When I was in high school, Phil Collins and Genesis were the sound tracks of my life. From Phil Collins No Jacket Required to Genesis’ Invisible Touch albums, they were definitely some of my most played cassette tapes. To this day, these songs evoke memories from my teenage years, whether it was listening to a Walkman while riding a bike to and from work at McDonalds in the summer of 1988, or walking to and from school in the small town of Rouleau, Saskatchewan.
And so when I came across Phil Collins’ memoir Not Dead Yet at Walmart a month ago, I knew I had to get it. I love to read, although I’ve never really been a fan of autobiographies. However, I found with this one I couldn’t put it down – this was the story of one of my old musical heroes. Because the book is about the life of a musician, it was like there was a built-in soundtrack to the story as well! Whenever Phil would reference a particular song or album in his memoir, I would search it out on YouTube and listen along. That made it fun!
Another one of the other factors that really drew my attention to this story was the fact that I knew he talked about his battle with alcoholism in it. Having a father who was an alcoholic, and also being the President of the 12 step recovery program Overcomers Outreach of Canada, I was curious to hear his story.
Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet:
“Phil Collins pulls no punches – about himself, his life, or the ecstasy and heartbreak that inspired his music. In his much awaited memoir, Not Dead Yet, he tells the story of his epic career… A drummer since almost before he could walk… finally landing the drum seat in Genesis. Soon he would step into the spotlight on vocals after the departure of Peter Gabriel. (This) is Phil Collins’ candid, witty, unvarnished story of the songs and shows, the hits and pans, his marriages and divorces… (here) he recounts his harrowing descent into darkness after his “official” retirement in 2007.” (From the inside front book cover flap).
I don’t want to simply review this book here, rather I want to look closely at the second last chapter of this memoir: “Straightjacket Required: Or: how I nearly drink myself to death.” What was it that caused a rising star with a phenomenal solo career, involvement in one of the biggest rock bands of all time, not to mention projects for Disney like the songs on their animated film Tarzan, to descend into the darkness of alcoholism? It happened after he retired from a life of workaholism.
“I have a hold, a void: where there used to be work there is now time. A lot of time,” he writes. And so he begins to bury himself in the minibar, several nightcaps here and there, drinks before his rehearsals, and even has vodka with his eggs for breakfast. He says, “The scary thing is my tolerance has gone through the roof. The vodka isn’t touching the sides. How many do I have to drink before I feel something?”
This journey is a familiar one for many alcoholics. The further they progress in their alcoholism, the more they need to drink to begin to feel any sort of a buzz from the booze. But why did he turn to alcohol? “The cliché is true,” Phil writes, “I’m literally drowning my sorrows. Drink doesn’t make me feel better. But it does make me sleep. And if I’m sleeping, I’m not thinking.” His life has become an unmanageable mess.
His friends recognized his problem before he did, and encouraged him to get help for his addiction. But in true denial form, Phil said, “I don’t need to go to rehab. I can just stop. And I do stop – a few times. I become very good at stopping. But I become even better at starting again.” Does that sound familiar?
The first step of Overcomers Outreach, based on the 12 step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, says this: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or our sin or addiction) – that our lives had become unmanageable.” This didn’t happen for Phil until he hit rock bottom – which involved several episodes like the time he became falling down drunk and broken his rib and punctured his lung. Or the time he went to give his kids a hug and fell face first into the tiles of the living room floor and broke his teeth.
He writes, “My pancreas is not only scarred, it’s showing signs of irreparable damage. That’s, finally, a good enough reason for me. I want to see my kids grow up, get married, have their own children. I want to live.” So he finally goes to rehab.
Of his experience there, he writes, “I do the morning prayers, where everyone has to say something revealing / honest / self-lacerating. I don’t have any problems with this kind of group-therapy stuff, but it’s weird the people you meet, from hard nuts to housewives.” He laments, “Yet, in spite of being record-shifting, Oscar-winning Phil Collins, here I am in rehab, trying to deal with a drink problem. Just like everybody else.”
Do you struggle with an addiction to alcohol, drugs, pornography, or some other sin or bad habit? Like Phil Collins, maybe you have tried to stop, but like a dog returns to his vomit, you keep going back to that bad habit? If so, you need the help of a higher power to break free from your addition – the person of Jesus Christ. The second and third steps of the 12 step program say, We “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity” and we “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Call upon Jesus today, who is mighty to save and deliver!
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– Chris Jordan
(President and Executive Coordinator of Overcomers Outreach Canada)