How Friendship Helped Elton John Get Sober
The process of recovery from addiction begins with admitting that there is a problem.
The process of recovery from addiction begins with admitting that there is a problem. People with serious substance abuse issues can go many months, years, and even decades blissfully unaware of how their drug or alcohol addiction is compulsive and harmful.
For everyone who enters the recovery process, there is usually a moment where they "wake up" and recognize their need for radical change. Everyone's story is different, but there is a point in every recovering addict's life where something caused them to break out of the cloud of self-delusion.
Elton John is widely known as a singer-songwriter with an impressive five-decade career as one of the best selling musical artists of all time. He has written more than 50 songs that have become top 40 hits, songs that are going to be remembered for bringing so much joy and meaning to people's lives.
Like many gifted individuals, he struggled with substance abuse for much of his career, a time that almost killed him and that he now laments as "wasted time." He has been sober for more than 25 years. The deeply moving story of what led him to this change all hinged on an unlikely friendship.
Need for Change:
In a 2016 interview with Express, Elton John spoke very frankly about the years he felt were "wasted" on high levels of cocaine and alcohol abuse. Music would give some purpose to his life and keep him surviving, he realized that he had a severe problem.
Crying to himself, thought, 'You're so ill, you're so sick. I knew I had a problem." However, like many addicts, simply recognizing his helplessness and addiction was not enough.
Without really being driven to do the work, humble enough to ask for help, or the belief that change is possible, a lot of people can simply wallow in hopelessness that can simply push their abuse further down. "The only problem with me is I'm so stubborn and I couldn't ask for help."
How Ryan Helped:
Ryan White was a teenager living in Indiana, who contracted the AIDS virus from a blood transfusion, at a time when the disease was not well understood but deeply feared. He was ostracized in his community, even needing a court injunction just to attend school.
Elton John was so deeply touched by this story that he invited the family to a concert where me met them privately. This began a relationship that became a strong friendship. He stayed in touch with the family, and was at his bedside when Ryan died in 1990.
Elton performed "Skyline Pigeon" at his funeral, about a person "dreaming of the open, waiting for the day he can spread his wings and fly away...towards the dreams you've left so very far behind."
This relationship may have started out as one of Elton John reaching out in kindness to someone whose story he was touched by. However, Ryan and his family were able to offer profound healing to Elton as well.
After Ryan died, "I realized that I'd reached rock bottom." He entered rehab six weeks after the funeral, beginning a life of sobriety that he has kept to this day. In his memoir Love is the Cure, "Being around the White family made me want to be a better person," and his death in particular was the catalyst he needed to motivate him to change for the better.
"When his eyes closed, mine opened – and they've been open ever since." Elton John continues to be in touch with the family, and says that he owes them an incredible amount of gratitude because "they showed there was more to life than what I was doing."
Elton John's inspiring story of transformation can serve as a profound example for all of us. By reaching out and helping someone else, he found his life taking on a newfound sense of purpose and motivation that enabled him to really start the recovery journey. If you are feeling overwhelmed and helpless by your addition, know that change is possible, and that you're getting help will also give purpose to someone else.
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