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A Melody of Recovery: Edwin McCain’s Sober Journey

Issue 32

Sober since 2007, he says this is his ‘favorite era’

by Amy Paradysz

How often do you go to a concert where the rock star advocates for sobriety?

Edwin McCain, the singer-songwriter behind the ’90s hits “I’ll Be” and “I Could Not Ask for More,” is playing Maine Savings Amphitheater in Bangor with Hootie & The Blowfish and Collective Soul on June 14.

“Depending on how the show goes, I’ll mention something about going to rehab or being sober,” Edwin says. “I joke around with it on stage a bit because I’m trying to chip away at the stigma.”

He remembers when he, too, had misconceptions about addiction — when he thought he couldn’t be an alcoholic because he could perform hundreds of shows every year, even if he got “blotto” after every single show. “I remember one time I made that argument with my wife, saying, ‘Honey, I’m not an alcoholic. I have a tomato garden.’ I used to think alcoholics were always incapacitated. Now I understand that people with substance use disorder populate every corner of the world.”

He was doing about 25 shows a month — plus early morning radio interviews, events at record shops, meet-and-greets with fans, and sleeping little more than three hours a night.

“I didn’t have any sense of healthy boundaries,” Edwin says. “All I was doing was working and getting wasted in every town because there were people in every town who had waited for their big night out and I didn’t want to disappoint them. So I strung together a decade of big nights out. And the way I maintained that was with chemical ‘help.’”

He had just one rule: that he wouldn’t drink or use cocaine before shows.

Eventually, he didn’t have that rule anymore, either.

With a national tour at stake and people’s livelihoods depending on him “being out there earning,” Edwin says he kept “limping along.”

“I had friends who were older than me and were in famous bands,” he says. “And I started to see that things went one of two ways: they got sober or they got dead. I could see that I was riding the same rails they were. I had some guys I really looked up to who got sober before me, and I knew it was something that I was eventually going to need to do.”

Then, in 2005, Edwin found his motivation.

“We adopted our first son, and then the law of irony kicked in and my wife got pregnant about an hour after we adopted,” Edwin quips.

After years of being responsible for little more than his career, he wanted to be a capable and present father.

He says, “I tried to modulate my intake, and I discovered that one of two things would happen: I would go out and have a few beers and it would be no problem. Or it would set off a chain reaction that would go on for days. And I couldn’t legitimately tell you which would happen if I drank. And that was the gong going off where I knew I had a serious issue.”

He checked into Talbot Recovery Center in Atlanta, where he stayed 120 days — “extra innings,” as he says — long enough to not only grasp sobriety but to also know what it feels like to slow down, be “mindful,” and set reasonable limits.

“What I like most about life in sobriety is being dependable,” Edwin says. “I’m somebody that people can count on, any time of the day or night. I’m capable and present for my family, friends, and community.”

None of his three kids remember a time when he wasn’t sober.

At first, touring was tricky because every show was a “trigger” for using. Being in a different city practically every night, people didn’t always know or remember he was in recovery. Sometimes he’d just find drugs in a pocket.

“That was challenging until I established with everyone that I had made a change in my life,” he says. “I’ve been playing music on the road for 35 years, and this is by far my favorite era. The way my tours work now, I’m not being pulled in all those directions. I say no to lots of stuff — which I used to have trouble doing — and I have a schedule that’s manageable. My show times are earlier, too.”

Another secret to his ongoing sobriety was getting diagnosed with ADHD and being treated for that properly rather than trying to self-medicate.

“Had I not gotten on ADHD medication, I would have relapsed,” Edwin says. “I was under siege with thoughts of using and drinking. Every time my brain changed gears, it was an opening for a thought about using or drinking. And it was misery. I told my wife, “‘I’d rather die drunk than listen to my brain screaming at me all day long.’”

Thankfully, those weren’t the only options.

“I’ve been on medication since I got out of treatment,” he says. “I resisted it, and when I first took it, I realized, ‘Oh, this is what normal people feel like.’ I’ve been on the same dose for 13 years now and it’s been life-changing.”

He also had to change the way he reacts to conflict.

“I used to be super reactive,” he says. “When I first got out of rehab, I was still running in circles chasing my tail, and my sponsor Doug would say, ‘Edwin, the hardest thing in the world to do is nothing.’”

From that advice, Edwin implemented a four-day rule.

He says, “If a complicated situation comes up or everybody is freaking out, I quietly tell everyone involved, ‘Give me a couple days to think about this, and I’ll give you the best and most reasonable answer I can. I respect you too much to just fire off the hip.’”

Once Edwin started doing this, he was amazed by how often the situation handles itself within a day or two. “Not every situation requires input from me,” he says. That realization has been a gift of recovery.

Another gift is giving back and being a role model.

“I want to be in service and available when people reach out,” he says. “Family members call me thinking that I have a magical sequence of words to convince their loved one to go to treatment. But I have to say, ‘I wish I could say hocus pocus and they’d say okay, but it could be years.’”

What makes the difference isn’t any magical words but the person being ready to make the change, like when Edwin decided he wanted to be what he calls a “living example.”

He says, “I work with a federal judge in Charleston who does a bridge program that intervenes on behalf of people with substance use disorder. One of the things I say to the drug court, and to anyone in this conundrum, is that recovery gives you an opportunity to pick what kind of example you’re going to be. You’re going to be some kind of example: Are you going to be a living example or a dead example? It sounds drastic, but it’s 100% true. When people die from this disease, people around them change. When people make the journey to recovery and become a good example, people change, too. It happens both ways. But I want to be a living example.”

Alternative rock singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, 54, says he went to rehab in 2007 and “never looked back.”

Amy Paradysz
Amy Paradysz
Amy Paradysz is a recovery ally and freelance writer and editor from Scarborough with more than 20 years of experience. She can be reached at amyparadysz@gmail.com..

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