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+TALK: DJ FAT TONY Pt. 2

Part 2 of Karl Schmid’s conversation with DJ and activist, DJ Fat Tony

DJ. FAT TONY
I was so spiritually, emotionally, physically bankrupt.

KARL
People just assume that if you take drugs and you party obviously you’re gonna go and get HIV.

DJ. FAT TONY
When I was diagnosed in 2001, it was no surprise. It wasn’t a surprise but what it did do was it hit me so hard because I was dying. It was a reality. It wasn’t like, oh, I was walking down the road and thought, oh, I’ll go and have a HIV test. I was found unconscious in my house, taken to St. Stevens, which is a really amazing ho hospice in London next to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. I was taken there, diagnosed on the spot put straight into isolation within the hour. And then that’s when it progressively got worse. It got worse. The minute I knew, it seemed like I was knocked over and dragged along by the train because suddenly it became real. It was no longer guessing games or me blaming it on drugs. You gotta remember, I had a parallel world going on here. I had full blown addiction, right? And I mean full blown addiction.

KARL
Well, you were pulling your teeth out with screwdrivers.

DJ. FAT TONY
I thought, no, I was gone. And then on the other hand, my body had no immune system, it had gone. So me thinking that I had meth mouth from just smoking crystal meth, I had meth mouth because I had no immune system to fight it off. So when I was diagnosed, they put me into isolation and then they found out that my viral load was in the multimillions, it was so high. And that it’d gone into my brain, and I had to keep having lumber punches every day. And then my brain started to swell and that was why I was passing out. I kept thinking I was passing out cause I’d done too many drugs.

KARL
And hadn’t slept.

DJ. FAT TONY
Yeah. I was passing up because my brain had swollen. So then I was in an induced coma which I know nothing of until I came round. And the minute I came round the first thing on my mind was drugs. It wasn’t like, “Oh my God, I’m alive.”

KARL
Yeah, I read that there’s the whole bit in the book where you go out to have a cigarette on the street but you’re going out to actually meet your dealer and you can’t get hold of them. And then your friend happens to walk down the street and you say to her, have you got anything on you? And she goes, “Here,” and gives you a number for AA.

DJ. FAT TONY
She put a 12 step key ring in my hand, I went to Narcotics Anonymous key ring and I looked at it and I just thought, what the fuck is that? Fuck off. That’s no use to me.

KARL
But for all rights, Tony, I mean, when you sit now you really shouldn’t be here, and yet you are.

DJ. FAT TONY
I’m here because… I had this conversation yesterday. Why am I still here? I’m here because there’s a part of me that, I love life. And that part of me, that my soul is, wouldn’t let go. There’s something in me that will always fight to survive. When I was in my darkest days of addiction for 28 years, I knew how to survive. There was something in me that kept me alive. ‘Cause the amount of times that I should have been dead. My body had given up, and then to be given that second chance by doing trial drugs and going on those clinical trials, they saved my life.

KARL
Because now I know, as we said, we’re celebrating for you 15 and a half years of sobriety, you are a sponsor to a lot of people in recovery. You do a lot of fantastic work about supporting people in their recovery and talking about it. And obviously the book and all the press you’re doing at the moment only helps amplify that. But just talking about that spark, that little tiny spark that kind of kept flickering even in your darkest days, is that something you refer to when you talk to people or people come and say, “I wanna get out of this situation.” Is that sort of something you try to help them navigate to find within themselves?

DJ. FAT TONY
Yeah, a hundred percent, because you know what? The minute that someone comes to you and actually says to you, “I need help.” That pilot light’s already on. That’s on, you can see it flicking in the back of the eyes. There’s nothing more rewarding in life than seeing the lights come back on in somebody’s eyes. And two weeks, three weeks down the line, where they haven’t had a drink or a drug and they’re starting to shift and the lights come back on, you can see the sparkle back in people’s eyes and that’s the zest for life. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, is just seeing someone go from complete and utter annihilation of actually asking help. When they get that gift to desperation it is really a gift of desperation. That moment they can actually ask for help. It’s not an easy feat. It’s probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do is to actually open your mouth and say, “I’ve got drug problem, I really need help.” Our ego, which comes from a place of fear, will not allow us to say, “I’m a fuckin’ mess.” You know what I mean? Because often we’ll surround ourselves with people that make it okay to be that mess.

KARL
Yeah, and I think a lot of people still think addiction is just a choice for people. “Oh, you should just stop.” It’s not, it is an actual illness, it’s an actual illness. And also a lot of it can stem from trauma and the fact that, I’ve had this conversation with people like Alan Cumming and Billy Porter, who’ve been on the show, and we talk about how trauma in of itself is a drug and we get so used to it, don’t we? For those of us, like you mentioned, you’re a victim of sexual abuse. I am too, and horrible shit that went down in my life, and hence why I’ve used tons of drugs and done stupid as well in the past, but it’s almost like when you start to figure out the trauma and you start to deal with it and you can get rid of it, I became like, how do I survive now? I almost thrived on that trauma to keep me going. Does that make sense?

DJ. FAT TONY
Yeah, of course it does. We live on a drama triangle and when we’re on that triangle, everything is a drama, everything. Getting across town is a drama, this is a drama, every phone call you’re on is a drama. And that’s when we’re in that zone where nothing will run smoothly because we thrive off of it, we get high off of it and it’s that whole like, “Oh my God.” And when I was at the end of my using, I used to listen to Mary J. Blige’s “No More Drama” track day in day out, because I was so over the drama, I was so spiritually, emotionally, physically bankrupt, everything had gone. And all I had was drama. Do you know what I mean? And I was so exhausted by it. And it’s not till you get to this point in your life where you’re like, I’d give anything to be drama free some days. It’s just like, I just wanna start home with, like when Taylor’s here, my dog, my boyfriend now. And that for me is the perfect day. I don’t need to be surrounded by drama. But we do, it’s like anything that changes the way we feel, whether it be good or bad, we can be addicted to. Work is another one. I always say this, people think that addicts and alcoholics always end up on the street or on a park bench. They do, some of them do, but the other ones are far worse. The ones that work 24 hours a day, don’t know how to do it, don’t realize that they’re addicts, completely running on ego and fueling their own egos. They’re the ones that are really in danger, and they’re the ones that will walk past the homeless person on the street and look down their nose at them. And I always say, don’t look down your nose and pass judgment on that person, ’cause that person might be the one that helps to save your son or your daughter’s life. That helpless addict on the street one day will get clean and could save your child’s life. Just remember that. And I just think that it’s in all of us. As a kid, I didn’t stand a chance. I was always an an addict. I come from a long, long family. It it’s an inherited disease, addiction. This isn’t something that you go to do shopping and you buy, it’s in us, we’re born with it. It’s how it’s parked and what avenues we go down. A lot of people don’t have addictive personality and go down really healthy routes. And then suddenly they’ll be addicted to the gym. They have to do every day. If they don’t go to the gym, they hate themselves. We get addicted to buying clothes. We get addicted to buying everything. It’s not always a negative. Do you get what I’m saying to you?

KARL
Yeah, no, no, exactly. Exactly. Well, listen, the book is called “I Don’t Take Requests.” DJ Fat Tony, one of the few people in the world who have told Madonna to off. We don’t have enough time to tell that story, but…

DJ. FAT TONY
You have to buy the book for that one.

KARL
You gotta buy the book for that one. DJ Fat Tony, congratulations on your success.

DJ. FAT TONY
Thank you.

KARL
On the ongoing work you’re doing. Thank you for what you do for our community and for those of us living with HIV too, it means a lot. Thank you, DJ Fat Tony.

DJ. FAT TONY
Welcome.

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