“I snorted way too much cocaine,” they say. “And I realized something had to change. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘People are dying out here doing the best they can. Someone would really love to be in this position.’”
Gulley stopped it all: the drinking, the coke, everything. And in the years since, they’ve developed a reputation as Eye Moon the Experience, a multi-talented singer crafting soulful records and shooting their own visuals. Yet they weren’t content to enjoy their own sobriety. They felt better than they had in, well, ever, and wanted friends and fellow artists to feel the same way.
“I felt like there was much more that I needed to be doing,” they say. So Gulley, now 37, decided to create a platform for sobriety, a place where people could share their stories of sobriety, get resources and learn from others. In effect, they wanted to create a community. As an artist, lyricist, band member and videographer, Gulley had already enjoyed numerous creative endeavors. But this platform could be their most important artwork yet.
“I consider this art,” they say. “It takes creativity to reach someone.”
Gulley has always been a performer. Growing up in Texarkana, the young musician honed their chops with frequent classroom freestyles, often poking fun at classmates, riffing off whatever came to mind.
“I was the class clown because I was depressed,” Gulley says. “I felt insecure about my gender, my sexuality, my family was falling apart, my parents were getting divorced. At the same time, I realized I wanted to be an entertainer. I was addicted to making people laugh, making them feel good.”
Oftentimes that freestyling landed Gulley in hot water. Calls from principals became common. When the troublemaking became too much for their mother to handle, Gulley’s family sent them to live with their aunt in Little Rock, Arkansas. It was there that they discovered rap music and started writing their own lyrics.
“I just wanted to spit everything out,” they say. “I was dealing with this separation, so everything I wrote was pretty depressing. But I had to get it out.”
Gulley was just 14. Over the next several years, they kept writing, kept spitting out the sadness, the vitriol, the loneliness. No matter what they wrote, they couldn’t escape their loneliness and listlessness. So at 18, they enlisted in the military, if for no other reason than it was something to do.
“I was living in the country, and I wanted to leave behind a life that was hurtful to me,” they say.
“I realized I wanted to be an entertainer. I was addicted to making people laugh, making them feel good." –Eye Moon the Experience
Their military career didn’t last long. This was the era of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and while Gulley denies doing anything against regulation (let alone anything immoral) the military accused them of fraternizing with other recruits and gave Gulley the boot with an “other than honorable” discharge. Afterward, Gulley spiraled, picking up alcohol, selling drugs and eventually developing a cocaine habit. They bounced around, spending some time in Little Rock and some time in Florida. In summer 2016, Gulley arrived in Dallas.
“I didn’t know where I was going, so I went to a shelter,” Gulley says. They eventually found a place to stay, found some friends and even found a band called One Night Stand. None of it helped the cocaine habit, which had followed Gulley across the country. Then came that fateful overdose, the one that ended with the artist in the hospital. They spent the next few weeks trying to kick the habit while responding to a flurry of messages.
“People were hitting me up, sharing their own stories about addiction,” they say. “I didn’t want to keep all of this in my inbox. I needed to create a platform where people can have an outlet.”
Thus, Back to Sobriety was born. The project is currently just a website, but expansion plans are already underway. Gulley created a series of videos for the project’s website, then realized they wanted many more voices and perspectives.
“I started filming myself, and I realized I should get people talking about their journey through these documentary-style films,” they say.
The pandemic intensified the mission. Locked in their homes, more people have been using opioids. Alcohol sales have spiked.
“This idea started way before the pandemic, but seeing what this has done to people gave me that extra push, that extra motivation to get to work and get stuff out there.”
Years from now, the artist hopes their platform will be much more than a website.
“I hope for people to click on a Back to Sobriety app, and I want there to be so many different therapists and counselors providing discounted services,” they say. “I want it to be a community. I want it to make people healthier.”