Forever Onward: Destigmatizing eating disorders and recovery through song

DRENT (Done Right Every Now and Then), a self-described “emotional rapper” from Pawtucket, prides himself on constantly improving and meeting new challenges. He released his video and song “The Body Keeps the Score II” on May 18 to mark his 30th day of sobriety from food addiction. He has been very open with his family, friends and fans about managing his bulimia, working to stay sober and seeking help when his goal became changing his trajectory. In this second installment in a series of videos, which is an ode to Bessel van der Kolk (renowned psychiatrist and author of the book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma), DRENT’s vision was to show growth, highlight that eating disorders are not a gendered issue and prove that recovery is possible.  

Mayté Antelo-Ovando (Motif): Tell me about Bessel and what the process of making this video was like for you. 

DRENT: The Body Keeps the Score is a great book. Everyone should read it! I’m a big fan of Bessel van der Kolk and the song is an ode to the book, an ode to what trauma can be and how it can be combatted. You can’t eliminate traumatic experiences, [but through] EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), counseling practices and research — there are proven and data-driven ways to combat trauma — reduce the impact on the world, and to make sure it doesn’t get passed on to the next generation. I think anyone who writes [about trauma] acknowledges that there is going to be darkness, and we have to do everything we can to try to fight it and try to make sure that we acknowledge that it’s real. 

When discussing the difference between the first and second videos and songs in this installment, DRENT explained that the first installment was “a little too raw” and perhaps even shocking. In TBKTS2, he collaborated with ZENN MIND, a creative arts specialist featured in the video, to achieve a hopeful depiction of this process and highlight that eating disorders also impact men. 

DRENT: I wanted the video to show growth. And yeah, it’s the idea of sobriety — something I never thought I would ever have to embrace, like, the idea that I’m an addict and that I have triggers.

MA-O: You consider yourself a food addict. Is that right? 

DRENT: Oh, yeah. I have bulimia. And, you know, I’m a binge eater. I was attending Overeaters Anonymous right before the video shoot. And I didn’t really like it, to be honest. I felt like I was waiting too long to speak. And I kind of felt lonely because there’s not really young guys. There’s not really men who go there in general. And, you know, to kind of give you a controversial statement here, I’ve always hoped that the video [would] just spread and just help people. So it’s never mattered to me about view count, but there is this implicit bias. Like, if I had put a woman in that video, and she was vomiting or eating that food, it would create a different reaction, because I think [people feel] it’s more of a woman-related topic. 

And I just think that people don’t know how to process a male going through it. I do think there is this automatic assumption that that’s not a guy issue. Like, don’t worry, if men had that issue, they just go to the gym, and they just work it out. Or they just have a belly and they date a girl who accepts them for their belly, or they’re just a beer drinker. And that’s their look, and they wear a flannel. I’ve just wanted people to see [this] and be like, “Oh! This is relatable.” I want people to just connect to it. But I do wonder sometimes, if I had been more calculated — if I had said, “I’m going to put a woman in those scenes, by a toilet” or “I’m going to make a woman eat fast food in front of a camera,” would it give a different reaction to the people who see it? There is that sort of pressure to ask, “What is going to get people to see this the most?” And [wondering] well, I’m a man [so] people don’t relate to this.

MA-O: if I can offer you anything from my experience as a clinician, I think that what you’re doing is shedding light on the fact that it isn’t only women who are experiencing this. And the point you’ve made about men not talking about it– just because men don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen or exist. For me personally, listening to the song and watching the video, it was very powerful to know that this is your story.

D: Yeah, if you write a song that maybe is connected to you, but people don’t know why. Right? We’re like rappers, we’ll just write about a topic, and then be like, this is for anyone who’s gone through this. But then it’s like, how is it about you? I want to know, how does this local rapper — how did you deal with it? For me, I just leave it all on the table. When you see DRENT, I’m not gonna hide anything, and some people are going to take to it, [and] some are going to be like, “This is cool, but I’m gonna keep my distance. That’s not my thing.” And I’m just gonna salute you from a distance. 

And, I think getting back to [something] you kind of touched on, trauma doesn’t discriminate. The only way you’re going to be able to not allow people to experience the same thing historically, over and over again, is to understand that trauma impacts everybody. I think we get too caught up on [labels] instead of understanding that it’s a disease and it will destroy anybody. And I think we as a country, I think we as a society have lost the ability to, to fight the actual problems.

MA-O: So, I wrote down some of the lyrics, because I wanted to ask you specifically about them. “Dawn to dusk what is missing, neural pathways hidden in my limbic system…” 

D: Limbic system yeah. EMDR [has been] a big changing point in my life in terms of how I process trauma. So yeah, when I said “dusk to dawn” and “what is hidden and what is written” for both parts of the chorus, [it was] the idea of what I’m fighting, [within] myself. There’s a lot of times where I would come home from seeing my girl and I would eat something. And I would put the food in the trash, or like I would try to get rid of it. And then like “the neural pathways hidden in my limbic system,” the idea of, you know, the memories and all the things that are causing me to eat, in my head. I process them [but] it’s still stuck in my head and I haven’t moved forward. When I wrote [those lyrics], I was just like, yeah, I’m stuck. I’m traumatized. This is a part of why I need to get sober because if I don’t, I’m just going to stay here. I’m going to be that, same as the memory.

MA-O: What you’re saying connects really well to my next lyric question. “If I can’t ease the pain, I’ll go insane and start feeding on my emotions.” 

D: Yeah, it’s funny, like, I just went off beat [but not] and wrote a two bar thing where I just said my feelings for a second. And it’s true. The whole point of emotional eating is to be numbing. And to, like, escape the emotion, you know? It’s funny — watching the video back, like, shit, that’s me. That’s been me for so long. And I’m almost numb to it, you know. In some ways, everybody has their own little sort of tragedy inside them. And they’re all trying to fix it and heal it. 

MA-O: What’s coming to me right now, based on what you’ve shared is that the way to heal is to acknowledge trauma’s presence. It’s to actually feel the emotions — to quote you — rather than to eat them.

D: Yeah. For [a while] I didn’t care. And then I made a conscious choice to say it’s important to me, then I did care. I think no matter how many times someone tells you to do something, until you decide to do it, it’s not going to make a difference. 

MA-O: So very true. I love what you said, where you’re watching and saying, “Shit, that’s me.” That’s you, showing yourself to the world. So, I’m wondering, what do you do when emotions around all of this come up for you? How do you cope?

D: See, I don’t really feel like that. I’m proud of what I did. This is who I am. It’s always been who I am. You’ve met me. People can see me as intense. People might see me as an oversharing human being. But I’m me. And like, I’ve always wanted to connect with people. I’ve always wanted to just share. And the only way to do that is to be authentic. I’m not out here trying to hide. 

MA-O: Close to the end of the song there’s a point where you say, “I gotta keep trying. I’m going to try.” And I’m pretty sure you look at the camera at that moment.

D: Yeah, it was so sick. I say “I got to keep trying, I have to keep going. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s I have to try.” First of all, let’s just get into the fact that my engineer was such a genius, cuz I said, “I’m tired of keeping score [being] the main vocal.” And he [said] “No, we’re gonna minimize that and just have you talk and say your thoughts as the chorus.” Sean Dizzy Blade was literally just like, “Everyone knows the theme already. They need to know what’s going on inside your head.”

My whole life I’ve had to try… and I don’t want to die. I think about my anxiety a lot. And the panic that I’ve had over the last four or five years of my life. And I just got to keep going. And it’s the same right? With the eating disorder. Even if I slip up, even if I have a moment where I feel weak, I got to keep going. Someone told me recently, recovery is (not) linear. Like, it’s not this thing about being perfect or, or trying to be in a straight line. Recovery [has] ups and downs. And I don’t want to be perfect either. There are days where I get really down, and I want like a soda. And then there’s days where I feel really good. And I go for a run, and I run a mile and a half. I think the one thing I’ve learned now turning 30, and going to be 31 in about five months is getting through a day is much more powerful than trying to get through like a year.

MA-O: At the end of the video, you have information for the National Eating Disorder Hotline. When it came on I literally said, “That is so cool!” out loud. Why did you choose to do that? I’m also curious about the phrase “Forever onward,” which is how you sign off. I feel like it’s such a great way to talk about trauma recovery and the healing process.

D: When we shot the first TBKTS, which was actually during National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, we [added] the hotline. To be quite honest, it didn’t really take off the way I was expecting it to, so I [wondered], should we do it again? And I spoke to a couple of people, to my best friend, Bruce AllOne and he said “No, you definitely need to put a hotline in there because it’s necessary.” I spoke to my girlfriend [too] and she summed it up kind of perfectly… You’re wondering whether [it matters] “instead of knowing that you’ve already made a difference.” 

We also put up a message about the book, and dedicated this to anyone who [devotes] their lives to trauma and “undoing ruin” [another band’s song]. And, forever onward. I mean, just the thought of it. I’m just moving forward. My healing is a constant journey, and sobriety is a never-ending battle. It’s something that you forever push forward. There’s light and darkness, and that the only way to heal whatever we have — in me and other people — is to just move forward, like forever onward. 

MA-O: I thought it was great. A really unique phrase in some ways. 

D: I be sending Jesse the Tree these two bar lines that I’d be thinking of while I’m driving and he’d be like, “My God, like, what are you doing?” I’d be thinking shit like all the time, like -yo, this line sounds kind of cool! I’ll just send it to people. And they’ll be like, “Yeah, that’s fire.”

MA-O: When I read what you wrote about thanking people for the work that they/we do, that was so nice to see, too. It doesn’t really happen very often (outside of clinical circles). So, thank you for that.

D: We need therapists, we need human service workers. We need to pay people more for the work that they do in that field. This isn’t a political statement, either, whether you’re on the right or the left, we need people in the local, state and federal level, if they’re going to make promises to people about tragedies, and to people who have been affected by mental health, trauma — to either put up or shut up. Because at this point in time, America and the rest of the world has seen everything under the sun, and there’s just really no excuse. There’s absolutely, in my opinion, no excuse for people not to feel that they have a chance to live a safer and less traumatizing life while living in America.

MA-O: Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of a wonderful way to end this. Is there anything else you want to say about the video, or the song? 

D: I want people to talk about body image more. I want people to see it and understand that eating junky food — overeating — is a relatable thing that goes on in society. And I think that the struggle to have fewer portions, servings, especially for men, the idea of having a belly, and looking a certain way is difficult. And I think men are being marketed to- more like women, in the regard of body image where you have to be perfect. You have to have abs, wear like skinny jeans and have the bathing suit and have your stomach not show, or if you have a belly, you have to look a certain way. And I think there’s no real feeling of just, hey, that’s me. 

I want people to understand that they’re not alone. Whether it’s a man, woman, non-binary, like whoever it is like I just want people to relate to it. In terms of addiction, this is something that I think about a lot. When you do drugs, there is this sort of bad connotation or good connotation. But food is really hard when it comes to addiction. Because you need it to survive, you need to eat it every day. But there is the sort of [feeling of], I’m eating you. I’m addicted to you. You’re triggering. I need to portion you out. So, there’s all this touch and go. This feeling of I want it, I don’t want it. I can only eat this. And it can get very complicated very quickly. 

And so, I think for me, the video was really more about just saying, look, regardless of what you eat, regardless of what bothers you, the point is that whether you overeat, or undereat, it is difficult, it is a complex issue. And it is not something that is easily fixable unless you acknowledge what it is.  

And I think people are tired of keeping score too. Who wants to wake up every day [and count]? Like sobriety should be a thing where we embrace moving forward. And being like — forever onward — the idea that we’re progressing. And I think a lot of people, when they make those choices, there’s this sort of shame of, “Oh, I gotta look back, and I gotta count my mistakes and see what I’ve done wrong and oh, I gotta make sure I don’t do that again.” Sobriety, change, progressing, being an advocate for yourself — those things are– Like you said earlier, change is not something that is a straight line. It’s something that comes in waves. 

TBKTSII- Video and Production

For more info, follow DRENT @drentparty.