Over the three years The Ties That Bind Us has been telling the recovery stories of musicians, it’s felt a bit like cartography.
What I mean by that is this: Recovery is a mountain range, peaks so high it scrapes the clouds, crisscrossed with ravines and gorges, valleys and outlooks, forested meadows and desolate stretches of oxygen-starved bushes that extend beyond the timberline. Across that range are myriad trails that each of the artists profiled on this blog has traversed, no two of them the same.
We’ve spent the last three years marking them, documenting the routes and the methods used to undertake those journeys, and we do so with great care and honor. Often, they’re reluctant to let us tag along, at least in the beginning.
“When first approached to do an interview focusing on my sobriety, I was hesitant and skeptical to say the least,” says Steve Drizos, who’s new record, “Axiom,” was released in January. “I agreed to do the interview with Steve Wildsmith and found the conversation to be very disarming and quickly getting to the good stuff of music, life, and recovery. And he obviously did his homework, discussing in depth topics and specific lyrics from the album.
“When the article was published, I once again had reservations about if I wanted to share the story with the public. I decided to do it, and the response and impact that the interview had was greater than any review or article that came out surrounding my record. The honesty resonated and I know with certainty that it helped others who were struggling.”
While a gifted and unique musician, Drizos is typical of so many musicians who have found renewal on the other side of a drug and alcohol problem: How much attention, they ask, do they really want to give to that part of their lives? It’s a conundrum, and one they often wrestle with over many hours and days before deciding to do so. And a great many of them ultimately err on the side of hope: that what they went through, and the decisions they made to overcome their addiction, might provide some experience, strength and hope to others who still struggle.
"Steve was one of the first long-form interviews I gave regarding my recovery and he helped me share my story in a way that was open, non-threatening and revelatory,” says Richard Jankovich, whose long-time band, Big Mother Gig, released “Gusto,” an intimate look at Jankovich’s own recovery, in April. “The Ties That Bind Us blog is a unique and valuable resources for musicians in particular who are looking for common stories and shared experiences."
From the outset, we knew that “recovery” is often viewed in stark black-and-white terms: Either alcoholics and addicts are miserable and still using, or they’re sitting in 12 Step meetings, chanting the Serenity Prayer. And to be fair, that’s what a lot of individuals in early recovery think as well — that there’s only one “right” path up the mountain … but nothing could be further from the truth. Twelve Step programs are invaluable and have helped countless numbers of people to get sober and find a new way of life, but it’s a big mountain … so it only makes sense that there are alternate paths out of the dark lands below. And if the goal is to lift others up out of that darkness, wouldn’t it make sense to illuminate all of the paths that have been taken?
"Steve was gentle, empathetic and respectful with my story and his exuberant, mission-oriented form of writing about it was special to see come to fruition,” says Knoxville-based singer-songwriter Luke Brogden. “I had several folks contact me wanting to talk sobriety so the blog is doing its job well! But perhaps the best part was just a long conversation from someone else working towards recovery and sharing it with each other!"
And that’s what it’s all about: Letting those who languish in the despair and the isolation and the dereliction of an out-of-control substance problem know that there’s a way out. That their art isn’t dependent on their suffering. That there is life to be lived and music to be made on the other side, on one of those myriad paths up the mountain. That we’ve been able to tell those stories, to showcase those paths, has been a blessing; that we’ve also been able to tell the stories of others whose works have been impacted by addiction, and who have addressed it in their music, has been an honor as well.
"Steve Wildsmith of The Ties That Bind Us interviewed me about a song I wrote with friends, ‘Hurricane,’” says Nell Robinson of the Nell and Jim Band. “The hurricane was inside my beloved niece who died of a heroin overdose at age 24. She had the love and support of family, but the pull of heroin was too strong. Talking through this loss with Steve was healing, he understands the dynamics and sorrow and confusion of loving someone who is struggling with addiction. Each time we sing this song, there is someone who comes forward to share their own loss. Thank you to Steve and The Ties That Bind Us for bringing these stories into the light so the healing can happen."
Healing: It’s been the goal from day one, and it continues to be, because while we’ve uncovered a lot of trails and paths scattered across that mountain, there are hundreds more waiting to be discovered. Some of those blazing them remain reluctant (although, as singer-songwriter Travis Shallow points out, it's a relatively painless process: “Five minutes into the interview with Steve, I forgot it was an interview and it was like talking with an old friend,” he says), and that’s OK. Sobriety is a very personal journey, and many artists want to keep it private.
Others have found that speaking up is a way of paying it forward, a way of holding out a hand to help others who need to find a path, just as someone did for them. Because one thing you can count on when it comes to addiction: There’s no shortage of sufferers. At the bottom of that mountain, down there in the shadows, are thousands of individuals desperate to start climbing, and a great many more so lost in the fog they don’t even know the mountain is there.
It is. There’s no peak upon which any flags will be planted, because recovery is about the journey and not the destination. But for the artists to whom we’re deeply indebted, we can’t thank you enough for helping make The Ties That Bind Us so successful over the past three years. That you feel the exchange has been reciprocal means more to us than we can express.
“The Ties That Bind Us gave me a public forum to openly discuss my battle with addiction, for the first time in detail,” says EDM artist Paul Conversano, a.k.a. the deejay known as Ravenscoon. “It was cathartic, and has allowed many of my friends, family and fans to reach out not only in support, but asking me for advice and encouragement with their own sobriety. I think this type of outlet is invaluable for those who want to recover, but aren't quite sure how to start.”
Waylon Reavis, formerly of Mushroomhead and currently the frontman for A Killer’s Confession, agrees: “I would like to thank The Ties that bind us for giving me a platform to tell my story. It reached so many people, and I had so much positive feedback! Remember, we just have to get through 24 hours at a time. #staystrong #Reavisstrong #getupandgodosomething”
“Get up and go do something.” That’s one of the blessings of recovery, that we can do something today. We can make music … and in our case, we can write about it, and showcase just what a life in sobriety looks like. To all of you who have participated over the past three years, thank you. To all those who would like to be a part of this blog, don’t hesitate to reach out.