One might think being one of Joan Jett’s Blackhearts would be all peaches and cream. For Ricky Byrd though, it was really more like Jack and cocaine. At least it was when he played in the band. And Byrd did enough of both to kill a few folks, as well as himself. In fact, he almost did. Kill himself that is. Collapsing a lung while smoking coke before bringing his heart to the brink of a massive attack.
Did that stop Byrd from imbibing? Nope. Not even close. In fact, the guitarist partied heartily for another four years before finally surrendering to his Higher Power.
That was 33 years ago. Byrd’s spent much of the intervening decades helping himself and others like him take life one perfect day at a time. He even got officially credentialled to counsel users of drugs and alcohol. Became a certified peer recovery coach too. And for the most part being both sober and supportive has been enough to keep him going.
Every once in awhile though Byrd would whip out his guitar and strum a few songs at this or that treatment center and that certain feeling would wash all over him again. No, not a yen to drink or to drug. But a yen to make music. And to bring that music to the public.
Have Recovery, Will Travel
So Byrd wrote a song or two. Then let ‘em rip. The response was more than he expected. Much more. The recovery folks not only dug the music Byrd was doing, but they also dug the fact that the songs remained true to recovery. After all, it’s one thing to hear your story shared. It’s quite another to hear a bona fide pro share it in song.
Byrd also recorded two albums composed of songs that “…deal with addiction, recovery, hope and change for the better,” he said. The first outing hit in 2017 and was entitled Clean Getaway. Late last year Byrd followed up with another roarful release called Sobering Times. Both albums have the kinda crunch you'd expect from a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer; their subject just happens to be recovery. If you're the type who digs such things, these will make for a kickass companion piece.
Byrd, solo since 1991, became fond of strapping on his axe and singing a classic song or three at this or that treatment center. He even started inserting the occasional new original. But it wasn’t until he played at Boston's Right Turn in 2012 that the future drug and alcohol counselor really got the idea to fuse rock and roll with helping addicts.
“Every time I’d do one of these events, I’d be lingering around backstage or off to the side after the show and people would come over and say they grew up on my music and thought it was cool that I was doing this,” Byrd explained. “It kept happening and people wanted to know where they could get these songs because they felt like I was singing their story. Before long, I started to get this message in my brain about helping people and playing some rock and roll at the same time.”
Now that he's got two full albums plus 200 hours of addiction counseling training under his belt, the guitar-playing recovery coach is set on traversing the country and spreading the good word about awareness, prevention and education. Byrd even envisions the writing on the side of the tour bus: “Have Recovery, Will Travel."
From Blackheart to Pied Piper
Byrd may have been a rockstar, but his quitting looked a lot like everyone else's. It also took just about as long. Was just about as painful too.
“I was standing in front of the mirror, my nose was bleeding and my heart is beating out of my chest," recalls Byrd. “I’m drunk off Jack Daniels and high from this, that and the other thing. And I was rifling through the medicine cabinet looking for cold pills to bring my heart rate down."
"I literally picked up the phone and called this person," he continues. "She said there was a community support meeting at four o’clock the next day and she wanted to know if I could make it. I said yes."
Byrd was 30 then. Yes, he made the next day's meeting. But the next year was a living hell.
"Thirty to 31 was the worst year of my life," says Byrd, "because that was when I finally took a hard look and saw that I couldn’t stop. I have my diary from that year. I would write that I wasn’t going to get high on that day and then I’d say I was starting that night. It went on like that all year until I finally surrendered. Luckily for me, it’s now been continuous for 33-plus years.”
Now Byrd is all about public awareness and prevention, which he deems "the first steps" in fighting this addiction pandemic. Byrd's also keen on improving access and options for treating substance disorders. Sure it’s an uphill battle, especially given the shame addiction has attached to it. Yet it's one well worth fighting.
“Supporting recovery while reducing the stigma is a huge problem,” says Byrd. “If you do a fundraiser for cancer or diabetes, people come running. But when you start talking about addiction, a big portion of society thinks it’s a choice and you’ve done it to yourself. It’s our job to get out there and try to reduce the stigma. People like me are boots on the ground trying to talk to one person with substance disorder at a time. We’re trying to change minds and save lives. That’s what I do.”
Applauding Ricky Byrd
Recovery Boot Camp applauds Ricky Byrd for doing what he does. We especially applaud his making it from Blackheart to Pied Piper. Few rockstars so successfully make it through the fire; even fewer make it through and then devote their lives to keeping others from burning. Watching him continue to do what he does without drink or drug or regret is inspiration for everyone.
How about you? Are you ready to hit the sober road with Ricky Byrd? It's out there you know. So is he. And both lead to a much more fulfilling life. Give us a call and we'll help you pack.