Richie Supa, Director of Creative Recovery at Recovery Unplugged Interviewed by Andrew Martin


Andrew: Well thank you so much Richie Supa for joining me today; Director of Creative Recovery at Recovery Unplugged Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Thank you for joining us at Serene Scene Magazine.

Richie: My pleasure.

Andrew: Well I want to talk to you a little bit about your background, and what led you to this place in your life today. Can you fill us in?

Richie: Well, I mean I started out with dreams as a young kid to be in the music business, primarily to be a song writer. I was always inspired by the guys whose names are under the title of the songs in the small print, and who wrote all the Chuck Berry songs, and Elvis Presley stuff when I was younger.

And since I was 12 years old, my dad bought me my first guitar, and I’ve been on that journey. Along the way, as I grew older, I was exposed to drugs. And back in the days of Woodstock, there used to be a phrase like turn on and tune in, so I started smoking weed. It was innocent, it was fun. And somewhere along the line in my life, through the progression of experimenting with pills and other hard drugs, I crossed that line into addiction. I Wound up using drugs for 26 years, and I don’t know where or when it was I crossed that line, but I certainly did, and when I went to stop, I couldn’t, and it changed the course of my life.

Andrew: You have a lot of accomplishments under your belt but none more important than the 27 years in recovery.

Richie: The greatest gift I have is to be clean 27 years. I was a functioning addict to some extent. God gave me a gift of being a song writer and I was quite successful. I’ve written for many, many famous people; all the way up through the Aerosmith years. And along the way I was also an addict. But the greatest battle that I won, better than any Prism Award or Grammy, was the battle that I won over the disease of addiction.

Andrew: I can’t help but think that there’s youth out there, I’m sure that you work with sometimes, that think, gee, I can get loaded and I can still be really creative, and I can still succeed in life, just like Richie Supa did. What do you have to say to those guys that are thinking along those lines?

Richie: You know, that’s what happened to me. They talk about this disease being cunning and insidious. While I had found the prize, my life behind me was falling apart and we never looked back to see the wreckage and the people that we hurt. You can function for a while in addiction but at some point, you hit a wall. That’s why in our treatment center, I ask the question, if you’re sitting in this room today with reservations, or you’re not sure if you’re not done, you’re not going to get this. You can only have it if you want it as bad as you wanted your drugs. If you chase recovery as hard as you chased your drugs, you’re going to be okay. And I wasn’t ready. And one day I woke up and I said, you know what, I’m sick and tired of the pain. I need to make a change in my life. And so I keep it real with them.

Andrew: You have over 300 songs recorded, 4 solo albums, and like you were saying, the number of people that you have worked with is astounding. One of the things that catches my eye the most is your prism awards for your songs In the Rooms and Glass House on the Block. How does music play a role in your recovery life today? How are you still inspired by music yourself?

Richie: Music is all I was able to cling to when I was in my darkest times. I mean it’s the voice of angels. It’s the language of our soul. It saved my life. When I wrote Amazing with Steven Tyler, I think we wrote it in ‘92, and it came out in ‘93, it was the first song about recovery that was a huge, huge hit. And the letters that I got from addicts who we’re trying to recover made me cry. And I realized that I need to write more songs like Amazing. I need to focus on putting that message out there. That we can get better. And it’s that song that led me to where I am today. I spent 40 years in the music business and I’ve won a lot of awards. I have the privilege of listening to my songs on the radio. And it’s time to give back what was freely given to me. I mean, when I walked into Narcotics Anonymous and sat down, and I was done, and I started to heal, it was free. All I had to do was show up. So I’m giving back what was freely given to me. There is no greater gift, there’s no Grammy, there’s no Prism Award that’s any more important in my life than somebody’s mother showing up and hugging me and saying, thank you for giving me my son back, or my daughter back. That’s the greatest award I can think of.

Andrew: And you find yourself now at Recovery Unplugged doing what you love, and sharing that philosophy with the clients in the program. That must be an amazing adventure every day for you.

Richie: I mean I go to work with my guitar. We have a meeting and rather than speaking, I sing share. The songs that I write are from this addict’s heart to their heart. They get it. They cry. Some songs make them laugh. And we go through the whole gamut of emotions. And once you can open up an addict to the idea of recovery and open that door they keep really, really tightly locked, the healing begins. Because I know, I sat in three treatment centers with my arms folded across my chest saying you can’t tell me nothing. Because somebody was shaking their finger at me talking psycho-babble and I didn’t want to hear it. There is no psycho-babble here at Recovery Unplugged. We speak to the heart. This is spiritual disease, and so music is very nonthreatening. So the songs that I write speak to their heart in a nonthreatening way, and they’re very receptive. It’s a beautiful experience. You have to be there to experience it and see it. Hopefully you can come down sometime and see it.

Andrew: Well thank you. It sounds like a beautiful experience. Can you help me to understand the typical experience that a new client showing up at Recovery Unplugged might go through?

Richie: Well naturally, when they come in, usually the clients have been through treatment two or three times, and they’re very guarded. They’re expecting more of the same and then they realize that they’re in an environment that isn’t going to be anything like they’ve ever experienced, especially if they sit in my group. The first time they sit in the room, they look around at the other clients jumping around, singing the lyrics, clapping their hands, with their hands folded across their chest going what the hell is going on here? And actually, the first thing that I do when I open my sessions is I ask is anyone new? And I keep my eye on them because I want to see them morph into something. They come in as closed flower, and I watch them open up petal by petal.

And the second time they come into my class after going through that experience and seeing clients having a great time and sharing they start to open up. Next thing I know I see them bobbing their head, stamping their feet. Clapping their hands. And I always invariably go up to them saying, you’re feeling better aren’t you? Yeah, the music’s getting to you, isn’t it? Yeah, I especially love that song Enemy, or whatever song. Or Last House on the Block. I saw myself in that song. And that’s how it works. It’s kinetic energy.

Andrew: I can imagine that this musical connection between the clients really creates a very strong bond between them.

Richie: Yes, yes.

Andrew: Not only while they’re at Recovery Unplugged, but I bet that bond follows them after they even leave the treatment center. Does it not?

Richie: It does. They don’t leave with a certificate of graduation. They leave with an MP3 player and a set of earbuds and all the songs that they love. That I wrote, that we play at the treatment center. They take the treatment center with them and now I’m in the studio doing a recovery album of all those songs that work magically. I’m going to hand it over to MusiCares, the Grammy Foundation, and take it from there.

Andrew: What a fantastic thing to do. Now the clients, do the clients in the program also participate in playing the music?

Richie: Absolutely. We have musicians who come in. We have on Wednesdays, we have open mic and they all play, they sing, they write lyrics. Sometimes I ask them to write verses to songs that I’ve written. It’s a very creative process. The whole key is to get them outside themselves, and music does that. They have such a good time.

You know, there’s a term called AMA, where they leave against medical advice. We have very few people who walk out of this program. Now a lot of them want to stay, you know, and it’s very engaging, that’s all I can tell you.

Andrew: If somebody enters the program, and they’re not a musician, I would imagine people even show up and they’re not even musically inclined, how are they incorporated into the program?

Richie: What I do, one of the things that I do is what they call drum therapy. I get a drum circle. I hand out little lap bongos, lap drums, anything that makes noise. I explain to them that everybody has music in them, that when you were in the womb, the first thing you heard was your mother’s heartbeat. That’s rhythm. It’s inside you. And this is not a program of perfection, it’s a program of just opening up and being yourself. So you pound on those drums however you can. And we have drum therapies. And they make noise and shake tambourines and clap their hands and jump up and dance and it’s amazing. We don’t have a problem with people coming in that don’t have any musical inclination, because they all do.

Andrew: Is there a family component to all of this? Somehow getting the family involved in recovery as well?

Richie: We encourage that. A lot of their parents come down and visit to see what’s going on. Our staff is hand-picked. We have a very family environment. We’re very hands-on. Our cap is 32 beds. We don’t want to be any bigger than that because we want each client to have hands on treatment just like family. And we take pride in that.

Andrew: What a terrific experience the clients must have at Recovery Unplugged that they want to stay longer than they can. So what happens now when they discharge? What kind of after care is there, or alumni programs, how do you keep people involved?

Richie: We have a very, very strong alumni program. We have an IOP. A lot of our clients go to our IOP program. We have alumni once a month and a lot of people show up. That’s all I can say, is a lot of people show up. It’s very family, and it’s been very successful. We realize that the alumni events are very, very important. We have clients coming back who were with us the very first year we opened. You know I mean, this is our second year.

Andrew: And when you think about the one thing that really makes a difference for clients in the Recovery Unplugged program, what is it that you think really turns people around when they’re participating in the program?

Richie: The personal touch that we have. Every client that has relapsed, that’s come from another treatment center said they felt like a number. That they saw their therapist once or twice in 30 days. It’s completely different here. Like I said, we run a very family oriented vibe in our treatment center with our staff. It connects with them. It’s very uncomfortable to be an addict in recovery. And we try to take that un-comfortability away by being very family orientated with our staff. Now that, to me, means that’s what drove me out the door of my treatment centers when I was in recovery. I didn’t want to be there. I felt unloved, uncared for. And we’re careful not to let that happen.

Andrew: Music touches the heart and soul, and you’ve already spoken about this. I have experienced, too, as a musician back in my younger days, and I know that there is a special bond amongst people that love music, and people that play music, people that write music, and people that listen to music. I think Recovery Unplugged is bringing that into the treatment world and I want to congratulate you on your efforts in doing so. I think it’s a wonderful gift that you’re providing to the clients that show up at your doors.

Richie: Well that’s exactly what we’re doing. You’ve got to understand, we didn’t invent the wheel. Music has been used in hospital settings for years, for pain management, Alzheimer’s, there’s something to music. What we did was take that medicine that music provides and apply it to the addiction field. And I started Recovery Unplugged going around by myself with an acoustic guitar playing at treatment centers for almost two years. And I would make the, I would see these clients start to cry. I mean these kids there in there raw, kicking drugs, and I would play certain songs and they would cry. And I would go, hmm, what the hell is happening here? Something’s going on. And a light went on in my brain. And then when I met Paul Pellinger, at the time it was called Harmony Treatment Center, he had the same vision that I had with music. We decided to change the name to Recovery Unplugged which is what I was doing around Broward County in South Florida. And we started thinking outside the box. Recovery Unplugged, what kind of name is that? So well, every treatment center has rainbow, harmony, good vibration. If we’re going outside the box, let’s go outside the box. Recovery Unplugged is fresh. And we’re so glad we did. We’re so glad we did.

Andrew: As a final question for you, Richie, what is your favorite recovery song today?

Richie: The one I wrote with Stephen Tyler, Amazing. It is. And I love Last House on the Block. I mean listen, I write a lot of songs but I know when a gift was given to me by God. You know, some of them turn out better than others. And when I wrote Amazing and when I wrote Last House on the Block I knew that I was given a gift for that particular song. So that’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

Andrew: Richie Supa, Director of Creative Recovery at Recovery Unplugged Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale. I want to thank you so much for your time today and your inspirational message to all of our readers and listeners out there. Thank you so much. Keep up the good work.

Richie: Thank you very much. And remember, you can’t keep what you have unless you give it away. That’s my motto.

Andrew Martin


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