After battling his own addiction, Brian McCall, under the name “B-RAiN” brings recovery focused rap music around the country.
Brian has been sober for almost a decade, tours with his group Cloud Gang, helping break the stigma around addiction treatment and connect those in recovery. As an Outreach Coordinator at Foundations Recovery Center, Brian helps people get into treatment, and begin on the path to recovery.
Brian, who grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, can look back and see the early beginnings of what was to come. There’s no one thing that Brian attributes his addiction to, but he mentions the “noise,” feelings of isolation from others, and low self-esteem and self-worth that affected the way he interacted with the world around him.
After they divorced early in his life, Brian felt his parents pulled him different directions, amplifying his internal conflict. His bad behavior, stealing, fighting and acting out, helped him find some temporary reprieve from the “noise,” or at least the way that people reacted and looked at him matched up with the way he felt about himself.
This behavior also meant that he had experience with institutions from an early age. After being kicked out of a private school early in middle school, he entered a behavior modification program the summer after 6th grade. This stay did not last long, Brian’s dad pulled him out of the program in short order.
After multiple cycles of being arrested and short stays in jail, Brian ended up completing his high school years at another behavior modification program across the country, in Coos Bay, Oregon. It was in Oregon, Brian says, that he learned how to write: “When you got in trouble, you had to write, so I ended up writing a lot.”
At the end of the program, Brian was not the left with the tools to continue moving forward, just time away from home and away from drugs. “Good luck, don’t get high and get a job” was the extent of the advice he was left with.
He lasted little more than week after returning home. Unable to reconcile staying clean with his own self-identity, Brian quickly returned to using drugs. His drug use picked up, and he returned to cycle of arrest and short stints in jail for possession and theft.
Soon, Brian began sticking people up, describing the rush from the crime as another high he started to seek. Brian grappled with these addictions until he was arrested around 2006, and faced significant jail time for his armed robberies.
From prison, Brian had the opportunity to seek drug treatment as part of a diversion program. He did not last long, although he remained clean, Brian was uninterested in following the rules of the program and ended up returning to prison after a few months.
During his prison sentence, Brian’s father died from an overdose, crushing him. “That was tough. To me my dad was Superman, regardless of whether he was homeless, nodding out, or a junkie, he was always my Superman, he could do no wrong” he says. Brian and his dad had plans to continue using drugs together after he got out, but his father’s death left him listless.
Brian got a second chance to enter a diversion program, and completed the program, breaking and bending rules along the way, leaving staff at the facility uninspired about his chances for long-term sobriety. “You’re just a bag of dope walking out the door, you’ll be back,” these words echoed in his head.
However, one counselor approached him, and got through to him. “Look, you don’t have to stay clean forever, but just try it, try it for six months, do everything they say to do. Go to meetings every single day, get a sponsor, get a home group, get a service position.”
“If they are going to a dance, go to the dance, if they are going out to dinner after the meeting, go out to dinner with them. Just give it a shot, and if you don’t like where your life is in six months, and you’ve given one hundred percent, done everything you can, taken every suggestion, and you don’t like where your life is at, go ahead and use.”
“The drugs will be there, the liquor will be there, the police will be there, there’s always more dirt to put over your body if you die.”
Brian committed himself to that idea, began attending meetings, and met people who loved him unconditionally. Brian found a type of love and care that he had not felt before, he says, and he stayed clean, got a sponsor and a home group, and he really worked the program.
Along the way, Brian met a smaller group inside the community, focused on creating music. He always considered himself a “closet rapper,” rapping when he was in the car, or by himself, and with the support of those around him, Brian began making music.
Brian, who eventually developed the stage name B-RAiN, recorded his first song in 2013 and never looked back, growing and learning as an artist, playing local venues and organizing shows for his fans.
After two years, the group of artists went their separate ways, but not before they created Cloud Gang. The Cloud Gang refers to the “pink cloud,” the high-on-life feeling in the early stages of sobriety that many addicts encounter. The Cloud Gang is more than the artists, it brings together fans, friends and family to help recapture that feeling, but also provide support through dark times.
Brian continued spreading the Cloud Gang, continued performing and organizing shows, and grew his circle. As B-RAiN became more popular, fans began reaching out directly, and he found another passion in helping others.
While working a desk job, Brian found that he was drawn further into helping people, spending every break and all of his downtime either creating music, or helping someone who had reached out to him. The natural movement led him to working at Foundations Recovery Center, as an outreach coordinator.
“It made sense after coming to the facility, seeing how nice of a facility it is, seeing the staff, and not just seeing their credentials, but knowing who they are as people,” Brian says. “it just made sense to come work at Foundations.”
Brian describes his role as that of a “navigator,” equipped with the knowledge and the resources in the community to help anyone who contacts him, regardless of whether they end up here. The network he has created, through music and through his work, allows him to find the best situation for anyone who reaches out.
The earliest B-RAiN and Cloud Gang shows involved simply showing up at open mics, usually hosted at local bars or music venues. However, Brian wanted to find a place that was not only safe, but truly comfortable, a place where recovering addicts, along with their friends and family, can celebrate their recovery together, and build for the future.
Foundations provides the family support that can be a missing component of addiction treatment. Family members may want to help, but do not know enough about the disease of addiction, and how to create a healthy home situation for the people that they love.
Brian’s mom was always his rock, trying to set him up for success and keep him away from trouble. However, he says that he sees now that she wasn’t equipped to understand his addiction find him the help he needed. At Foundations we can offer that to families, and help to heal broken relationships and find solutions.
Psychoeducation about the disease of addiction is available, as well as hands-on sessions between therapists and family members, to provide support from every angle. Keeping open communication and providing education is vital to support long term success in recovery.
“Being in recovery, the biggest thing that’s kept me clean is being of service,” he says. “To be able to be of service and make music, which I love to do, and to have those align together on the same field, it’s beyond my wildest dreams. To see people come in just as broken as I was, and watch them come back to life, and go out and help other people, that’s how it works.”