Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame® Guitarist and Songwriter Ricky Byrd Uses Narrative Practice To Help Addicts Get Clean

February 22, 2016 - Boston, MA
“There’s no clear-cut answer to addiction,” says 29 years sober musician, Ricky Byrd.

Ricky is the founder of Ricky Byrd’s Clean Getaway Foundation, a non-profit that brings songs, storytelling and conversation to people who are often on the edge of making the commitment to get sober like he did so many years ago.

“I got clean in ‘87 and the last album I did with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was in ‘88-and by happenstance I was wearing my 12-step medallion around my neck on the cover photo. I started to get letters from kids saying ‘It’s so cool that you’re sober.’”

That’s when Ricky realized that his status as a successful musician made him a potential role model for kids who had seen the party side of music get glamorized like he did when he was young.

“I’m not preaching to them. I’m not pointing fingers at them. I’m saying, ‘I’m just like you, but somehow I turned my life around - and you can too,’” says Byrd.

Ricky insists that from all his years playing at the Sunrise Detox Center, you can never predict who your message will reach that day. “It’s not my job to decide who’s ready,” he says, “I throw the cards on the table and whoever wants to play can play.”

Byrd talks about his work in detox centers with the wizened experience of someone who has seen people change their lives because of his music and seen people who relapse anyway and don’t get another chance. “Recovery is such a timely event,” he says. “You gotta give somebody treatment when they want treatment because the moment passes very quickly.”

What Ricky does in telling his stories and singing songs is give people the chance to have that moment. “Many of them have these walls built up around them and the therapists are trying to get through to them, but sometimes the music, and the fact that they know that I played with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts is this weird key to unlock one of the parts of the wall,” says Byrd.

Ricky started writing recovery songs with Richie Supa, a songwriter famous for his work with Aerosmith with the idea that, “If we wrote songs by addicts, for addicts, we might help in the recovery process somehow by holding up a mirror to what they were experiencing.”

“Words can destroy somebody or can lift them up,” says Byrd, “That’s why it’s so important to have great bedside manner. It’s the difference between a doctor who can give someone bad news and who can give someone bad news with compassion.”

Ricky uses other narrative practice techniques in his group sessions, sometimes bringing out a poem or story for someone to read. One that he uses often is from a woman writing about the experience of choosing what to wear to her son’s funeral after he died from a heroin overdose. It’s an emotional experience for everyone. “If you think about it, says Byrd, “As an artist, our job is to make people laugh, cry or think. You touch people. You get inside their heads and hearts. With art, paintings, movies - it’s all the same. You get to their emotions.”

Byrd says he’s completely honest with the people in his groups, saying “I can’t make you clean, brother. I can tell my story and give you resources and knowledge, but you have to do it yourself. The good news is you only have to do it a day at a time.”

Ricky Byrd is on the faculty at the Center for Narrative Practice, and will be joining us in our March workshop to talk about his work, answer questions, and perform some of his recovery songs. Learn more about Ricky at Clean Getaway.