Sterling Fairfield on living with Crohn's in Castle Pines
I met Sterling Fairfield when I was a rambunctious, obnoxious punk at Santiago High School in Corona, CA. My brother got insanely good, almost inhumanly talented at the guitar after he flipped a dune buggy in Baja California and the doctors loaded him up on Oxycontin and he spent 3 months in his room tripping balls on pain meds, watching Sponge Bob and learning the hardest techniques on the guitar. Sterling came around heavy after that, they started a band, my brother Nick and Sterling, along with our good friends Davy on bass and Sergio on guitar. They set their hand me down amps to 10, and played pissed off, angry Death Metal- Hardcore that would carry for blocks down the streets from our suburban, garage band mecca on Castle Pines. I would wit by the laundry room with my battered acoustic guitar and try and steal a quick jam with these metal heads, coaxing them with folky chords and indie machinations, to be shoed away by my brother and his sin black ESP electric Ax dripping in sweat and distortion.
Sterling always was family. My abuela took to him like a doting latina grandmother, making sure he was fed, and if they weren't playing glaringly loud music, Sterling was inside the family room and we were laughing at stupid shit on the internet.
It was around this time that Sterling first showed symptoms of Crohn's Disease, and little did I know that it would haunt his life for years to come, when we met again at the Shell gas station he was an attendant at and we started jamming in his room and called it Castle Pines. They don't make them like Sterling anymore, an old soul, blunt as hell, truthful and loyal to a fault, he is the most beautifully genuine and honest friends I have had ever had, keeping me in check when my idealisms breach my realities.
The early Castle Pines' years were some of the hardest and best of our lives. I was coming from living out of my car and recovering from a bout of early-20's existential crisis, court cases, drugs and Sterling was recently homeless, much like I was. He lived on a roommate's couch in a dingy apartment off of Border in Corona, and we would spend our nights after our work shifts drinking the crappiest cheap beer and smoking weed, talking about music, playing music, and complaining about the scene.
Sterling was in remission, he had not had any symptoms of his diagnosed Crohn's for a couple years, and for his sickness, he was healthy. He put on some weight, which is a good thing with people who suffer from it, and we were releasing our first album as a band, "Bless this House". Maybe I was naive to what he went through, or maybe I just didn't understand the gravity of his sickness, but as we closed the last chapter of this part of our band and lives, I saw my friend Sterling bleed out from a 2 foot surgical gash down his chest and as the medical team came in to keep his ghost from being given up, I knew a little bit of what my brother was tormented with all these years.
Needless to say, what Sterling was able to recover from last year, multiple near death experiences and months in the hospital and still record his drum tracks for our new album while being attached to a colostomy bag with an operation gash spanning from his chest plate to his abdomen, this was pure drive and dedication to his craft. I was able to interview my best friend about all the things he went through endured, and I will let him explain in more eloquent and precise words, the plight of his situation. I think his message is important, and inspiring to other aspiring musicians that may suffer from similar health issues. Here is Sterling:
First off, there is not a lot of public knowledge on Crohn’s or colitis, could you describe what the disease is?
Well it’s still fairly new so it’s no wonder that not a lot of people know about it. When I first got sick at 18 they told me I had liver disease. It wasn’t until they ran more tests and biopsies that they found out I had Crohn’s and not liver disease. Crohn’s and colitis are auto-immune diseases. To put it in basic terms, I had rogue white blood cells that would attack my body rather than protect it. The disease lies in the digestive system, and for me it was my colon specifically. It’s a horrible disease. For over a decade I’ve dealt with the persistent pain and bleeding; not to mention the unstoppable bowel movements that make you not want to ever leave the house. Castle Pines was one of the only things I would put up with all this shit for. Sorry about the cussing. I cuss a lot. Deal with it.
When were you first diagnosed, started having symptoms of this illness?
Like I said I was diagnosed at 18. I had been playing in a band called Rise to Ruin at the time with my best friends. I noticed after every show that my legs hurt really bad and often times would swell up. I thought this was just from playing. I used double-pedals back then so it wasn’t uncommon of my body or my legs to be sore after an energy-packed set. It wasn’t until after one specific show that my legs swelled up so bad that I couldn’t walk. After that happened is when all the other symptoms kicked in hard (pain, bleeding, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea, etc.) and I went to the hospital. I actually tried to drive myself to the hospital that time and passed out driving haha. Not funny, but funny now.
How has this effected your everyday life, work, relationships, playing drums in a band?
Well shit that’s a hard question to be honest. It effected my everyday life greatly, even now with the situation I’m in. My friends that are truly my friends know about it, and have never given me shit for not coming around or not hitting them up. The physical symptoms were hard to deal with but I still dealt with it. Castle Pines was and is such a big deal to me. Most people probably think I’m some sort of asshole or something because I would always show up close to set-time, and leave right after. I was sick, and I didn’t give a fuck to explain it to anyone. Still don’t really, but here I am explaining it haha. To answer the question without writing a novel, my life sucks ass but I try to stay optimistic, my relationships with people have dropped off, I lost my job over it which was a damn good job, and now I don’t have a band to play shows with at the moment. I’m deeply depressed, but I care more about helping people than helping myself. I’ve always been that way.
Can you describe your recent medical scare and emergency at the hospital?
Fucked. That’s the short answer. I actually was in the hospital for over a month straight just the year before all this happened. I was put on some new medication that I was to be on for the rest of my life, but it was supposed to cure the symptoms. Turns out it didn’t, and I went back to the hospital last August. I was supposed to go home after a few days of being there. My symptoms were going away and I was able to eat. The only problem was I had a slight fever, so the Doctor wouldn’t release me. I was really mad and threatened to just rip the lines out and leave. Good thing I didn’t. The next night is when it all went down. The only thing I can remember was how much pain I was in. I had a very lucid dream, and when I woke I was in a dark room with a towel over my face. The pain was the worst I’ve ever felt. I hit the nurse button, and everything followed. I went into medical shock, flatlined, got brought back, rushed into the operating room, had my colon removed before it exploded, and woke up later. Thank God I’m alive today, but the whole experience really messed up my mental. I’ve been battling depression ever since my diagnosis, so this definitely didn’t help.
What does a normal days routine look like for you now?
Well I don’t work anymore, nor does Castle Pines rehearse or play live, so I don’t really do much of anything. I have two more surgeries to go, so I’m not out of the woods yet. Right now I have a temporary ileostomy bag. It really sucks having this and hiding it when I go out, but it’s the first time in over 10 years that I’m not worried where the bathroom is, or how long I plan on staying somewhere. So that’s cool. My friend Scott helped me build a computer before I went into the hospital, so I’m definitely on there most of the time. I went back to school to finish my Mathematics degree. I’m in my last year, so the classes are extremely hard, so at least I have all the time in the world to study. I also have a couple projects in the works. I don’t want to comment on that though. You’ll know when it’s done. Just know you got me fucked up if you think I’m gonna let this stop me. I got a story to tell and I think I can help a lot of people out there struggling.
What has music, your band, Castle Pines done for you in dealing with your medical issues?
There’s too many people that do the whole music thing for the fame and fortune. I’ve been playing music since I was 10 years old. Been playing professionally since I was 16. Music, specifically drumming, utilizes both parts of your brain. Also, it puts you in the present. This is great for mental health and physical health. For someone like me, it made me an addict. I constantly try to put myself in that place. Every single Castle Pines song puts me there. I’m probably CP’s biggest fan just because of that. If you really listen to the music or really watch us live, you’ll see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
The band has always been there for me. Castle Pines is the greatest band you never heard about. Not because of the music, but because of the dedication and sincerity. All the guys have been there for me and have never let my issues cause problems within the band. If I was sick, we didn’t play, no questions asked. Leo, Jesse, Ricky, and Nick have shown me nothing but love and support. They’re my brothers for life. Leandro has been there the most. He gave me a place to live at one point, and has just always been there for me. He stayed the night with me in the hospital this last trip. He witnessed the 12-inch incision re-open when I tried to sit up. That was pretty gruesome, but he didn’t care about the blood and guts, he just cared about me and stayed by my side until they stitched it back up. Shit was gnarly you should ask him about it haha.
Do you have any words of advice or encouragement to musicians-drummers that aspire to record and make music but have similar health issues they are battling?
Yes. Don’t let it stop you. Like I said before drummers are special. We utilize both sides of the brain when we play. It’s such good exercise for your brain, and if you’re battling depression, it helps so fuckin much. I can’t stress that enough. Get out there and play some shows. Playing live puts you in the present. When you focus on just the present, which is really hard to do, the healing effects on your brain and body are tremendous. I credit being alive today to playing music. You can research this yourself, but I’m telling you from experience.
Any last thoughts on your future and the future of your art and music?
Yeah, look out for me. I’m more motivated than ever. I’ll probably do a video interview talking more about what happened to me. But this will do for now. Just know you’re not alone. Castle Pines is here for you. I’m here for you. Send me a message, DM, text, or whatever. I don’t bite. Don’t go it alone. Castle Pines has always been Por Vida. My life, our lives, your life.