Tommy Emmanuel is one of the most celebrated guitarists of all time, even receiving the title of Certified Guitar Player, or CGP, from the great American country guitarist Chet Atkins.
And now the legendary Aussie musician has revealed that, behind the scenes, he was privately grappling with drug addiction.
“I think a lot of people knew about it, but they didn’t say anything,” he told The Australian. “It came in and out of my life. Some people wear it like a badge of honour. I don’t.”
Emmanuel says it “just happened” and at first he found it “exciting” and thought it was just “what they do in America” but emphasises there’s “nothing cool about that stuff.”
The 67-year-old began his professional career at the age of six with a family band in the 1960s.
But working with family proved tough when the lines blurred between professional and personal, and especially when his sister Virginia revealed their father had sexually abused her as a child, resulting in a pregnancy that saw her give birth to a stillborn baby.
Emmanuel’s drug use amplified in the 1980s, he said, as he became an in-demand session player, songwriter and touring musician. He revealed that back then, the casual culture surrounding using drugs as a pick-me-up like coffee amplified his addiction.
He shares he used to take drugs every day, describing it as a “deep, dark, big beast, and it will destroy you”.
“I’m so lucky that I survived. I’m so grateful to be well today, and to be present in my own life,” he said.
Emmanuel has since taken himself to therapy to curb the challenge, which he described as a “beautiful” process.
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“I had to learn how to live again,” he said.
Emmanuel certainly did learn, having now been sober for three years. Treatment has taught him to let go of his need to control, which had been so ingrained within him since his childhood, resulting in him turning to religion.
“Once I got broken enough, I had no choice but to surrender and say, ‘I can’t do this anymore. Someone else is going to have to run the show’. So I’m not in charge anymore,” he said, reportedly smiling with relief.
Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).