If you are a fan of the metal band Metallica, or even if you’re not, you are probably familiar with lead guitarist and front man James Hetfield. James Hetfield has been the leader of this well-known, international band since the group first got together in 1981. His rhythm guitar playing, distinctive voice, songwriting abilities, and leadership capabilities have made him, along with his equally talented band mates, multi-millionaires over the past several decades.
However, like so many others, James Hetfield has experienced many struggles in his life as well. His parents divorced when he was thirteen years old, and his mother passed away from cancer just three years later. Later, one of his band mates was killed before his eyes in a tragic bus accident. In 1992, he was horribly burned in a pyrotechnical accident during a concert in Montreal.
Throughout all of the above, James Hetfield used alcohol and other drugs, so it is no surprise that he became dependent upon them. His drug and alcohol abuse continued to advance until he eventually entered rehab and got clean and sober.
However, just last month, after over a decade and a half of sobriety, James Hetfield announced that he would return to rehab. The band postponed an Australian/New Zealand tour so their leader can get the help he needs.
When one thinks of heavy metal music, dark lyrics, soaring guitar solos, intense drumming, and the rock and roll lifestyle, it’s natural to jump to assumed drug and alcohol abuse by a band. Indeed, Metallica was a band known for their heavy partying for many years.
Despite heavy drug and alcohol abuse throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the band’s smart business sense and dedication to their craft kept them moving forward and allowed them to reach levels of commercial success of which most can only dream. However, in the early 2000s it all came to a head for Hetfield; during the simultaneous recording of an album and documentary on the band, and the creative and relational problems related to that, he decided to enter rehab for alcoholism and other addictions on July 19. 2001.
Hetfield was successful in his treatment. He returned to his bandmates on April 12, 2002 and they began recording right away. At first, and for some time, he agreed to work only four hours a day, so he could spend the rest of his hours with his family. This method seemed to work well for him; after this initial stint in rehab, Hetfield successfully stayed clean and sober from that point forward for many years.
He was a recovery success story. Metallica continued to tour, release albums, write new music, and play for adoring fans. He managed to stay sober because he realized and fully understood everything he had to lose if he went back to using. In a 2017 interview with Joe Rogan, in celebration of fifteen years sober, he said “Fear was a big motivator for me. Losing my family, that was the thing that scared me so much, that was the bottom I hit, that my family is going to go away because of my behaviors I brought home from the road. I got kicked out of my house by my wife, I was living on my own somewhere, I did not want that.”
James Hetfield gives his wife a great deal of credit for his departure to rehab. He said that because she threw him out of his own home, he knew it was time to seek professional help. After seven weeks in rehab, he felt reborn, and moved forward successfully from there for almost two decades.
Unfortunately, not even world renowned, massively successful, sober-for-years rock starts are immune to the pitfalls of triggers and eventual relapse. On September 27, 2019, James Hetfield announced that he would return to rehab. As a result, the band has postponed an upcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand, and has refunded their fans there that had already purchased tickets.
Although James Hetfield has not stated what substance or substances were part of his relapse, many speculate that alcohol was the culprit, as it was widely known his drug of choice. Since entering rehab, he has deleted his Instagram account in order to focus on his recovery more effectively.
It’s unknown how long James Hetfield will spend in rehab this time around, but until he is ready, Metallica is on hold. At age 56, he likely has many years of music and touring still ahead of him if he desires. The band’s fans, for the most part, are understanding and simply hope that he gets better and gets back on track so he can continue to enjoy life and ultimate happiness.
It’s unfortunate that James Hetfield has experienced relapse after so many years of sobriety and success. However, this is just a reminder that relapse can, and does, happen to anyone, and that for many it is a part of the recovery process. What is important here, and the most vital lesson to be learned from James Hetfield’s story, is that even when someone stumbles on the path to recovery, it is not just possible, but crucial, that that person gets up and starts again. It is only through consistent facing and confronting of obstacles that those obstacles can be overcome.
Despite the fact that James Hetfield relapsed, he is still a hero to anyone working on recovery. In fact, he may even be more of a hero because of it. The fact that he recognized that he was again descending into addiction, and chose to deal with it rather than continue the descent is inspiring to all who struggle. May all who slip take the steps necessary to get back on the clean, sober, straight, narrow and positive path sooner rather than later and certainly before it is too late.
Much luck and positivity to James Hetfield during this difficult time. If his success as front man of this mega-group is any indication, he will likely come out the other side just fine, and will return to his band mates and fans in the near future – clean, sober, healthy, and ready to take on the world.
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