Adversity breeds wisdom: this Metallica’s James Hetfield knows to be true. The music world is rife with stories of excess, such of decadent parties laced with drug-fueled euphoria and the eventual, inevitable comedowns. At the height of their fame in the 1980s, Metallica were at the very center of this spinning wheel, and for lead vocalist and guitarist James Hetfield, it became the source of a crippling addiction to alcohol.
After decades of nursing his addiction, Hetfield checked into a rehab clinic in 2004. Realizing that the bad habits he’d picked up on the road were now keeping him company at home, he knew something had to change. Hetfield came from a broken family and had no intention of creating a new one. So, after his wife kicked him out, Hetfield – determined not to make his children pay for his addiction – made a vow: he would get clean. He would start again.
For 15 years, Hetfield remained sober. But in 2019, things took a turn for the worse. News spread that Hetfield had checked himself into a rehab clinic and canceled an upcoming Australian/New Zealand tour set to take place in the autumn. Although ruffled by the idea of disappointing so many fans, Hetfield and the rest of Metallica agreed that the singer’s health came before anything else. So, shortly after the news broke, Hetfield’s bandmates Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammet, and Robert Trujillo released a statement explaining the situation “as most of you probably know, our brother James has been struggling with addiction on and off for many years. He has now, unfortunately, had to re-enter a treatment program to work on his recovery from him again.
Hetfield’s decision to make his relapse public and choose his health over money earned praise from all quarters. Indeed, many came forward to say that Hetfield was the reason they had gone sober. As I said, struggle breeds wisdom, and Hetfield has certainly struggled. However, the tactics he has developed along the way make him an excellent source of advice for others suffering from addiction. When asked if he missed alcohol during a period of sobriety, for example, Hetfield replied: “If I want to [miss it], I will. I could feed the dog that says ‘this was so great, remember this?’ or I can feed the dog that says ‘dude, look how great your life is now. Look at the crap you used to be in.’ It depends on how you look at it. I know that I could go back and fuck things up pretty quickly and I don’t need to do that.” This kind of honesty is why many rehab and recovery clinics suggest gratitude journaling as a supportive recovery practice. This involves writing diary entries emphasizing those things that we have, rather than those we lack.
Hetfield also suggests removing external influences that adversely affect your mood during recovery: “Being in the public eye and the criticism, how it affects me depends on my mood. If I’m in a good mood I can take just about anything, any time. But if I’m feeling insecure or tired or hungry or even afraid, it’s a different story. It’s why we keep the tour legs shorter now, because you get run down and your ego takes over. You start thinking ‘I’m so great. I can do anything.’”
At the same time, Hetfield urges the importance of holding a balanced perspective and not taking criticism too deeply when it does arrive: “People are people, man. We’re no greater than each other, we’ve all got the same size soul and we’re trying to feel happy and we’re trying to feel loved. It’s as simple as that. And some people think that if they can put someone else down, their ego comforts them a little bit. And so when someone is critical, I attribute it to that. It’s got nothing to do with me. Being able to let it bounce off you can be difficult but that’s the tool I like to use.”