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Soul Seeking with Kevin Sousa

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Kevin SOusa

Kevin Sousa and The Crossing play Saint Rocke Saturday night. Photo by Tracy Bennett

“There was a seminal moment where I asked myself how honest I was going to be with this, with the reader… and I said fuck it, I gotta put out what’s me.”

Bold and powerful words, if not raw, from 41-year old Hermosa Beach resident, former Mira Costa High School teacher and Beach Sports instructor, waterman, therapist, and musician Kevin Sousa. He’s a bighearted man, known and regarded warmly by many throughout the South Bay. Perched upon his stool, leaning over his guitar, splicing your first name into songs, so as to ensure he’s singing to you personally; the seemingly jovial performer long grappled with a darkness almost as mammoth as his reputation.

“I’ve always known I was an alcoholic… I was in rehab a couple of times in the mid ‘90s… It was easy in this town to maintain that behavior. It’s like a nonstop party here if you want, but it really started to suck the soul out of me… I believed I had a greater purpose, to matter in this world. I wanted to help people.”

A journey: From addict, to paddler, to master, to artist, to therapist. He lays it open, bare naked and real.

“Here’s the deal man: What you see is what you get with me. Part of the danger of the addictive lifestyle is the secretiveness of it. Holding onto those secrets can have deadly consequences. I have to live an open life… I wasn’t being real with myself for so long…

The material world

It was 18 years ago when Sousa slammed into the Pacific Ocean, finding a home far away from his demons.

“I came out here running from a lot of stuff… basically ran as far as I could until I hit water,” he says. “It’s still like the Wild West to some degree – people come out for a second chance, or to find themselves. Everything that’s kind of loose kind of just rolls into this corner… If you shook up the country, everything loose just rolls down into Southern California.”

But what happens when the demons you fly from are actually riding first class within you…

“I’ve always been an alcoholic,” Sousa explains. “Listen, the alcohol is just a symptom of what I have. I’ve had this for as long as I can remember… I was a nervous kid, and when I took my first drink it was this amazing elixir. I felt normal, at the age of 13.”

…And you land in party central?

“This town knows how to turn it up a notch. We live in a vacation paradise, and there’s always people looking for a good time.”

In the wake of budget cuts and shifting sands, after teaching Video Production, Theatre Arts, and coaching Surf Team at MCHS from 2001-2009, Sousa found himself playing music occupationally five to six nights a week.

He recalls, “The music just kinda took off for me… I built Thursday nights at Shark’s Cove, next thing you know I was playing at every bar on the pier from Hermosa to Manhattan, and teaching surf lessons.”

If the bar acts as the vascular system of a club, then perhaps the stage is the heart that fuels the rhythm with cause to sustain the beat. Sousa’s pedestal placed him in prime position to absorb the essence of the show surrounding him.

“It’s a ringside seat to this town. From first dates, to the underage, to cougars, to the drug deals going down right in front of me… There was shit left in my tip bucket that you couldn’t believe.”

And it was all indulged. Sousa submerged into a world of drug abuse, alcohol, and people; and his spirit became increasingly lost in the sea of fun.

“In the throes of drug addiction you’re in a material world,” he says. “You’re stuck there, and nothing else matters.”

Slow suicide

“I have lived most of my life vacillating between the points of two poles, love and fear, propelled to their extremes by drug or substance abuse.”

Sousa illustrates how his soul became transparent, while swimming through the void between material and spiritual realms, by dropping anchor in the material shallows.

“For me it’s a spiritual problem,” he says. “There’re people that are normal who do that [perpetual party]… But when the drinking and drugs don’t work no more, when you can’t get high no more – you’re fucked! You can’t be high and you can’t get sober, and it’s a miserable existence to live in that state.”

He continues. “So you’ve got this spiritual realm, that in the throes of addiction you’re not even aware of, because you’ve anesthetized yourself so you don’t have to feel those things… I was so on that materialistic base, searching for fulfillment through people, places, and things… because you can’t dare look inside your soul… because it’s vacant…”

Like the meeting between a carpenter attempting to lay his level on undulating oceanic swells, and a seasick sailor praying for a flat horizon, Sousa began to burn for balance.

He explains, “You can’t be too spiritual, just like you can’t be too material – you have to hold the tension of those opposites. I want to walk in between. I’ve read it’s like having your feet on the ground and your head in the clouds… It’s the shifting of that psychic energy… Physically, to change my body, knowing mentally that my spirit would hopefully follow… Living only in a material world, with primitive behaviors driven by pure libidinal energy, leads to a life out of balance, and the result is a soulless vacuum.”

“The spiritual bankruptcy that we feel and the utter lack of soul can lead to deadly consequences… I was hours away from a trip to the hospital for an overdose. I had totally isolated myself from life. Fear ruled me; I was terrified and in no condition to see or speak to my wife asleep in our bed in the next room. The dog’s pleading stare made me feel alone, helpless, and dirty. The life that I had been living… was a sham.”

Sousa was headed in one eventual direction.

“That shadow side of that life,” he says. “It’s life or death, it’s life or death… The life of someone that has what I have is a slow suicide. There were so many mornings that I shouldn’t have woken up but I did, ya know?”

Kevin Sousa

Kevin Sousa surfing north of the Manhattan Beach pier last week. Photo by Mara Laine

Mastering, mending, and music

“I woke up when I was sitting with a client at my traineeship…”

From a life of inner-struggle, and the lingering base desire to help others, Sousa got the idea to become a therapist. He began training, but within a quick month had realized he would first need to help himself.

He continues about the client. “I was counseling him for substance abuse… I started giving him shit for, like, not taking care of himself, and I was being directive with him … And I was hung over at the time! When he walked out, I just felt so inauthentic that I knew it was time to face my addictions and my alcoholism.”

Sousa realized that he could only take clients as far as he dared to go himself. As a youth, he hid under the guise of projection. “I was a victim… my parents’ fault, my friends’ fault, religion’s fault, no one understood me… It was a slow, painful process,” he says. “I did everything I could to get in my way.”

As an adult, his head became buried in the sands of addiction. Feeling a mix of guilt for half-assing so many other livelihoods before, and a responsibility for the well being of potential future clients, he decided to go for it. With a BA degree under his belt, he determined to go further than ever before and wage war on his addictive nature. War, not battle – because battles end, but wars can last forever.

“I quit everything on October 4, 2010,” Sousa proclaims. “Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy… everything I could get my grubby paws on that was given to me at the bars…”

It all culminated in the multi-faceted commitment to pursue a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, while concurrently training for the Catalina Classic paddle board race, with the presiding concept to compose a thesis which would document his path to sobriety, accompanied by a production component of a 3-part musical piece to the same effect.

“What I decided to do for my [master’s] thesis was to document getting sober and training for the Catalina Classic; and through art, share the experience. With the thesis that it will have some kind of healing and repairing nature, for me. There’s an element of art therapy. In sharing my experience, I’m hoping that if even one person who reads this [thesis], or looks at my work, or listens [to the music], they’ll realize that they’re not alone and there’s a better way.”

It’s titled, “Soul Seeking: A Crossing.”

“Originally, the intended extent of this thesis was a record of the shifting of psychic energies from dark to light through attempting the physical task of getting sober, training for, and completing the Catalina Classic,” he wrote in his thesis. “This plan was, however, missing something. This story yearned to be told not solely through the academic form of the written word but through a powerful means of expression… the creation of music and song.”

Sousa is a musician and singer, after all. The musical accompaniment, set in an emotionally evocative, beachy alternative rock, is Act I: Imaginal Surrender, Act II: Present State of Mind, Act III: Crossing.

Sousa expounds. “The first song is about making a decision to get sober, it ruled Act I… 2nd Act is about training for the paddle… 3rd is about the actual paddle itself, and the result of finding my soul through the whole process.”

The band has become known as Kevin Sousa and The Crossing, a collaboration of local musicians surrounding Sousa’s powerful, rock-oriented, singer-songwriter core. The Crossing features Tony Gonella of Sand Section (bass), Mike Sutherland of Fallen Rivera and Sand Section (drums), and Chris Hanna of South Side Heroes (lead guitar).

Sousa continues, “The creation and sharing of these songs as a means of intimate expression has produced profound healing in me, as it has assisted in processing emotions and feelings that for so long lay dormant due to anesthetizing myself through continued and habitual abuse of drugs and alcohol.”

“I really want to thank the music community for embracing this project,” he adds. “It’s an honor to be a member of this scene here. It’s a phenomenal scene in the South Bay that I think a lot of people aren’t aware of. There’s a ton of live music going on around here all the time.”

Crossings

“I wrote my thesis out on that paddle board and while surfing, in my head… There’s the image of when you’re in that place: the throes of addiction, that you can feel like you’re on an island, isolated… So there’s a powerful image of paddling on your hands and knees back to the mainland – back to sanity.”

Sousa had never touched a paddle board to water before last March. By June he’d completed the 22-mile Rock to Rock, and in August he conquered the 32-mile Catalina Classic.

His life has been set aright. Sousa is currently pursuing a PhD in Depth Psychotherapy from the same Pacifica Graduate Institute where he completed his master’s, in Carpenteria. He is also actively interning as a Marriage and Family therapist, and will be working with Playa Counseling Group in Hermosa Beach within the next few months.

While he’d never have made it without his own fierce determination, he also acknowledges that he couldn’t do it alone; any of it. Whether meeting regularly with experienced fellows, breathing soundly with a meditation guru, or finding encouragement throughout the local music community or his favorite dog Jaxon, there was always a partner behind Sousa. His wife Patti.

“You have loved me and believed in me through some of the darkest periods of my life,” he wrote in his thesis. “You created space for me to change and supported me through this thoroughly selfish endeavor, these crossings never happen without your love. I did this for us, so that we could have a life free from fear and filled with love, light, and happiness. You deserve nothing less.”

Kevin Sousa and The Crossing play Saint Rocke on Saturday, Feb 18 in Hermosa Beach, where they’ll be performing Acts I-III of Soul Seeking: A Crossing – the complete musical component of Sousa’s production thesis, which will soon be available on iTunes. Opening set by Chris Shaw, show at 7 p.m., doors at 6. Both Sousa’s Soul Seeking: A Crossing and the EP More Stars Than Sand, as well as the band Sand Section, can be heard on DirtyHippieRadio.com. Another dirty secret would have you researching Sousa as lyricist and guitarist of the late ‘90s band Noris. ER

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