Brantley Gilbert on Kicking Addiction: ‘I Put My Life Under a Microscope and I Wasn’t Real Proud of It’
Both professionally and personally, life is good for Brantley Gilbert in 2018. The country has announced his 2018 The Ones That Like Me Tour, named after his current single. On a personal note, Gilbert and his wife, Amber, welcomed their first child in November of 2017, after struggling to conceive for the first two years of their marriage.
However, things haven't always been that way: Gilbert struggled with a serious addiction to opiates and alcohol in his 20s, and credits his faith and his relationship to his wife for providing support as he continues to work to maintain his sobriety. After seven years sober, Gilbert doesn't often like to look back at his life as an active addict, but in a recent exclusive with People, the country star explained the path that led him towards recovery, and how he continues to stay the course.
"Knowing where I am now, looking back almost makes me sick to my stomach," he tells People. "To go back to that frame of mind now is hard. Just what the hell was I thinking?"
Gibert's struggle with substance abuse dates back to his teenage years, when he quickly developed a penchant for hard liquor. A wide receiver on his high school football team, he began popping pain pills now and again to quell the minor injuries and aches he incurred on the field. His use of both substances intensified in college, culminating in a car wreck in the early hours of one Sunday morning. "I remember thinking, 'This can be over at any point. I want to make sure that I'm at least doing what I love.'"
While the accident served as the wake-up call Gilbert needed to jumpstart his musical career, the move to Nashville didn't slow down his hard-partying lifestyle. Instead, his drinking and drug use intensified, to the point where a rift was quickly deepening between the country singer and his on-again-off-again girlfriend, Amber Cochran. "From the time I met her, I loved her and wanted to be a better person for her, but I just wasn't ready because I couldn't be a better person for me yet," Gilbert tells People.
Gilbert's reckoning with his addiction finally came in late 2011, when he was hospitalized for pancreatitis and told that, if he didn't give up booze, he had less than a year to live. "I still put it off and was trying to slow down on my own, like 'Alright, I'm only gonna let myself take two pills today. I'm only gonna drink this much of my bottle and make a mark on the bottle.' And it would work a couple of days -- and then somebody throws a party," Gilbert recalls.
However, things came to a head in December after a party in celebration of his No. 1 hit, "Country Must Be Country Wide," and Gilbert went to rehab. "I got to a point where I knew it was something I couldn't do on my own," he says. "Pissed me off to no end and embarrassed me."
At his lowest point, Gilbert received a visitor from someone who had a unique appreciation of his situation: Keith Urban, who has also opened up about his struggles with drugs and alcohol, stopped by the rehab facility where Gilbert was staying to pay his fellow country singer a visit. "[It was] one of the best things that could have happened to me in my life," Gilbert says. "I remember him telling me, 'Hey, man, it's gonna be scary, it's gonna freak you out, but it's gonna be beautiful.' That was the opposite of the way I felt, and that gave me the extra kick to go, 'I can do this.'"
Gilbert took his last drink on December 18, 2011. While he was initially concerned that he might not be able to write or perform the way he used to, the opposite has proven to be the case. Gilbert has continued to tour and perform, and recently took an opportunity to give back to his Nashville community in the wake of the Waffle House shooting that took place on April 23, 2018, by raising funds for the victims of the attack as well as the 29-year-old customer, James Shaw Jr., who wrestled the gun away from the shooter and prevented him from taking more lives.
You Think You Know Brantley Gilbert?