Lady A, the chart-topping country music trio, has been making music together for 17 years. However, in August of last year, the group postponed their tour to allow bandmate Charles Kelley to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.
Kelley, who has won seven Grammys with Lady A, revealed exclusively to “CBS Mornings” that behind the scenes, his relationship with alcohol was taking a turn for the worse.
“I remember joking, you know, with buddies,” Kelley said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m definitely a functioning alcoholic.’ And I said, ‘I know I’m gonna have to stop at some point, but that’s not today.'”
“And that was always kind of my little joke. It was, like, that tells you I kinda knew,” Kelley said.
Kelley said his bandmates, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood, were also aware of the problem, and first addressed it five years ago.
“It was the first time that they had really, you know,” Kelley said. “We would have shows where they’re like, ‘Hey man, you might have had a little too much to drink that night.’ I was like, ‘Okay, well, has it affected how hard I work? Has it affected the shows?'”
He recalls being dismissive to their concerns and quick with his words, leading to emotional and verbal outbursts. Although he did not engage in physical altercations, he recognized that his behavior was influenced by alcohol.
Kelley also revealed how his drinking affected their seven-year-old son, Ward.
“Cassie [Charles’ wife] would tell me some stories about how little things that Ward would say that I didn’t even know he was noticing. You know, ‘Daddy’s talking a little funny,’ or, ‘You and Daddy argue a lot,'” he said.
Kelley said that hearing that his son noticed his drinking “crushed” him, because his son is the most important thing in his life.
He told “CBS Mornings” he had tried to quit before, but had never tried going to rehab because he was scared, and associated rehab to those who have a serious problem with alcohol — not realizing that there are different ways that alcohol can impact people’s lives.
“What I’ve learned is, there’s degrees of alcoholics,” Kelley said. “You know, I think that’s one of the things too that I want to even share is, like, just because you’re not living on the street, or you’re not waking up in a bush, like some stories you may hear, it can get there.”
However, this time Kelley decided to give rehab a chance for a month, and it worked for him. He credits a number of different tools in his success including attending “a lot of group meetings with other alcoholics,” and having a case manager, as well as a device he blows into every morning and every night.
He said this work is not just for his own wellbeing, but also for his wife, his band, and everyone else to know that he is checking alcohol.
“Slowly, but surely, that has built the trust back that eventually I think that won’t be a necessity,” Kelley said.
Kelley’s wife Cassie said that the experience was difficult but ultimately worth, because the journey, as she learned, is just as much hers as it is his.
She was surprised to learn about the amount of work she had to do when Kelley was in rehab. Initially, Cassie was upset and thought, “‘You [Charles] did this. And now I have to do all of this work, too.'”
However, she said she later realized that alcoholism is a family disease that affects everyone in the family system. She explained that she could have chosen not to do the work, but would have had to live with the unhealed trauma.
Their marriage, and Kelley’s drinking, came to a head during a trip to Greece. Kelley said he got into an argument with Cassie and turned off his phone, disappearing for the night and drinking with strangers. When he returned the next morning, Cassie told him he needed help and was planning to meet with a divorce attorney. The incident was a turning point for Kelley, who realized he needed to deal with his alcoholism. He flew directly to treatment, crediting his wife for pushing him to seek help.
“It just makes me feel so grateful at how close I came to losin’ it all,” Kelley said. “And I think the thing that’s hard is to know how much it affected Cassie the most, and my band, and the people around me. And how much it emotionally kinda wrecked them for a while. And that, I can’t really say I’m sorry enough. And it’s just gonna take time to rebuild that.”
Kelley’s road to recovery includes therapy sessions with his group. Lady A launched their latest tour at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville last month, featuring Kelley’s original song “As Far As You Could,” which he refers to as his goodbye letter to alcohol.
Kelley said he is now sober and healthy, grateful for the support he’s received from his bandmates, family and fans.
“I feel a lot of love,” Kelley said.
If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with alcohol, help is available via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.