Is It Possible To Stay Sober On Tour?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her — confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I'm the only sober member in my band, coming up on nine years in recovery. I'm active in AA. It's a big part of my life. I love and need the consistency of meetings, regular prayer and meditation. You know, all the good stuff that makes it work. My band mates are not sober. The festival scene which we are on this summer is also not a great place to hang for a sober person. I find myself trapped and unable to get in a good routine with the stuff that keeps me sane and sober. I also look around and think, "They are having much more fun than me. If only I were drinking." Now of course I don't listen to that voice for more than a second, but it can get lonely in that space. I try to do things to be of service as a good band mate, like loading all the gear while they are going nuts after gigs. I also try and hit as many meetings as I can on tour. It still gets hard and I wonder: How many other sober musicians pull this off?
—A Sober Guy
Hey A Sober Guy,
Congratulations on your nine years. No easy feat, especially given that the world you work in is basically contact highs, with solos thrown in for good measure. And while your concern wouldn't seem to apply to many people, it's important for those who go sober to know that they don't have to quit music.
The folks I know who have pulled this off do it best on tours with other sober people, either in the band or crew. Some bands I know who are smart (and empathetic) about their sober member have agreed to bring along a sober friend to do merch. Or else they've, say, made their backstage a dry or drug-free environment.
Given that you are in a group with people who party pretty hard, I don't imagine your struggle as a sober person is on their radar, especially since it sounds like you keep it under wraps. Maybe some day in the van, you can bring it up. You don't need to tell them your whole story, necessarily, but tell them that your tour schedule taxes your routine. And so for that reason, sometimes when it fits in the group's schedule, you are going to have to dip.
Because, for your sake and for the band's continued success, you don't want to turn back into that wasted asshole you were nine years ago.
You can also frame it in that standard explanation: That alcoholism is a disease, and, just like people with other diseases or health issues, you need to be proactive in your treatment. As you know, ultimately there is little they can do to try and help keep you off the bottle—but you need to create space for you to stay sober, and hopefully they can accommodate that.
Also, check with the production office at these festivals you are playing—there might be roadies who have an informal meeting. Lollapalooza has three on-site meetings daily, listed in the program. Maybe when you get routings for your tour, google city by city and find where there are dawn meetings near the place you are staying.
And if there is no meeting, maybe you go take a walk to the park and read your sober literature and call someone. I have tour managed bands with sober members, and all of them had to have an on-tour sober-routine that they could manage regardless of their circumstances. Because the only reliable thing about touring is that you never really know where you will be and when, outside of the show itself.
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