Imagine one of the best rock musicians on the planet paralyzed at the idea of performing or sitting down to write a new song. That's where Eagles and James Gang guitarist Joe Walsh was in 1994, when he finally conquered his dependence on alcohol and drugs. He wasn't sure he could do anything sober.
"As the disease progresses . . . it convinces you that you can't do anything without it," Walsh said recently, seated in his tour bus near the Washington Monument, where he came to headline the Unite to Face Addiction rally. "And really you give all your power away."
Slow and steady
Walsh agreed to try recovery in 1993, spurred on by Eagles bandmates Glenn Frey and Don Henley, who wanted to put the band back together after a 13-year hiatus, and wanted Walsh to be part of it. He has been abstinent since 1994. He took it slowly, he said, working up the confidence to relearn how to do just about everything sober. He didn't write music for four or five years. At some point, he realized that life was better without alcohol.
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"My message is there is life after addiction, and it's really good," he said. "If I had known, I'd have stopped earlier."
His 2012 song "One Day at a Time" celebrates his recovery and has helped him spread the word that there is no shame in addiction, the theme of Sunday's event. It's a disease, the 67-year-old rocker said, and there's no reason to hide the fact that he's in recovery.
"I see so many addicts in this country and it's destroying so many lives and so many families," he said. "I've got to do something about it."
Taking addiction seriously
Those themes were echoed throughout the event, which drew thousands of people to the grounds of the Washington Monument despite the threat of Hurricane Joaquin. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy announced that his office would produce its first ever report on substance abuse and health, akin to previous large-scale efforts on smoking and HIV. "We are going to stop treating addiction as a moral failing," Murthy said.
Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, who is in recovery himself, told the crowd that "we are here today to stop whispering about this disease. Silence has always been our enemy."