Scott Stapp Celebrating Sobriety ‘With Arms Wide Open’
Creed's lead singer on sobriety, his arrests, his near death experience and staying sober on the road
Back in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, everything that Scott Stapp touched turned to gold (or platinum). As the lead singer of rock band Creed, his first three studio albums sold over 50 million records worldwide and spawned four No. 1 singles in the U.S. including “With Arms Wide Open” and “Higher.” But at the peak of their fame, Stapp’s issues with alcohol and tensions within the band led to their split in 2004. (They reunited for the 2009 release Full Circle, but have since disbanded until further notice).
His drinking and depression led to numerous high-profile incidents that included a 2006 arrest for suspected intoxication and a 2007 felony assault charge (later dropped) against his first wife. In his memoir released last year, Sinner’s Creed, Stapp also revealed that he nearly died after a drug-induced hallucination led to him falling from the balcony of his 16th floor hotel room in Miami Beach.
But it was blacking out drunk and not coming home for Christmas in 2010 that was the catalyst for Stapp to get sober. He entered rehab shortly after and has been actively working on his sobriety ever since. He’s now plugging his latest solo album, Proof of Life, and spoke with The Fix about how he’s able to avoid alcohol on the road and how tensions with his former bandmates contributed to his drinking.
Where are you now in your sobriety?
I began my journey of sobriety on November 18, 2010. I had a couple of relapses over a year ago. The first time I relapsed was drinking right before hitting a year of sobriety, which was really frustrating. The second relapse was when I had knee surgery and abused pain medication that was prescribed to me by my doctor afterwards. I gave my wife the bottle to hold onto, but would then go in and take a couple of extra pills that I felt I needed. There was also a short relapse period involving marijuana maintenance.
Did you beat yourself up over your relapses or were you able to forgive yourself?
I definitely beat myself up after the first relapse. But each time I relapsed, I learned something about my life and recovery and where I was at that moment. It made me stronger. I certainly don’t encourage it to guys in my group because that’s the quickest way to die. But I would talk with my sponsor afterwards and do a relapse analysis to figure out what caused it. It was usually because I wasn’t making meetings like I used to and it’s pretty obvious what that leads to. I was going to meetings three times a day in the beginning of my first year, but then life got busy and I went maybe twice in the two to three weeks prior to my relapse. I found that I was almost planning the relapse subconsciously. There’s no question that going to meetings and having a support group has helped. When I was white knuckling it and relapsed, I would be out for a week. But since my journey began in 2010, it might be a couple of hours before I make a phone call when that happens. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the mitigating factors that triggered those three instances.
The video for your current single, “Slow Suicide,” largely speaks to your addiction and recovery. You were always known as someone who used symbolism and metaphors with Creed, so could singing so directly about your darkest moments during the upcoming tour be triggering for you?
Honestly, it’s almost like a meeting for me. It keeps that stuff right on the front of my brain. As an alcoholic, I have a memory problem. I’ll forget all of the negative things that happened and just look at the positives, which is exactly when a relapse happens. Being in recovery is about being in service. I’m helping those battling alcoholism and drug addiction by sharing my story, while also being honest with myself and others.
Did your drinking contribute to any of the issues between you and the other band members in Creed or was it purely creative differences?
To be honest with you, it was pure and irreparable jealousy. I had a member in the band that wanted to be the frontman. The bigger we got, the more what they wanted to pursue overtook the band. [Lead guitarist] Mark [Tremonti] made a solo record behind my back and shopped it around. He didn’t go and get another singer until he realized there wasn’t enough interest in him being the frontman. When I did stumble with my own addiction, it was a convenient excuse. But I can look back and say that had I not used alcohol to deal with my own hurt and confusion, as well as that situation in general, it probably would have come to a head in another way.
What would you say were the lowest points of your addiction?
One point that really sticks out in my mind is when I blacked out on national television. I didn’t know what I’d done or the extent of my behavior until I was confronted directly and told, “You need to look at this and realize what alcohol is doing to you.” That really impacted me and I was so embarrassed, but I hadn’t hit rock bottom yet and still kept on digging until my accident in 2006.
Did being a celebrity contribute to your drinking problem in any way or were you simply too far in at that point?
At that point, I was so in the middle of my disease that I didn’t even know what alcoholism was. I had never heard of AA or a 12-step program. But my drinking did grow in leaps and bounds in 2002 after I found out what was going on behind my back with someone I thought was my best friend. It just became an excuse to start drinking in the morning.
What was the moment that convinced you to finally get sober?
I was in New York on Christmas Eve in 2010 with my wife and she suggested we stop at a bar for a couple of drinks. I blacked out, didn’t come home for Christmas and ended up in a hospital for three days. I was like, “I can’t believe I just did this.” It really hit home. After that, I went to rehab for 44 days at Willingway in Stakesboro, Georgia and began my journey.
Do you find it difficult to make it to meetings while you’re on the road?
I have to make them because we all know our disease is in the parking lot doing push-ups when we’re not using. I do get a chance to go to meetings on the road and have a pretty large sobriety network. We do meetings backstage before the show and I keep in touch with my men’s group back home on a daily basis, as well as my mentor Jimmy Weiss at the Betty Ford Center. But the biggest thing is that I made my touring environment a sober one. I can’t require people to be sober the whole tour, but I can require my buses and the backstage area to be sober. It’s fine if people want to drink, but they need to do it in their hotel or away from the venue. That seems to have been a good thing.
Has it been easier or more difficult for you to now write and perform sober?
For the most part, I maintained a level of sobriety when I was creating because I wanted to know it was me and not the drug. I did smoke weed at times and discovered cocaine with my first solo record, which completely destroyed my creative process, but 90 percent of the time I wasn’t under the influence. But I’m certainly writing with more clarity and perspective and self-awareness now than I ever have. That said, I had gotten to the point in my addiction where I was performing under the influence. You can buy into the myth that this stuff helps you, but it’s a bag of rocks. Try drinking a 12-pack and running five miles. But these days, my performances are better than they’ve ever been. I’m not numb anymore and the most important thing for an artist is to feel and be aware.
McCarton Ackerman last interviewed Artie Lange for The Fix