Somehow, I had to turn everything around. Two weeks spent in the hospital doing a no-blink stare confronted with the fact that things in my life would have to change drastically left me exhausted, confused, and actually somewhat exhilarated.
Duff McKagan's column runs every Thursday on Reverb. He writes about what's circulating through his iPod every Monday.
In my 20s, there were two things I never really had to come to grips with or deal with: taking responsibility for my actions and thinking about what I would do other than music. I just didn't think that I would be around to deal with this shit.
After being mired in and shackled with the constant blackness of drugs and drink for as long as I was, a person just gives up. Sure, there is a weird hope for things like a miracle cure, but that is as close as you get to hope. A tragic event is more likely the case. And bracing for something like death happening to you gets somewhat softened by the cushioning narcotic fuzz. But suddenly here I was: sober and in a doctor's care, my two-week withdrawal softened by intravenous morphine for the pain and Librium for the delirium tremors.They released me from the hospital in May of 1994 with the hope that I would go directly to a drug and alcohol rehab that they had set up for me somewhere near Olympia. I thanked my doctor for all his help. The two weeks alone in the hospital had done as much for me as any rehab could possibly do. I was done. This was the break and miracle I had lost all hope of attaining. Now that I had been given this slight reprieve and separation from the putrid terror of addiction, it was time to turn some shit around--but how?
Back in the winter of '94, I had bought a house back home in Seattle, the place that I had hoped a miracle would happen--a house that I would either die soon in or have a family in. Two diametrically opposed situations, for sure, but such was my structure of thought back then. Here I finally was now, in my home and sober with a chance of starting it all anew.
One of the first things I did was go to the grocery store to buy food. It was a novel idea at the time, for I hadn't really shopped for food in about 10 years. Now here I was, 30 years old, and probably doing the first good grocery shopping in my life. I was an adult with a credit card, a checkbook, and an ATM card. I could buy whatever I wanted in the store, but I had no idea where to start. I thought that everyone was staring at me. It had been so long that I had been anywhere sober that I didn't know how to act or how to deal. It was like being on LSD. The lights in the store were blaringly bright to me and the music seemed to be playing hidden messages. I bought some milk and barbecue sauce and cigarettes, and that is all. My shirt was drenched in sweat and I was having a full-blown panic attack. As I drove my car home, I stiffly steered my machine out of the way of three accidents as I rode the brakes the whole way. I could smell my brake pads when I got home.
Something that I never really thought about was that just simply functioning in life again was going to be my biggest hurdle. I guess you always think that avoiding bars and drug dealers and the craving will be the things that impede sober progress. Yes, though those things would be a challenge, I first had to figure out things like what time to go to bed and what to do with my time. How was I going to play music again? Could I do it sober? How do I talk to someone on the phone now? Who do I call? Should I tell people that I am sober? Should I just go away somewhere and disappear? How do people view me after living such a reckless existence? What the fuck should I do?
My band, Guns N' Roses, was in shambles, and suddenly the dynamic had changed. Not too long after I got out of the hospital, Axl came up to Seattle to visit me. The challenge was how we were going to make a new record and what direction we were going to go musically. We couldn't very well do anything at the time because Slash was out doing a Snakepit tour and battling his own addiction. In previous years, there had seemed to be a fail-proof alliance and understanding within our band; we knew that at the end of the day we only had each other to rely on. Now I was doing sober things with Axl, like riding mountain bikes and eating healthy food and talking on the phone about a productive musical direction. That sense of family and trust had recently been tainted by management dealings and other wedges that did everything possible to vanquish our bonds.
Looking back now, it is all so fucking clear. But then and there in the moment, I couldn't wrap my head around the fact that outside forces could be so selfish and money-grubbing. These were the hard lessons I would finally learn to live with, although never by.