Lady A singer-songwriter Charles Kelley says he nearly lost his wife and son amid his struggle with alcohol abuse, sharing details Wednesday about his emotional journey to sobriety and attempts to build their trust back.
The 41-year-old’s personal issues also led the country trio to make the “hard but important decision” last August to postpone their Request Line Tour so that Kelley could seek treatment for alcohol abuse. The “Need You Now” and “Just a Kiss” singer revealed on “CBS Mornings” that his relationship with alcohol had been worsening behind the scenes.
“I remember joking, you know, with everyone, with buddies. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely a functioning alcoholic.’ And I said, ‘I know I’m gonna have to stop at some point, but that’s not today,’” Kelley, 41, told Gayle King during their interview at his Nashville home. “And that was always kind of my little joke. Like, that tells you I kinda knew.”
The seven-time Grammy Award winner said that his bandmates, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott, first addressed his behavior with him about five years ago out of concern for his health, noting that he sometimes would have a little too much to drink during certain shows. Kelley said that he would counter by asking them how it affected how hard he worked and responded to their concerns with quick, dismissive comebacks and verbal and emotional outbursts.
“I could recognize that that was alcohol-induced, for sure,” he said.
His wife, Cassie, who sat for the CBS interview with him and King, would also tell him that his actions were affecting their son, Ward. The 7-year-old would pick up on behaviors that Kelley wasn’t noticing, telling his mom that “Daddy’s talking a little funny” or “You and Daddy, y’all argue a lot.” It “crushed” Kelley to hear that from the most important person in his life, he said.
The turning point, they said, came during a trip to Greece last summer. The couple got into an argument and Kelley said that he got sick of being told what to do. He turned off his phone and took off for the night, staying up to drink with strangers while his wife and eight of his friends spent all night looking for him. When he returned the next morning, Cassie told him that he needed help and had to deal with his issues. She had planned to end their marriage by meeting with a divorce attorney upon returning home, she said. Kelley told her “he knew” he needed help and contacted his manager, then flew directly from Greece to treatment.
“It just makes me feel so grateful at how close I came to losing it all,” Kelley said. “And I think the thing that’s hard is to know how much it affected Cassie the most, and my band, and the people around me. And how much it emotionally kinda wrecked them for a while. And that, I can’t really say I’m sorry enough. And it’s just gonna take time to rebuild that.”
Kelley tried to quit drinking before and therapists suggested that he go to rehab. But he refused because he was “scared to death” and associated rehab with people who have more serious problems with alcohol. Ultimately, he went to a rehab facility for a month where he attended group meetings with other alcoholics, had a case manager and was given a blood-alcohol detection device that he blows into twice daily. And that worked for him.
“What I’ve learned is, there’s degrees of alcoholics,” Kelley said. “You know, I think that’s one of the things too that I want to even share is, like, just because you’re not living on the street, or you’re not waking up in a bush, like some stories you may hear, it can get there and it can get there really easily. No one that starts drinking starts [there], it’s just this gradual thing. But for me, putting the tools in [helped].”
His wife visited the rehab facility and learned about “the family disease of alcoholism,” and how much work she would have to put in too. It was a notion that made her very mad at first, but she said she stuck by Kelley not just because she loved him, but because she didn’t want their son to have to split his time between two parents.
In its statement postponing the Request Line Tour last summer, the band also notified fans about Kelley’s treatment.
“We are a band, but more importantly we’re family,” the statement said. “We’re proud to say that Charles has embarked on a journey to sobriety. So, right now in order to be the healthiest, strongest and most creative band we can be, Lady A will take the time with the support of our families and team of professionals to walk through this together. It’s early on this road, but we are determined to do what will best set us up for many more years together.”
Lady A relaunched the tour in April at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and will next perform in Indio and Pomona on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The set list features Kelley’s original song “As Far as You Could,” which he called his goodbye letter to alcohol. After the interview, King added that the trio now has rules that prohibit alcohol on the tour bus, on the road and in hotels. But, she added, Kelley told her he doesn’t want people to feel weird drinking around him and that he’s all for drinking responsibly.
This story originally appeared on LA Times