Country’s Rachel Stacy: Sassy, soulful, grateful and recovering

Rachel Stacy

Rachel Stacy knew she was a drug addict, and when she admitted her problem to herself and another person in 2009, she thought she had put it behind her.

The Ties That Bind UsAddiction doesn’t work that way, however, and even though she quit drugs, alcohol crashed through those flimsy walls like the Kool-Aid Man in those commercials of old, she told The Ties That Bind Us recently.

“If it wasn’t meth, it was alcohol; if it wasn’t alcohol, it was the gym, it was Twinkies, it was tacos, it was Icees,” Stacy said. “It was every new addiction you could imagine, but I just thought it was phases. I had heard of the obsession being removed from people overnight, and I thought that’s what had happened, but within two years, my drinking was so bad that I was having blackouts and winding up in the wrong places at the wrong times.

“But I wouldn’t touch drugs. I knew I was a drug addict, but in the meantime, I always drank. And drinking always broke my inhibitions. I would drink and say, ‘(Screw) it. Let’s do it.’ And within two years, it just was a part of my life.”

The turning point came when drugs tapped on the window, after a night out that involved a lot of alcohol, and someone offered her a few lines of cocaine. With her guard down, she didn’t turn it down, and the next morning, she found herself chairing an Al-Anon Family Group meeting, feeling guilty, depressed and hopeless. That, she recalled, is when her God sent her an angel.

“I was high still and hung over, and this tall, beautiful brunette walks in named Susan,” Stacy said. “She shared that she was new to Al-Anon but had gotten help in another program for her own problem, and I pulled her aside afterward and asked, ‘What program? Because I think I may have a problem with drinking.’”

Little girl lost: The early years of Rachel Stacy

Rachel StacyThat was in 2011, and in the work she’s done since that time, she’s discovered that her problem involved much more than just chemicals. Born in Illinois, her family moved to Oklahoma. Her mom never drank, but the men in her life taught the impressionable young Rachel a series of subconscious lessons that would become a pattern she pursued when she was older.

“Her first marriage was to my real dad, who was a bad drug addict and alcoholic, and she left him,” Stacy said. “My step-dad, her second husband, was kind of normal, but instead of being a heavy drinker, he was a cheater. And then her third husband was highly abusive. So I grew up with three different ideas about men pretty early — abandonment, to thinking all men cheat, to oh, now they’re abusive. And that was all before I was 7 years old.”

She found refuge at the home of her aunt and uncle, she added, and she associated the safety of their home with the conviviality of their alcohol consumption. As her home life grew more volatile, especially with her mother’s third husband’s worsening temper, the escape she found there was an oasis, she said.

“As I got older, my stepdad got more and more physical — I’m talking black eyes and broken ribs, and by the time I was 17, I finally called the cops,” she said. “He threatened me for years that he would tell my grandma I stole $50 from her, and that I would go to jail forever, but when I was 17, he beat me so bad that I called the police and got him put in jail.”

Two years later, she pointed out, she was dating a younger version of him. By that point, she said, alcohol was the medicine that changed the way she felt.

“I was introduced to alcohol in our own house,” she said. “My parents had a bar, and I tried cold duck. I remember going, ‘Oh, this is terrible!’ But then I got with friends who were drinking, and I drank to fit in. And the next thing I know, I’m popular. I’m one of the party girls, and I had found my niche. I never really liked drinking, but then drugs were introduced, and we were off to the races.”

Somewhere along the way, however, she discovered the work ethic that serves her well even today. She realized that if she wanted something, it would require effort — and as far back as she can remember, she wanted music.

“My mom was a piano player, an upright bass player and a guitar player, and I have vague memories of going to bars with her when I was little and being her tip girl,” Stacy said. “When I got old enough, she put me in pageants, and I was singing — I remember I didn’t win once when I was 5 and threw a fit, screaming down the aisle! By the time I was 6 or 7, I went to school one day, and they were showing off the symphony instruments, and they told us we could pick one instrument and take it home for the night.

“I picked up the violin, and I said, ‘I’m going to play this, and I’m going to play it forever.’ I brought it home, and my mom was shocked, but like a good mother does, she went out and bought me a top-of-the-line violin, and I ended up excelling at it very quickly. It almost became my identity. Things were so tumultuous at home that it became a crutch.”

Music and the arts become an escape route

Rachel StacyThe arts became Stacy’s escape valve. Violin lessons, dance (jazz, tap, ballet and modern), cheerleading — they all gave her an outlet to stay away from the house where her stepfather slowly grew more violent as she got older. For a girl who had never experienced corporal punishment, it was a confusing and shocking experience, she said.

“When a grown man comes into your house, and you’ve never been hit or spanked, and then all of the sudden you’re getting the shit beat out of you, it’s very confusing,” she said. “You think it’s supposed to be like this, and I just thought that I would stay as far away from the house as I could, because I hated being home. My stepdad was very controlling, and he would be very quick to backhand me just because I said something wrong, or he’d take me and beat me with a belt.

“Very early on, I learned that anger was a powerful emotion. I was a sweet girl, a sweet kid who was so innocent, but no one was teaching me anything. What I learned was through seeing and doing, because by the time I was 10, my mom started getting beaten by him. He ripped the cables out of the car so she couldn’t leave, and all I wanted was to find an escape — and not just in my music. I just wanted to be a star, so bad. I would perform in my living room for the cat or the dog or nobody.”

Her stepfather’s status as a minister also contributed to an early aversion to anything God-related, a hurdle she had to navigate when she finally embraced 12 Step recovery. The more she stayed away from home, however, the more she became involved in alcohol and drugs, she said.

“In high school, drinking, Ecstasy and cocaine became part of my story, so I dropped out of school for a few months,” she said. “I had learned how to run early on: My mom would meet someone, we’d move and start over, and I just repeated the pattern. But I knew I had to turn my life around, so I got back into high school and became a cheerleader to kind of get back on course, if you will.

“Everything was going too good, I guess, because I found it again, and I ended up moving schools, again. I moved out of my family’s house because the abuse got so bad, and I started living with other people. I didn’t really have a stable childhood, but I ended up living with a family that I call my dad and my stepmom to this day.”

Her unofficial foster family steered her back on a course of semi-normalcy, setting boundaries and expectations of a typical high school girl. What she discovered was that rebellion against her stepfather was a reaction to his violence; under the nurturing guidance of her new guardians, she flourished.

“I had a pretty normal life even though it wasn’t my family,” she said. “They had boundaries and rules and respect and treated me like a child, and that’s what I always wanted as a child — just to be loved.”

A 'Barbie from hell'

After high school, she received a full voice scholarship to the University of Central Oklahoma, but once she left that home, the freedom of independence steered her back toward those shadows. Booze and cocaine almost robbed her of her scholarship before she clawed her way back on track, becoming a semi-pro cheerleader for an Oklahoma City sports team. Her on-again, off-again relationship with drugs and alcohol took a more serious turn one night when she overdosed, she said.

“I didn’t tell anybody or call the police — I called my drug dealer, and he said, ‘Drink milk,’” she said. “I woke up the next day, and I remember hearing the birds chirping and thinking, ‘I’ve got to change my life. This is ridiculous.’”

She applied to the University of North Texas and was accepted, but the geographical cure worked for Stacy about as well as it does for most addicts and alcoholics, meaning not very well at all. She flirted with overdose again, was arrested for driving under the influence, spent a couple of days in jail and lost her possessions. The insidious nature of addiction, she pointed out, is that from outward appearances, she seemed to be a beauty queen who had it all. The reality, however, was something far different.

“By that point, my mother had gotten divorced and moved to California with my way younger half-siblings, and she offered me a job: If I would be a nanny to my siblings, she would pay off all my debt,” she said. “I had run up all of this credit card debt, so I thought it was time to move to California and clean my shit up again.”

In Northern California, she went to school full time for kinesiology and dance. She started taking voice lessons with some of the top teachers in San Francisco. She found a boyfriend who was in medical school. Again, those outward appearances were mightily deceiving, she said.

“I was boiling underneath — this Barbie from hell who caused fights and drank like a fish,” she said. “As long as I had structure, I was really cool, but within six months of my boyfriend going to medical school, crystal meth found me. I was hanging out with rich kids who did meth, all of these trust fund babies and musicians, and I was just enamored with it.”

She managed to stay ahead of truly disastrous consequences, however, and ended up enrolling at the University of California-Irvine. Rather than an around-the-clock addiction, she indulged in binge use, which allowed her to focus on singing, acting and dancing. Being able to go long stretches without overindulging, however, only furthered the delusion that she wasn’t truly an addict or an alcoholic, she said.

“I would drive to San Francisco once a month and sing with my old band and party hard, have drugs and alcohol, and then not do it for a while,” she said. “My career was going well: I was a personal trainer and sports medicine conditioning coach and ended up working for CBS and doing music on the side. But then I graduated from UC Irvine and was working, and I ran into an old friend, and I found meth again. And this time, it was off to the races.”

Surrendering to win

Rachel StacyThe relationship she was in was a sick one: Her boyfriend was a member of her band, Tishara and the Earthtones, and even produced her first self-titled record in 2005, but the two fought constantly. She slowly descended into a miasma of drugs and alcohol, and even though she was touring the country, she arranged for dealers to mail her drugs smuggled in books that she would pick up at local post offices under the guise of needing on-the-road “reading material.”

“Those were successful tours, but when I came back and got my (record) deal, they changed my name, because they said if they were going to push a single, Tishara wouldn’t work,” she said. “But when I got back, things had gotten really rough with the other half and I, and my meth use had increased to the point where people were literally handing it to me on stage. I had joined Al-Anon because of my ex being such an alcoholic, and after I did a radio tour of Texas, I came back, sold everything in L.A. and moved back to Texas.”

By that point — 2007 or 2008, she said — she knew she had a problem, but she wasn’t ready to admit to the scope of her life’s unmanageability. Finally, in 2009, she came clean to her Al-Anon sponsor about her meth use. Although that obsession was removed, alcohol sank in its fangs even deeper.

“I was getting away with murder, left and right — skipping jail, batting my eyes and getting out of tickets, but toward the end, things were not happening like that anymore,” she said. “Shit was getting real.”

Enter Susan to that Al-Anon meeting on that fateful day, but despite their conversation about recovery, Stacy had another week of drinking left in her. On the night of Nov. 5, 2011, she performed at a concert sponsored by a local radio station, and friends and fans sent her drinks by the tray full. The last thing she remembers was deciding to leave the party before the drugs came out.

“I blacked out, and I woke up crawling down the hall, screaming at the top of my lungs, and that’s the day I woke up: Nov. 6, 2011,” she said. “I went into the living room and called that beautiful Susan girl and just said, ‘Help me. Please, help me.’ She met with me — this lady who I had only met one time in my five years of Al-Anon, who just happened to be visiting that meeting — and we talked for hours at Starbuck’s. Then she took me to my first meeting.

“When they said, ‘Does anyone want a (white) chip who has a desire to stop drinking?,’ I just lost it. I knew my life was out of order and completely unmanageable. I still had my stuff and my house, but I had lost that stuff over and over, and the way I always regained it was to wake up and tell myself, ‘You’ve got to get strong and work harder.’”

Growing up in the program

And so she began to apply the same attitude toward her recovery. Her first phone call, she said, was to a lady in Al-Anon who, like Susan, was also in 12 Step recovery.

“I told her that I had seen her at Al-Anon, and she said, ‘Oh, you’re that singer girl? Oh, honey, we knew you were an alcoholic!’” Stacy said with a laugh. “They had listened to me for four years and thought the whole time, ‘This girl’s gotta go to (a recovery program)!”

Once there, Stacy began to cast her eyes inward, and upon seeing the damage done to her as a girl and the compounded interest she piled on herself, the amount of spiritual repairs necessary to restore her to sanity was intimidating. However, she took heart from peers in recovery, like grizzled Texas icon and recovery veteran Ray Wylie Hubbard.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Lemme tell you something: Your life is just now beginning,’” Stacy remembered. “I had had success off and on, and what I had learned was that music is really an actor’s world. For so long, I had gone through life smiling and telling everyone, ‘I’m great! Everything’s awesome!’ — faking it, if you will. The times I tried to commit suicide or overdosed and woke up the next day, nobody knows. Those are countless, because I was that sneaky. And that’s where, for this alcohol and addict, this thing will kill me, if I don’t share those feelings.”

The first year involved a great deal of cleansing — spiritually and physically. She took stock of medicines she had been prescribed and determined which were medicinal and which were recreational. She tackled her financial disarray and began to bring some structure back to her checkbook. Mostly, she just held on until the storms passed, she added.

“That first year, I wanted to drink really bad. I wanted to smoke cigarettes. I wanted to smoke pot. My addictions were changing, and nine months later, I was stark raving sober and miserable, but I was still on Adderall,” she said. “That’s when I met Sharon, the woman who saved my ass and my life. Her poise, the way she spoke — I just wanted to be her, and when I went over to her and said, ‘Can you sponsor me? I’m not getting what I need,’ that’s when shit got real.

“Year two was about calling this sponsor if my ass was on fire. She told me, ‘You have my permission to blow up my phone all day long,’ and I did! I remember I was with this band at the time, and someone pissed me off, and I was on stage! I texted my sponsor, ‘I’m going to beat the shit out of this person when they walk off this stage.’ I did it with one finger, with my violin in one hand and my microphone in the other. And she said, ‘Get off that stage, go to that bathroom, put a paper towel down, hit your knees and ask God to remove that. And then I give you permission to act on one character defect — you get to act like everything’s OK.

“The second year was the growing-up year,” she said. “That’s when I started paying people back, when I started calling people back, when I started doing my own laundry, because I had lost the ability to even do that. That’s when I started doing adult shit.”

Rachel Stacy: Progress, not perfection

Rachel Stacy

Courtesy of Johnny D. Crawley

In 2015, she released the full-length album “Full Circle,” which didn’t get the promotion from Stacy it deserved despite the release of three singles from it because her mental health was in a tenuous spot. In 2017, however, she released the smoking country rocker “Boomerang,” a snarling, slinky slice of Southern sass that reached No. 30 on the Music Row Chart — the only independent single to do so.

She went out on radio tours and promoted it, but when she returned home, she discovered that her Dallas home had been sold out from beneath her. She was in a spot where she wasn’t listening to a sponsor and found herself acting out on other defects, just generally feeling restless, irritable and discontent.

But as life does, things began to turn around once again. She moved in with another recovering person and started applying Steps One, Two, Five and Eight. She let go of fresh hurt, adjusted her boundaries and cleaned up her side of the street. She’s got new music coming out in 2020 and is in the studio once a week, working on a new record. There are new videos on the horizon and a particularly poignant song called “Godspeed,” which she wrote about her recovery.

“I work a hardcore program — I go to meetings, I’ve got several sponsees and I used to hate hearing it, but I tell them all the time: Keep coming back, and look for the similarities and not the differences,” she said. “I try to just tell them what works for me, and that I had to make a choice: Did I want to drink or not? OK, then do I want to pick up the phone and ask for help or not?

“For this alcoholic and addict, I just followed what another woman did and wanted what she had, really bad. The Big Book guides us and gives us this new way of living, and I’ve met so many great people and had so many great experiences because of it. God really gives you a cool background, if you let him.”