Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

English 101: Lessons Learned

  • 2000 16 Jun
English 101: Lessons Learned
by Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}}

When approached about doing an interview with {{Michael English}}, my first response was an emphatic "no thanks." I told the PR company that those "messy" stories were better off in the pages of fan magazines; {{Christian Musician}} focuses on musicians. I hung up and went back to work. It didn't take long until a few thoughts started traipsing through my head. I remembered the headlines on Michael's much-publicized affair with another Christian singer several years ago. In my mind I reread the recent press releases about him going into rehab for an addiction to painkillers. Thinking of all this, I said to myself, "I'm thankful that none of my sins are broadcast to the world." Then two questions came to mind that made me change my decision about the interview.

What Christian artist has had their "dirty laundry" more publicly aired? Come on - check your short list. You know you have one. A case might be made for others, but I think that between the personal loss he suffered years ago, being asked to return his Dove Awards and the recent prescription drug problem, Michael English pretty much takes the cake.

The next thought struck me right between the eyes: If Michael's on the "top of the list" so to speak, maybe he's learned a thing or two that he can share with other artists, to keep them from the same pitfalls. Maybe something redeeming could come from all the pain. That was the clincher. I called the PR company back and booked the interview. One week later I was sitting in Nashville across from {{Michael English}}. I hadn't prepared any questions; instead I explained to Michael the process I went through in deciding to do the interview. He understood the premise, and opened up his heart. So without further ado, here's Michael English:

"I talked to my management about doing something: getting a letter out to other musicians. So this is kind of ironic, because God has laid it on my heart to share with others how easy it is to get in situations like I have been in, especially this last one with the addiction. And then six years ago, with what happened then. That was the toughest thing career-wise, with all the bad publicity.

"This last thing, with the addictions to painkillers, I didn't worry so much about my career, but God told me to focus on myself. There are so many addictions, not just with drugs, and I've seen it a lot in my family in the past. It's a scary thing.

"If God hadn't intervened, I don't know what would've happened. I had reached the place where I couldn't stop, because I couldn't stand the pain. All the pills were doing for me was making me feel normal, or so I thought. I was numb. I was isolating myself. I was running away from friends and family. The pills were helping me survive on a daily basis without feeling physical pain and all other kinds of pains as well. If anything happened, I'd just throw something in my mouth. But that's not the way to deal with it.

"I wanted to get something out to everyone that reminded them to be prayed up, and to keep their eyes on Jesus. Be strong, read His word, because Satan is going to come at us from every angle. Everybody's heard it, but it's so true. He's going to try to find that soft spot.

"I don't know what my place is in this world. I don't know if it's just to be an example, or to be a sacrifice, or if I'm just one of those guys who is a master of bad timing. I've had so many of those kinds of questions asked of me, and my pastor advised me, 'Don't try to answer the questions, just thank God for the position you're in now, and that you can turn things around and use them for the glory of God.'

"I don't want to use my past as a crutch or as a tool to make money-this was way too painful to be used to make money. Physically, it was the worst experience of my life. I'd never dealt with anything like that. I'll talk about that more in a minute.

"But what I learned, I have a hard time saying sometimes because everyone says it, but it's so true. Stay prayed up, and read His word. I had a hard time with that, because I don't like to read. I never even read a whole book in school.

"It's hard to say it in this amount of time, because I have so much to say. The bottom line is that I had an addiction to painkillers that started three years ago with an operation. I took the pills for a couple of months after the surgery, and then stopped taking them. I had half a bottle left over. About six months later I got the flu, and I was by myself. When I'm sick, I'm one of those mama's boys who wants someone to take care of me.

"So I decided to take one of the painkillers to see what would happen, and it took away every symptom. I thought, 'Wow, they should be giving these out for the flu!' I felt normal.

"And all it said on the bottle was 'may cause drowsiness.' That didn't happen to me. 'Do not operate heavy machinery.' I didn't have to worry about that. 'Alcohol may intensify the effect.' I didn't have to worry about that. I was just plain ignorant to the fact that this stuff could be lethal. It's a scary thing.

"So that's what happened. Any kind of ache or pain I had, I took one of those instead of a Tylenol. I just went to the doctor to get it. I wasn't writing prescriptions for myself-that went around, but it's not true.

"My mother was an alcoholic. I would encourage musicians to research their families, find out about any addictions. What I've learned over the last few months is that it's a disease. It's a sickness. I've also heard that some Christians don't believe that, but the majority of people who are addicts have family members somewhere down the line who were too.

"I went to a doctor and said, 'Hey, I need help.' It got to the point over the last year where I'd wake up and have to have something to get rid of the pain. I'd lost a lot of weight by then. And with withdrawals, it took at least twenty days to start getting my strength back.

"And it's still a struggle, because you know how easy it is to get the stuff. If you have a bad day, it's easy to start thinking, 'That will make it better.' That's the problem with a drug addiction. It may take care of the hurt for a while, but it just doesn't last.

"I knew I would be dead before I was forty, because I couldn't get off of it. That's why I went to that doctor, and he tried to help me taper off. We had a six-month plan, which worked for a while, but the bottom line is that you can't give drugs to a drug addict. You always find an excuse to take more.

"So God intervened, and I said, 'I'm ready.' Until I was ready, it wasn't going to work. Then I went to detox. Even now, when I see some of the shirts I wore during detox it makes me sick to my stomach, thinking about what that was like. But I think that maybe I need to wear those shirts, to remind myself where I've been, and what I don't want to go back to.

"Everyday I pray, 'God, remind me where I've been and where I am today.'

"Since I've been clean and learned about it, it blows my mind the number of people who are addicted to it, and take it every day. It's a legal drug, one you can get easily.

"I was in detox with people who were shooting up, doing heroin, cocaine, crank, crack. I said, 'God, I don't belong here,' and He said, 'Yeah, you do. You're no better than anybody in here, and nobody's any better than you.' It was humbling.

"I became great friends with people who have track marks on their arms, who have been using for years. They're clean today, and it's great to love people like that. It's a great feeling to keep one another accountable. I met a guy named Carlos who's going to be my trainer. He was Mr. Tennessee a couple of years ago, but was a total cokehead. This guy would see snakes when he shot up, and then do it again. He was beat up by an invisible person, which I believe was a demon from hell. The hedge of protection around your life comes down when you put stuff like that in your system.

"It's a total attack of the devil that makes us feel that we can't live without it. And if there are any drugs going on, eventually it will all come crashing down. When things go bad in your life, it's easy to think that a drug will make you feel better. It's times like that when you're really vulnerable, and that's when you've got to stay prayed up.

"Now I'm going to take some time off for myself, to build up my armor. I don't want to go through a situation like this again. I want to turn this into a positive situation, and use it to witness to people. I've already gotten the opportunity to share with so many and I want to keep doing that.

"I'm not ashamed of myself. I hold my head up high. I'm proud that I got the help I needed, and I'm proud of where I am today. I'm looking forward to the day when I can go and tour this new record, because it's perfect for this whole situation. I did the record about six months ago, while this was going on.

"Now I'm just surrendering to God, knowing that He's my strength. That's all I need. And it's not going to kill me, it's going to give me life. And that's the message I want to get across. God's the only way. We need to turn to Him, and not because we do want to go to heaven or we don't want to go to hell, but because He's our Creator, and He deserves that from us. He loves us, and He sent His Son to die for us. Every day we need to strive to be more like Jesus."