Old 97's Rhett Miller Opens Up About Sobriety, Mental Health

By Kelly Burch 11/29/18

"I’ve been sober the last three-and-a-half years and I feel like it was definitely a part of wanting to take care of myself, wanting to love myself."

Old 97's Rhett Miller touches on his struggles with sobriety and mental health on his new album.
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The Old 97’s lead singer Rhett Miller lived the rock and roll lifestyle, complete with partying and booze, but he says that his more recent solo albums really showcase who he is and how he has grown as an artist.

“I’ve always thought of it as a shark that can’t stop swimming or it will die. Not to be melodramatic, but artistically, that’s how I’ve always felt. I want to keep moving,” Miller, 48, told Rolling Stone. “I love to make things. I have this deep-seated fear that if I stop making things, I’ll lose that ability. I don’t want to live a life where I’m not making things, because the act of creation is the thing that got me out of the darkest places in my life.”

On his new album The Messenger, Miller shares his experiences in some of those dark places, including a serious suicide attempt when he was 14. 

“The last few years, I’ve done a lot of work with different suicide-prevention groups, where I realized it’s better to say something to address these things and try to de-stigmatize them instead of give in to the shame and fear that goes along with talking about them,” Miller said. “It’s just an inherently tricky negotiation to wake up every morning and figure out the motivation to go on. Some people are able to overcome that more easily, and some people are never able to overcome that.”

Miller now has 12- and 14-year-old children, which has made him even more aware of the importance of sharing his survival story. 

“I’m looking at my son, who’s the same age I was when I tried real hard to kill myself. Fortunately, I don’t think he’s having to traverse as tricky a minefield of emotion or mental health issues as I did at his age, but it’s still hard,” he said. 

After finishing his last album, Miller decided to get sober, something he has been reluctant to talk about publicly. However, he said that he is realizing the importance of sharing that story as well. 

“I wonder if I’m reaching a point where I’ll feel comfortable talking about it without feeling too self-conscious. I’ve been sober the last three-and-a-half years and I feel like it was definitely a part of wanting to take care of myself, wanting to love myself—but also maybe me recognizing a few years ago that I was headed in a bad direction, back towards a place I thought I’d come out of.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.