By Leslie D. Rose
Baton Rouge poet and high school teacher William Brian Sain is sober today.
He said that if he can tell you the same thing tomorrow, then he considers himself to be okay. Sain, a native of rural Oklahoma, doesn’t count the days of sobriety; rather, he counts his lucky stars that fate still holds him on this side of the earth.
He came to Baton Rouge on a mission. He’d always been interested in reading, writing, and studying English and German, and he had done so functionally while simultaneously stroking alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine addictions. He had done well in college at LSU and landed a job in his desired career. Then in January 2013, his world came crashing down around him.
“I pretty much hit a wall,” he said. “I stopped smoking methamphetamine after being locked up on a felony drug charge. I stopped smoking crack after I got in a car wreck from which I was a thread away from death. I always comforted myself by reassuring myself that at least I wasn’t doing this or that. So what, I was drinking a lot? I wasn’t smoking crack anymore.”
He was headed to court for his second DUI and a Marijuana possession charge.
“My rap sheet was building. I had a total of seven drug charges on my record, and I felt the walls closing in. I was falling into the same trap as many of my friends growing-up. My entire circle was disappearing, and I realized it wasn’t long before I was next.”
Sain had been court ordered to rehab a few times before, but this time he would be doing so on his own merit. It was a suggestion from his mentor Dwayne Davis that ultimately saved his life.
Receiving treatment from the intensive outpatient program (IOP) of The O’Brien House, Sain said there were lots of requirements, one of which was to find a community to belong that was non-drug related.
“I knew it was poetry,” he said. “I have the same addiction to poetry as I do to crack or meth, but poetry isn’t murdering me—it’s healing me.”
Sain cut his teeth at The Eclectic Truth poetry slam and open mic – then held at Northgate Tavern, near LSU. He attended twice before the venue closed. But he said it was the now-defunct Soul by Demand’s Soul’d Out Sundays open mic that changed everything for him.
“I began reading regularly at those readings. I felt supported at these events, especially from Donney [Rose],” he said.
“It was important that not only was I reading poems every week, but that I was reading poems about my addiction. Dwayne said it was going to heal me. So I began writing my addiction away. It was the only thing I had to look forward to. Summer 2013 was literally me going to IOP classes, reading books, and writing all week waiting for Sunday to see these people who loved the same thing I loved. The shit worked. If you think about it, it was perfect.”
Sain, who once hung out with drug addicts because of shared interest was now part of a safe space of people with the shared interest of poetry.
“That’s how recovery works – you have to fill the void,” he said. “Before Soul’d Out Sundays I was replacing drugs with other drugs – now I was replacing drugs with poetry.”
Nearly two years since his change of fate, Sain has been a two-time member of Baton Rouge’s National Poetry Slam team and is the Editor-in-Chief of the upcoming Next Left Press poetry anthology TURN. And he is a tenth grade English teacher, hoping to promote the message of self-accountability.
“My main goal as a teacher is to get students to question, at my own peril, everything,” he said. “Stand on your own two feet, if you will. I also get the opportunity to work with some amazing kids, who come from some grim backgrounds. They have some seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them; nevertheless, they never cease to amaze me in their resilience.”
These days Sain isn’t living his stories, rather he is sharing them in poetic form, through laughter and a partnership that he said holds him accountable.
“Poetry keeps me sober,” he said. “I met this wonderful human being named Desiree Dallagiacomo. She keeps me sober. Someone I share my life with and someone who has never seen me strung-out. I work for her never to see me strung-out.”
With poetry, his career and Dallagiacomo, a poet of world renown, by his side, Sain acknowledges that every day is a representation of who he has become, but just for that one day.
“I’m not trying to make it to one hundred days sober, I’m trying to make it to midnight sober,” he said. “When it’s midnight, I’m trying to make it another twenty-four hours.
When I’m on drugs, drugs become my priority. When my art becomes secondary to drugs, I fade away. I’m good at using drugs. I mastered the art of drugs. But mastery in drugs comes with jail sentences and health decline/death. My goal now, is to master the art of poetry and live. I will always love drugs, but I love living/freedom more.”