Sum 41's Deryck Whibley on Alcoholism, Recovery, and Headlining Warped Tour

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Sum 41's Deryck Whibley on Alcoholism, Recovery, and Headlining Warped Tour

By Brian Whitney 11/11/16

"I don’t think I would realize how good life would be now without all the bad things that went down."

Image: 
Deryck Whibley of Sum 41
Whibley still rocks on.

Deryck Whibley has a pretty wild story to tell. As most people know, he is the frontman and main songwriter of the band Sum 41, who broke out in a huge way with their album All Killer No Filler in 2001. Their hit single "Fat Lip" made a lot of noise on the charts, and Whibley soon became well known on the scene. He dated Paris Hilton, married Avril Lavigne, and partied as hard as any young and newly rich rock star is supposed to. Sum 41 continued to crank out albums, although each year they were a bit less successful than the last. Whibley continued to party, and each year he drank a bit more than the last. His marriage to Lavigne ended in divorce.

In 2014, he fell down in his kitchen with a drink in hand. His then fiancée, who is now his wife, Ariana Cooper, brought him to a hospital. There he was induced into a coma, so his body could handle the withdrawal from alcohol. Doctors told Whibley his liver and kidneys had collapsed from years of alcohol abuse. They told him he could have died, and that he was lucky to be alive.

That isn’t the wild part of the story though. That story has been told so many times that it's almost become mundane: rock star hits scene hard, parties harder, then fades away or even dies from years of abusing alcohol or drugs.

The part that makes this story interesting is that Whibley got better. Now clean for what is closing in on three years, Whibley is happy and healthy. That would be enough unto itself, but Sum 41 has a new album 13 Voices that hit No. 9 on the Billboard charts, and seems poised to be the band's most successful album since All Killer No Filler. The album is the first that Whibley has written in recovery, and it has been lauded by fans and critics alike.

Deryck was kind enough to sit down with The Fix for a phone interview.

Sum 41 headlined Warped Tour this year. Does it feel different being veterans of the scene instead of the young guys trying to make it big?

You know it really doesn’t feel much different to be honest. It always feels like you have something to prove no matter what. Either you're the new band with something to prove, or you're the old band that still has to prove that you’ve still got it. Either way you're in the same position every time. Even in the middle, you’re trying to prove you aren’t a one hit wonder. There is always something.

Your album 13 Voices is doing extremely well. It must be extremely rewarding to have gone through all of this, to write an album sober for the first time and get this kind of reception.

It is a really pleasant surprise, you never really know what's going to happen. Like I said, you always feel like you have to prove something. This whole experience has been great. I mean the tour has been selling out, everything has been going well. Things are great, there's not much to complain about. 

This might be a bit hard to answer, but what was the progression like from being a guy in a band that partied a bit, to being a guy that partied a lot, to almost dying because of your alcohol use?

Well, it took a while. It always seems to get to that point quickly, because the line you cross is such a fine line. I was pretty good at it for such a long time. We all were pretty heavy drinkers, we were pretty heavy partiers. For about 15 years, we sort of were able to stay in control of what was going on and party pretty hard at the same time. But there were a couple things that led to it. For me, the work never stopped. So basically we were just on the road constantly, and then the very first day when we would get off the road I would just start writing more songs. Then we would make records and we would go back on the road. It was this cycle that never really stopped. That was my excuse to party as hard as I did—because I worked so hard, it was like I felt I was allowed to do this.

How were you able to handle things in your personal life when you were partying like that?

Well, that's the thing. After a while, as I got older, there were certain life experiences that came into play. When I went through divorce it was really painful, so my drinking went up a little bit more. So it already was at a high level, and then it went up a little bit more. Because, you know, I was trying to cover up pain, or forget about something. Then I injured my back, so then I had this physical pain that went along with the mental and emotional pain. My back pain was really bad for a long time. Instead of taking painkillers, I noticed if I just had a few more drinks, then I would feel better. So at this point I was covering up more pain with more drinks. I just sort of crossed that line where my body did not really function without it. So then I was just there. I was just stuck all of a sudden.

So you're sober now? Where are you now in your sobriety? How do you feel?

I feel pretty great about everything.

Awesome.

It has been about two-and-a-half years that I have been sober. I feel great sober, I feel healthy, and I enjoy life every day. And that’s cool. At the same time, I really don’t miss anything in the past, but I don’t regret it either. I'm so glad it all happened. I don’t think I would realize how good life would be now without all the bad things that went down. During the bad, at first it felt like, “Man I really fucked up, now I regret this, maybe I should not have done this.” But then once I got over it, I was like, no, I am so glad it all got to such a dark, painful level. Because it is so good now. The darkness before is part of why I feel so good now. All of those memories, all of those great memories of all those years and years of crazy parties and all of that, I would not trade that. It was awesome.

I know exactly what you mean by all of that. I know this might sound a little trite, but do you have any advice for someone who might currently be in the place that you used to be?

I don’t know how to answer that because it is different for everybody. When you're in that place, there is nothing anyone can say to you. It's like you need to get there on your own. There is no way that anyone can give you any advice at that time. If someone tried to talk to me back then about my use, it would not have resonated at all. I would not know what to say if I were to offer advice. There was nothing anyone could have said to me.

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Brian Whitney has been a prisoner advocate, a landscaper, and a homeless outreach worker. He has written or coauthored numerous books in addition to writing for AlterNetTheFixPacific Standard MagazinePaste Magazine, and many other publications. He has appeared or been featured in Inside Edition, Fox News, People.com, Cracked.com, True Murder, Savage Love and True Crime Garage. He is appearing at CrimeCon in 2019. You can find Brian on Facebook or at Brianwhitneyauthor.com.

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