Calgary radio host opens up about his decision to go sober

CJAY 92 morning host JD Lewis has decided to cut booze out for the sake of his mental health

By Leanne Murray | June 28, 2022 |5:00 am

JD Lewis got this tattoo meaning “without sun” as inspiration to never live a day without light.

Photo: Submitted

Sans soleil is French for “without sun”.

It’s also a new song by Canadian rock band Alexisonfire and the inspiration behind local radio host JD Lewis’ newest tattoo.

The host of the CJAY 92 morning show says for too long he felt like a plant without sunlight and the song penned by Alexisonfire guitarist Wade MacNeil hit home.

With powerful lyrics like “It’s been dark for days, sans soleil” and “It’s easier to love someone else than it is to be kind to yourself”, Lewis got the name of the song tattooed on his collarbone as a reminder of how dark things got for him and how he doesn’t want to live a day without light again.

Lewis took to social media last week to post a photo of his new ink and explain why he decided to go sober.

Saying bye to booze

In an interview with Calgary Citizen, he says he was struggling for the past several months, justifying to himself that being hungover was just part of being an adult and the price you pay for a fun night out.

“Honestly, it got more and more debilitating. To the point where I was finding if I even just went for one beer, it wasn’t just that the subsequent days were hell. It was like the minute I ingested anything, it was poison for my brain,” he says.

“I just couldn’t believe how quickly I could lose the plot and lose control of my brain.”

Lewis says he had some of the worst depressive and suicidal thoughts of his life and that he didn’t like where things were going.

“I saw a trend and I thought to myself, ‘geez, if this is where we’re headed, I don’t think I’m going to like the ending to this movie. So we better change something.’”

It was scary, Lewis says, experiencing long periods that were objectively awful after drinking, which were getting longer and more severe over time.

Liquor and the radio industry

Lewis says he ended up building a life that orbited alcohol due to the nature of his industry.

“It’s an incredibly social thing but especially in media, and in radio, it’s just a big part of it,” Lewis explains.

“After you learn how to turn the microphone on and how to not screw up talking over the Led Zeppelin intro, you start going for beers. I’m not suggesting that it was ever forced upon me, I really don’t think it was, but it’s just always been such an option.”

Lewis says drinking ended up becoming a significant part of his identity.

“I just figured that was a big part of the job and, by proxy, a big part of me.”

He even hosts a segment on his show called Whiskey of the Week. Lewis laughs at his co-host Jesse Modz’s suggestion that they rebrand it Water of the Week.

Grateful for support

Lewis says his peers, co-workers, management, listeners, and social media followers have all been extremely supportive of his decision to give up booze.

But, it goes beyond that.

“Total strangers reaching out with incredibly kind words of support and people sharing their stories and their journeys and there’s a ton of power in that.”

Lewis says it’s been humbling to know how many people have his back.

“I don’t think I realized how big my platform and my reach was and there’s a real potential to hopefully do some good here,” he says, adding he wants to help normalize talking about mental health, especially for men. 

Using the platform for good

Lewis’ mentor and former longtime CJAY morning host Gerry Forbes taught him there was no sense in having a platform if you don’t try to do something good with it.

Shining a light on men’s mental health is important to Lewis — who has been very open in the past about his struggles.

“As guys, we’re just so bad at talking about it, which is wild because we’re twice as likely to commit suicide. And yet, we’re so terrible at just speaking out loud,” he says

Lewis has used this analogy before but says he finds it interesting that men will openly talk about minor physical injuries sustained during recreational sports but have a hard time talking about feeling sad, angry, or scared.

“I think if we can get better at talking about it, we’re literally going to save some lives,” he says, adding he will do his part to make the dialogue more normal and less stigmatized.

Saying the ugly stuff out loud

Sometimes you have to say the ugly stuff out loud, Lewis says, adding he isn’t trying to turn himself into a social pariah with his decision to cut out alcohol indefinitely.

“It was really just me trying to keep myself alive, not to sound overly dramatic or morose. But that’s really kind of what it boiled down to,” he says.

“I’m done until I can pick up a pint, have a drink from it, and not want to die. It’s just not a healthy thing for me right now. So, I’m ready to be done until it is a healthy thing again.”

Lewis acknowledges that that may never happen, and he’s fine with that.

He says he has been hiding for a while and hasn’t been enjoying large parts of his life because he almost felt like alcohol was a prerequisite.

“Now that I’ve learned it doesn’t have to be that way, that people want me to show up even if I don’t have a glass of beer in my hand, I feel like I can do all the things that I was doing before that I’d stopped doing. Whether that’s just more time with friends and family or pouring myself into some other creative ventures.”

Optimistic for the future

Lewis says he has some exciting projects coming down the pipe and feels reinspired — like the wind is returning to his sails.

He’s been wanting to write a children’s book for the past three or four years and hopes to have it published by this Christmas.

“It’s going to be about a kid who saves a rock show. That’s all I’ll say for now,” Lewis teases.

For now, Lewis is looking into his dry future with optimism.

“I’m looking forward to doing what I do, but doing it with clarity, with lucidity, with a whole lot more gratitude, and hopefully just seeing what it’s like to be me as the best version of myself.”

Lewis’ message for others who are thinking about kicking the booze is, “If I’m worth the work, then so are you”, adding he wishes he’d done it sooner.

“I wish I’d gotten out of my own way and just taken that leap of faith. It’s scary and it’s daunting and it’s a lot of other things, but above all else, it feels good. It’s exciting. And I guess I not only would encourage anybody who’s on the fence about it to take that leap of faith but above all else, to know that you’re worth that leap of faith. You really are worth it.”

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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