If addiction recovery were a vinyl record, it would have two sides. Side A plays “Physical Dependency.” This is the side of addiction that people talk about “getting clean” from. It is associated with powerful cravings for the drug which can make you sick— even debilitatingly sick in the absence of the drug.
Side B is the side that many—too many—addiction sufferers forget to address. It’s called “Psychological Addiction,” and it’s not something that can be detoxed from or dealt with in a few days or couple weeks. It’s why you gravitated to drugs or alcohol in the first place and then hung on, because it filled a need that wasn’t quite physical at all.
Elton John Talking About His Addiction
Recently, legendary singer, performer, and songwriter Elton John opened up about his rise to fame and his struggles with drug addiction. His life, poignantly depicted in the musical biopic Rocketman, which opened in spring of 2019, was filled with glamour, wealth, and prestige, but the glitz hid the singer’s authentic self, one that was shy, insecure, in perpetual need of an absent father’s love. For John, it was the psychological component that proved so challenging to manage. Like so many people addicted to alcohol and drugs, the physical dependency isn’t easy to break, but it’s often less difficult to manage than those factors that led them to abuse powerful and dangerous substances in the first place.
Fame and Drugs
Early in his career, John’s manager and lover, John Reid, introduced the singer to cocaine. In an interview with NPR, John said, “I always said cocaine was the drug that made me open up. I could talk to people.” Shy, insecure, uncomfortable, John felt transformed by cocaine. It made him light up and feel on the inside the way he looked on the outside while performing in sequins and feathers. Cocaine gave him the self-confidence and self-approval that had been missing from his life since his early childhood.
As a child, John’s father was distant and cold. John revealed to People magazine, “I never had his approval. I was afraid of my father. I was walking on eggshells the whole time. My mother had letters from him saying, ‘He’ll never become a star.'” Elton John, cocaine, and turbulent inner emotions would prove a potent mix. It never takes very long for cocaine, the ultimate party friend, to show its true colors, and it did for John. He said that cocaine was also the drug that closed him down, leaving him unable to leave his hotel room for days and even weeks.
During the most chaotic days of his drug use, he thought he would not survive. “There were times I was having chest pains or staying up for three days at a time.” His friends would find him on the floor and would take him to bed, but he’d be up mere hours later, doing another line of cocaine. In addition, he’d drink—hard stuff—and take other drugs. He came to believe that he would die if he did not get sober.
When Elton John Seeked Rehab
In 1990, he checked in to a Chicago hospital. There, he penned a letter to his “worst, best friend, cocaine,” acknowledging that he would never touch it again. John believed that he needed cocaine in order to communicate. What he learned in treatment was that he didn’t; he truly didn’t need it to communicate, to sing, to cope with loneliness, or to take the place of love.
One of the reasons John made the choice to get sober was meeting Ryan White, a young boy who suffered from hemophilia and contracted HIV through a blood transfusion. White’s death shook the singer and helped him realize that he wanted to help others. He started the Elton John AIDS Foundation and has attempted to help various friends like Eminem and George Michael overcome their substance addictions. On looking back, John says he felt ridiculous that it took him 16 years to declare that he needed help battling his drug addiction, but when he said the words, “I need help,” he meant them and understood that he had turned the corner, had made the choice that would save his life.
How Elton John Quit Drugs
John revealed that while in rehab in Chicago, his cravings for cocaine were “inconceivably enormous.” At the same time he was in withdrawal from the cocaine, he had also stopped medicating with food, alcohol, and sex. “I was depressed and alone. I felt sick and weak and foggy.” He added that the early stages of his rehab experience were among the most difficult experiences of his life and that he seriously contemplated leaving. He acknowledges that the path he took in rehab was not a straight line to recovery. What kept him from leaving was his current boyfriend and his respect for young Ryan White who lost his battle to AIDS. He also credits the kindness of the people in rehab for helping him progress and stay the course.
John said that in rehab, he was just Elton— not Elton John the Rock Star. He and the others there were all struggling and none of them really knew if they’d make it, if they’d be able to stay sober. Some have questioned why John doesn’t discuss the “12 steps” or talk more about the experiences in rehab that helped him get clean. He has indicated, however, that it was the beginning of his new path and that his development into a life of sobriety post-rehab had everything to do with his AIDs foundation and working to maintain the transformation that had begun within himself during his rehab stay.
John chose to get treatment at Chicago’s Parkside Lutheran Hospital because it was one of the few treatment centers at the time that could treat his multiple addictions with cocaine, alcohol, and food. He is grateful that he managed to stay and did not abandon treatment. He said while each day there was challenging, he felt “invigorated” with each day he stayed sober and that he could feel himself regaining control of his life.
Inspiring Others to Seek Help
It took Elton John 16 years to admit he needed help battling his addiction. In spite of his fame, wealth, and talent, he understood that he could not do it alone. John’s life as a celebrity may be different in many ways than other people’s lives, other addiction sufferers’ lives. He can zip across the world on a private jet. He can hobnob with royalty and, of course, write some of the most beloved songs of the last 100 years. However, he could not control his choices, could not cope with his parents’ disinterest in him, or his toxic relationships— not until he showed up at rehab and asked for help.