From Recovery to Radio: Exploring the Role of Music in Overcoming Addiction

written by Amir Lahoud on

by Meredith Lane

Headshot of Amanda Bocchi, centered in frame

ROANOKE LOCAL AND LIFELONG MUSICIAN, AMANDA BOCCHI, tells her story of battling opioid addiction and navigating motherhood. As a fierce recovery advocate, Amanda has not allowed her traumatic experiences to consume her, but rather transformed her past into artwork that lends hope to the future. Her apt yet graceful lyrics provide insight into the tragedies of grief, the intricacies of falling in love, and the pain and triumphs of overcoming an addiction. In our interview, I ask Amanda about her inspirations, challenges, and successes as a singer songwriter in Southwest Virginia. I also had the opportunity to discuss with her what local recovery resources look like within the region, and what could be done better to support those in active use. Amanda is the host of Appalachian Vibes, a radio show that highlights the diversity within the region through interviews with various artists. Appalachian Vibes is based out of WNCW, and also airs on WISE-FM and WEHC. To tune in or nominate an artist, click here.

MEREDITH LANE: So, who is Amanda Bocchi?
AMANDA BOCCHI: I am a grown up with three daughters, a musician, a choir director, a singer songwriter, a guitar player, and an artist.

MEREDITH LANE: Which of those factors would you say have shaped your identity the most?
AMANDA BOCCHI: Definitely music for sure.

MEREDITH LANE: How has your relationship with music changed overtime?
AMANDA BOCCHI: I started playing guitar when I was 9, because my biological father played guitar and he was not involved in my life. So I thought if I learned how to play guitar, that one day he would love me. Honestly! Which is silly, you know, it's like a little kid thinking "one day if I get a grammy, then I'll be worth something". Because he had told me when I was a little kid that he was a country singer, and that he was gonna be on the radio. (laughs). And I believed it. And it wasn't true, he had a litany of personal issues, and addiction issues as well. And then he ended up killing himself a few years ago. So I originally started for the purpose of gaining some kind of love or affection that I didn't already have. And I found that that was not a good place to make music from. It's not a good place to create art from because you're dependent upon input in order to feel like you're worthwhile. But your worth is intrinsic, it can't come from external sources. I discovered that, but it was really hard because I identified as a guitar player. And I went all the way, I majored in jazz guitar. So that's who I was, completely. And my dad was still alive at that time, so I was recording songs and putting out music hoping that he would maybe hear it somehow.

AMANDA BOCCHI: He did eventually. I put out an album when I was 19 and I went to see him. And that was one of the last times I saw him. I visited him at his home and gave him a copy of the CD, and he said "you're very angry". The album was called Cereal Box Murder, and on almost every single song a man dies (laughs).

MEREDITH LANE: Ironic he didn't pick up on what might have influenced that.
AMANDA BOCCHI: So he said "you're very angry, we're very different". I didn't spend enough time with him to really know what he was. It didn't have the impact I was hoping for, I didn't get "wow oh my god you're so talented". I was so much better than him at that point, and his ego was so big, that he wasn't proud or touched that I followed in his footsteps but more so embarrassed and looked down on me. I mean I was playing jazz, and he could barely get through three chords, which I didn't know. I thought he was a country singer. He had written several songs, and after he died I got several of those songs and I've kind of been working on them here and there. So I think what changed is that I had to discover what music meant to me and not what it could mean for me.

MEREDITH LANE: So what does music mean to you?
AMANDA BOCCHI: Self expression. Creativity. Art. The joy of getting to play because I can. The joy of never having to stop learning. There's so much music and there are so many art forms that I'll never lose interest in it. It's not like I'll get to a point where I've figured it out or mastered it completely. I don't believe in that, mastery is only limited to your imagination. So if you're imaginative enough, you could keep going in any direction you wanted.

MEREDITH LANE: What are you working on right now?
AMANDA BOCCHI: I've been writing several new songs, actually, and just trying to develop more. I took several years where I wasn't creating any music, and then the pandemic plus getting into radio and focusing on other people's art. The most I was doing was editing audio, which I love doing. I love crafting a piece of art, even if it isn't my music. But I think I've found a lot of freedom now. I don't feel like I need to be perfect, which is something I really struggled with and slowed me down. And I've noticed through interviewing a lot of women, women tend to wait until they think they're competent and at that point they are probably so overly competent that they have wasted time. Whereas men tend to just produce and get it out. And that's been one of the biggest hindrances I've had with getting women on my show because they often don't feel prepared enough. But I understand because as an artist, I'll say "I could do that better". But it's not about that, it's about where you are right now. So I feel like I'm in a different place with music all together.

MEREDITH LANE: As a former opioid addict, what were your biggest barriers towards reaching a successful recovery?
AMANDA BOCCHI: Access to care. Access to treatment. Access to clean supplies before I was ready to quit. And even when I was ready to quit, but still needed to be safe. The stigma associated with it is a huge barrier, you're treated very poorly when you're in active addiction and you're reaching out for help. I was lucky because I was treated well within the spaces I was in, whether they were paid for by government insurance or paid for by private insurance or a gift from the state. But 100% access to treatment, in this community in Roanoke. And this was eight years ago, so pre-fentanyl. I mean fentanyl was kind of on the scene, but not like what it is now. The overdose rate was definitely lower, I don't think there was nearly as much emphasis on getting help.

MEREDITH LANE: What local resources have been the most helpful?
AMANDA BOCCHI: I know of some now that were not in place when I was in active addiction. I'll be honest with you, I went to the hospital. And any active addict would know you can't just go and say "I need help", you need to be in a life threatening situation where you're going to harm yourself. You have to be very explicit and lie because you want help so badly. You have to say "I'm going to kill myself and this is how I'm going to do it". I learned that was the trigger word, that's what you have to say in order to get help. So I went to local hospitals, I want to say three times total. Then they'll treat the addiction because they have to. And by treat I mean they'll lessen the symptoms of withdrawal and make you a little more comfortable. But I've never been in that place where I actually wanted to die.

MEREDITH LANE: Being where you are now and looking back on all of that, what is going through your head about making it out of that situation?
AMANDA BOCCHI: How dangerous what I was doing was. How lucky and blessed I am to be alive, healthy, and safe, to be able to raise my kids. Because I saw a lot of people die. People who had beautiful children who will never know their parents. And you know what that does to a child. They're not just going to be ok one day. That'll be a stain on them forever. I'm just so grateful to exist.

MEREDITH LANE: How long have you been sober now?
AMANDA BOCCHI: Almost eight years. It'll be eight years in May.

MEREDITH LANE: I think it's a lot more than just luck that has gotten you where you are now, it's a lot of hard work, and it's something that most people will never fully understand, and I'm sure you're already very proud of yourself, but I just want to be another person saying it.
AMANDA BOCCHI: I guess you're right, luck probably isn't the right word. I'm lucky in the sense that I had a spirit that kept wanting to try. They say for people trying to get clean it takes 6 to 8 treatment centers before you stop using for good. There wasn't even anything different about the last treatment center, I came out fully expecting to use again. And I didn't. I started doing my nails obsessively instead. I got more interested in my music again. I have a lot of music about addiction, and overcoming addiction.

Thanks to Meredith Lane for this wonderful interview! If you're interested in getting involved in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, check them out here. If you're interested in submitting anything to our website, email our Webmaster Amir Lahoud.