Elizabeth Edwards is an award-winning singer, songwriter who sings about the emotional journey of addicts through recovery. We were able to pull Elizabeth away from her busy schedule and ask her a few questions about her recovery story. I think you’ll find her answers moving.
Can you give us a basic outline of your recovery story?
Well I like to tell people that one of the worst days of my life turned out to be one of the best days of my life. October 13th, 1986, I was a 25 year-old single mom, student, and a regular 12 Step meeting “visitor.” At the meetings I would say to myself, “This is great for these people,” even though a lot of people were telling me that I had a problem. I just couldn’t connect my behavior with an addiction issue.
So my life whirled deeper and deeper into unmanageability. I became a binge drinker and remained one for about 7 years.
When I turned 25, I found myself hitting rock bottom again. I had been killing my emotions with alcohol every chance I got. I couldn’t imagine continuing the way I was, but I couldn’t imagine stopping either.
I had a moment of clarity after a particularly dramatic weekend that really got my attention. My drugs of choice at the time were alcohol and people. Up until that point I thought people were my problem and alcohol was my solution, I learned that addiction was my problem and recovery was my solution. When I went back to meetings with a bit of desperation, some willingness, and an open mind, I started to identify with the feelings people were expressing and I finally realized I was in the right place.
I eventually discovered I had a generational predisposition towards alcoholism. Three out of my four grandparents died as a result of the disease of addiction, and none of them had been to treatment. The concept of treatment or recovery from addiction was completely foreign to me.
I had heard the many sad stories of both of my parents’ childhoods due to their alcoholic parents, but alcoholism and drug addiction were considered a moral failing not an illness. It was through the example of a close friend that I saw the solution working in his life and that got my attention and gave me hope.
So what made it click for you?
It was the example of my friend turning his life around, and getting his life back that got my attention.
I think alcoholism is a disease shrouded in shame. I became so identified with my negative behavior that I had completely lost my identity and any sense of self-respect. Seeing someone else turn it around gave me the desire to do the same. I recognized that there was a way through this; I found hope for myself in his recovery and committed myself to a recovery program.
Was it sort of a reversal for you then? You said your emotions brought you into the addiction; did they bring you out of it as well?
I had to learn that feelings don’t kill you, instead they are just messengers. I didn’t know how to process my feelings. They overwhelmed me so I would drink to escape. I was trying to kill the messenger with alcohol and with the messengers dead, I never got the real message. So my life continued to whirl out of control. I had to realize that my feelings were there to guide and direct me in my life, and that there are healthy ways of processing feelings and that they don’t need to be feared or avoided—nor do they need to run my life. Recovery gave me the “tools” that I had been missing and the support I needed while learning how to use them.
Working with other people that understand me has helped me over time think differently about my feelings and cope better with life and all its challenges. It’s been a spiritual path. The road from active addiction to recovery has taken me from living a self-centered life, full of fear and shame to living a principle-centered life, outlined in the 12 Steps.
Did music play a role in your recovery?
When my addiction was active, I actually I stopped playing music—I was embarrassing myself singing drunk in front of crowds, so I stopped performing. I find it ironic that it never occurred to me to stop drinking.
After getting sober though I started writing songs again and didn’t really tell anyone at first. I didn’t trust myself to go out and do the music thing again because I thought my ego would get in the middle of that.
I eventually came to realize that the music I sing can’t be all about me, instead it was something I had to give to the people around me, it’s the “gift” I bring to the party of life.
I got out of my own way and started having fun with it, and people liked it. One thing lead to another and now I am in the middle of releasing a new CD, House of Mirrors, and it’s all about this recovery journey so many have found themselves on.