Charles Kelley‘s Lady A bandmates, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood knew he had a drinking problem before he did. So did his wife, Cassie. The only person who didn’t know — or didn’t want to admit it — was Kelley, who took offense when any of them suggested he was drinking too much.
“On the golf course, I’d have a Bloody Mary, then some cocktails, and then wine with dinner at home, whiskey at night. Next thing you know, it’s eight drinks in a day,” Kelley recalls to The Tennessean.
Concert days could be even worse.
“I was drinking a lot myself before the show,” he adds. “Then I saw [Haywood and Scott] and said, ‘Hey, let’s have some.’ And I’d drink some more.”
Kelley might have remained in denial, if not for a trip to Greece with Cassie, which gave Kelley the long-awaited wake-up call he desperately needed. Tired of being told he was drinking too much, Kelley turned his phone off, so no one, not even his wife, could find him, and drank all night long.
“I’ve never done that before,” Kelley now admits. “Usually, I used to always text Cassie and at least say, ‘I’ll be home soon,’ or ‘Leave me alone, I’m out with the boys.’ But that night, I turned my phone off. … Let’s see what she does when I do this. I terrified them all.”
Fortunately, the incident made Kelley realize that his drinking was beyond what he could control. He got on a plane in Greece and went immediately to rehab.
“I cried at the airport, and I hadn’t cried in five years,” Kelley remembers. “There was a weird relief. Hope. Finally, I get to try a new journey.”
It was Kelley’s job as one-third of one of country music’s reigning superstars that led him to keep drinking, always in search of what he only found on stage.
“Getting off stage, that jolt of dopamine, if you don’t have it, you drink to get it back,” he explains. “I got addicted to heightened moments. Everything had to be big moments, golf, concerts − I couldn’t just live life as it came.”
Kelley went public with his sobriety journey early on, with Lady A postponing their Request Line Tour so he could get the help he needed. He also released “As Far As You Could,” his farewell letter to alcohol. He and Cassie also both continue to do the work required for him to live a sober life, which for Kelley includes regularly attending sobriety meetings.
“This is where you get jolts of nuggets of hope and spirituality,” Kelley says. “On my own, I can get distracted, but when I go to those meetings, we have these moments where that’s all I’m focused on, my higher power coming in.”
The 42-year-old knows being sober will be something he works on for the rest of his life, but he also knows that his life is much more than overcoming addiction.
“Sometimes at night, I feel I’m overtherapized. I don’t want my life to become completely about sobriety,” Kelley acknowledges. “On the flip side, I feel like I have a responsibility to share with my peers or with anyone that there is hope. You can literally change the trajectory of your life by doing this [recovery work]. Is it going to be hard? Yes.”
Find all of Lady A’s music and upcoming shows at LadyAMusic.com.