Strategies for the Touring Musician in Recovery, by Stephen Girard
Going out on the road as a clean and sober musician can be quite daunting. Depending on how well your tour is funded; you may find yourself traveling in some very tight quarters with using collaborators not sympathetic to your commitment to recovery.
After 32 years clean and sober, many tours of the United States, Europe, and Japan, I will lay out some strategies that have helped me deal with the pressures of touring while striving to stay emotionally centered under sometimes very difficult circumstances.
First off, it’s important to point out that as musicians we can’t hide from drugs and alcohol. If you are a serious musician you have a job to do. End of story! However, it’s imperative you recognize that no gig, no matter how high profile or high paying is worth the price of your clean time/sobriety. My bottom line: if I think I am going to use, I bail. This has never happened to me, but I believe it’s important to keep upfront in your mind for your own clarity. Furthermore, if you are in very early recovery, it is usually best to take a period of time off from touring, if possible, while you develop a solid foundation for your recovery.
Prior to any tour it’s very helpful to do some footwork establishing contacts in the cities or countries you will be playing. Before to my first tour of Japan in 2003, I researched and reached out to English-speaking contacts in three different cities. This proved to be a real asset, as the tour was quite grueling: the accommodations were sometimes a bit rough and time spent in hard-drinking clubs was significant. Furthermore, there are not many English-speaking meetings in Japan, especially when you get outside of the major cities, so having these contacts was invaluable.
In many countries 12-step programs are still quite underground, and much of the online information is frequently out of date, so my go to method for finding meetings in certain countries is to call the U.S Embassy. Drug addicts and alcoholics are always getting into legal trouble, so usually an official at the Embassy can give you current meeting information, especially if it is not available online or the local phone book.
Bring phone rechargers: can’t count the number of times I have had to reach out to supportive friends in the program to have a meeting over the phone. A meeting is described as anytime two addicts or alcoholics are meeting for the purpose of recovery. Having backup phone chargers and voltage adapters is a must.
Set clear boundaries: establish solid boundaries with those you’re be working before the tour, even if you don’t think it’s necessary. It is possible to let others know that you don’t drink or drug without having to disclose your anonymity. You don’t own anyone an explanation as to why you don’t drink or drug, and it’s none of his or her business. Your job is to play your ass off and be professional. If you’re working with people who don’t respect your desire to be clean and sober, you are probably better off working with someone else. Keep in mind being a musician is a marathon and not a sprint.
In closing, touring can be quite challenging, whether you’re a newcomer or old-timer. The most important thing to remember is to ask for help when you need it, and if you don’t get it keep trying until you do. Now, get out there and tear it up!