This post was originally published on December 7, 2015.
People get sober in all sorts of ways. Sometimes they just quit on their own. Sometimes they go to rehab. They show up in 12-step rooms, ashrams, churches and their parents’ basements. There is no one right way—something we’ve aimed to show in our collection of How I Got Sober stories. While we initially published these as either first person essays by our contributors or as interviews with anonymous sober folks, we eventually began to realize that there were other stories to tell: yours. This is our reader spotlight and this, more specifically, is Rusty.
Click here to see all of our How I Got Sober stories
What is your sobriety date?
February 24, 2013
Where did you get sober?
When did you first start doing drugs?
I started smoking pot when I was 16. Within four years, I moved on to cocaine, hallucinogens and pharmaceuticals like Quaalude, Tuinal, Biphetamine, Placidyl and Desoxyn. They don’t even make most of these anymore, which in hindsight is a blessing for me because I liked them too much.
How would you describe your life before you quit doing drugs?
My life was not in complete shambles. I was never in any legal trouble, I had number one hits on the radio and won awards for my songwriting abilities—but I was living a lie. You see, even though I had overdosed at age 20 (on barbiturates), it wasn’t enough for me to get clean. When I came home from the hospital after the OD, I walked into a huge cocaine party. I remember someone telling me, “This is what you need to do, man. Leave those stupid pills alone.”
What was your childhood like?
I had a relatively normal childhood—if you consider having a father who is a recording artist and signs autographs “normal.” My dad joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1965 when I was seven years old. By the age of 13, I was also on the road performing. I never went out for sports because all I wanted to do was practice music. While my friends would be outside playing ball, I was inside playing along to records. That is how I taught myself to play. I can’t read music; I play by ear.
I don’t talk enough about my mother, probably because of my famous father. I want to acknowledge the unconditional love my mother has for me. While Dad was out travelling 250 days a year, Mom was running the household by herself—wrangling three boys. My parents were divorced in 1975.
Do you remember the first time you thought you might have a problem?
I took pain pills from November 2002 until February 2013. I found myself going to pain clinics because it’s no secret that they are generous with their prescriptions. Even though I never missed a show, a writing or recording session, it was a complete juggling act of making sure I had enough pills to not feel bad.
How did you rationalize your drugging?
The music business (especially at the Grammy and arena-packing level) in the late 70’s and all through the 80’s and 90’s was fueled by drugs and alcohol. Those were the days of, “Cocaine and champagne with a Quaalude chaser.” All of my peers were doing it.
What do you consider your bottom?
I have had quite a few bottoms. Including lying to my family about my drug use and accepting a Songwriter of the Year award high on Oxycontin. I was asked to leave my brother’s house during the holidays because I was nodding and slurring from too much Xanax—that was a biggie.
Did you go to rehab?
I went to rehab twice—a place called Rob’s Ranch in Purcell, Oklahoma. The first time I went was June 2011. The second time was February 2013.
Did anything significant happen while in rehab that is important to your sobriety?
The second time I was in rehab, the center asked me if I would like to stay and work. I knew in my heart that going back to Nashville was a risky thing for me. I had gone back the first time and it didn’t take me long before I was back to the old me. This time I was hired to drive clients to doctor, dental and legal appointments. I was a house manager and did wake ups, roll calls, bed checks, dished out meds and even gave urinalyses (talk about a humbling experience). I was allowed to use my musical talents to play for the clients and their family members at different functions.
Did you go to NA?
Yes. To be perfectly honest, I’m not crazy about meetings. But as I was told in treatment, I don’t always have to like it or the others who attend. I’m there to share my experience, strength and hope to someone else.
What do you hate about being an addict?
I hated being without drugs. The not being able to fall asleep when I needed to. The nodding out and slurring when I was supposed to be alert. The dishonesty, the isolation, the restless legs and body aches from coming off of opiates. I hated having to take something just to feel regular. I really hated that the drugs stopped working after awhile.
What do you love about being an addict?
These days, I like that I can “talk the talk” with other addicts. I have been there. I’m what the kids call an “OG” (Original Gangsta’) I’m “RG the OG.”
Do you have a sobriety mantra?
I totally understand now why “One Day At A Time” is the number one phrase for anyone in recovery. I never really thought about how powerful and real it was until I started living and breathing it.
What is the most valuable thing that has happened to you in recovery?
I have totally immersed myself in the high-tech recovery scene. I also go to old-fashioned meetings for the human fellowship. I have publicly put myself out there as someone who is in recovery. I do television, magazine and radio interviews, play concerts and, of course, recorded a recovery-themed album called SOBER.
Have you worked the 12-steps? What is your opinion on them?
Yes. I believe the steps are a guide to living a good life. ANYONE can and will benefit from following the instructions laid out in the steps. My counselor told me that I have to take Step One each and every day.
If you could offer a newcomer or someone thinking about getting sober any advice, what would it be?
First, I would like to acknowledge that as of today, I have been clean for almost 900 days and still feel like a newcomer. But to the person out there who is just considering the sober life—just try it. Stop getting drunk and high and see if life gets better. It takes so much work to try and make sure you have enough drugs and booze when there’s never enough in the long run. Any addict or alcoholic knows that.
I have a recovery-themed page on Facebook called ‘Rusty N Recovery’ where I post daily affirmations, photos and news clips related to addiction and recovery. Check it out!
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