is pushed off or delayed,” Zoё wanted to ensure that MC was able to get to rehab on time and safely. “I really think they are an amazing person and I want to invest my time, my love, and my friendship to make sure that they can be the fullest self that they can be,” Zoё explained. “No one should do that alone.”

MC went to treatment for withdrawal symptoms for 30 days. “They put you on meds for withdrawal, so it wasn’t that hard to stay sober,” they recalled. MC reflected on their time in treatment, “I got along with most people, but one person had a huge issue with my identity. After a week of letting her torment me, I realized she [was] much more miserable than me. If I [didn’t] let her get to me, she [got] upset, so I just started ignoring her.”

“When [MC] came out of rehab, one of the things that was difficult for them was the environment. When you are a musician, you’re constantly in environments that are not sober,” Zoё explained. “One of the biggest things was their living situation. [MC was] living with people who weren’t sober to begin with but then also were dealing with problematic substance abuses,” Zoё recalled. MC was “in constant threat to their sobriety.” Zoё explained that “it came to be that we had a room open [at the ministry] and so we worked to get them in almost immediately so that they could continue succeeding in their sober life.”

“Something changed with me [in treatment], I actually wanted to be sober this time,” MC recalled. MC started taking classes again at Loyola University after taking a two-year hiatus. “I did not have the intention of going back. In AA, the ninth step is amends. Amends are not about saying sorry, [they are] about changing your behavior for the better to not hurt [people] anymore,” MC explained. MC asked their parents what they could do better, and they replied with, “Finish your degree that we paid for.” MC went back to school to major in popular and commercial music. “In AA, if you don’t complete your amends then you are less likely to stay sober. I did it for my parents and for my sobriety,” MC said.

“I’m just so proud of MC,” Zoё said. “When things are out of control you can find comfortability in chaos. To be able to step out and take the reins, it’s really brave and it takes a lot of work. It’s not just giving up one month of your life. It’s giving up control. You are going through withdrawal. A reckoning of who you were, what you did, and what you were doing. I think that to be able to do that and really be the narrator of your own life is important.”

“You can either help yourself or f**k yourself,” MC explained. MC’s journey was long, but they came out on top. MC reflected, “I decided to stay sober because I knew my life depended on it.”

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