Jim Sonefeld had a problem… and everyone knew it but him. As the drummer for Hootie and the Blowfish, he was able to indulge in the drinking habit that he’d developed in high school. When he realized it was a full blown addiction, he had to look beyond himself for help.
Before you were 18, you’d already been exposed to alcohol?
Oh, sure. As soon as I got out of Catholic school in the summer of ’79, I started hanging out with kids from the public school and from the neighborhood. Somebody had some beer. I didn’t have an answer called “no”, so I drank it and that was the beginning. I was 14 years old. And as I learned later, with a slightly addictive personality, I took it in and it went to excess immediately.
How were you able to function in high school already addicted to alcohol?
As most good alcoholics do, we surround ourselves with people who are like us. In my case, I surrounded myself with people who were a little more reckless. It makes you feel like, ‘Wait, I’m not doing anything that’s too wrong, because the guy next to me is in more trouble.’ It gives you this false sensation of ‘I’m okay’. I functioned well. I was an athlete. I played soccer – ended up going off to college to earn a scholarship when I was 18. Looking back, the situations I got in were alcoholic’s performances – either drinking to excess on the weekends or, even if I didn’t drink for a couple of weeks, when I did drink, it would be late and with some consequences. For me, the big consequences escaped me. I didn’t have to go to jail. I always stayed under the radar just enough to feel like I’m not in that much trouble.
When did Hootie and the Blowfish become part of your life?
I was 25 years old. I had college just behind me. Music had reentered my heart. I was a musician as a kid, playing drums. It was something I wanted to take to the next level. So, we did what most desiring bands do, which is buy a van and go see who wants to hear you.
Isn’t drinking just part of the lifestyle of being in a band?
Sure. With the exception of me who took it all the way to alcoholism, it’s a great lubricant to be social. It’s that common denominator in our society— when you’re meeting new people or celebrating something you pop champagne or open a beer. It works for a lot of people. My problem was I didn’t have the capacity to be honest with myself, and say, “Wow, I don’t seem to be able to say no.” I want to start early, I wanted to finish late. I want to take it to the next level more often than anyone.
When did you realize this was a problem?
When I tried to quit and I couldn’t. I was getting intervened by friends and family in a very loving manner. Friends were saying, “Hey, we’re concerned. We love you. We’re worried about who you’re hanging out with.” So, we had interventions happening at the same time as I was trying to control it. I said, “Oh, I’ll not drink this weekend” or “During Lent, I’ll not drink bourbon on the weekdays.” The biggest lies ever – the biggest attempts to say, “I can control it.” It’s the big lie the alcoholic says to protect himself. Also, I had a family started. You can get away with a lot in terms of wildness out on the road, but you bring that home and you have two little kids? You stick out like a sore thumb.
When did your faith in Christ come into fruition?
I had to one day come to the conclusion that I can’t do it. I can’t stop drinking, but I don’t know how to stop drinking. I went to my first AA meeting. That was the point where I said, “Alcohol has conquered me. Would someone else please help me?” That was the first time I’d said that in my life, and that’s a big measure for a 40-year-old man with a college degree, a family and a seemingly successful past. I said, “AA, tell me what the heck’s going on here.” And they told me. I believed it. I trusted it. I found out that it’s a spiritual program, and it opened my heart up to God. It wasn’t something I was looking for. The principles are Christian, but they make the program available for anyone. The idea is that you admit that you can’t control the world. You admit that, if you give it to a Higher Power, that’s the beginning of the help. Then you do an inventory, confessing your sins. You make amends of those you hurt and you commit to living the lifestyle. Those are Christian-guided principles for the most part. I didn’t know that my 12-step program would lead me back to God. That was, what we say in the program, “God doing for me what I cannot do for myself.”
Some people don’t stay in the program or leave and lose the spiritual aspect of it. How did you maintain your faith?
AA is a process. The thing that kept me believing that I needed a 12-step continually, not just at the beginning, is that I only have today. They say, “You have your sobriety today.” When you’re down and desperate, that’s very meaningful. AA says to look at your day one day at a time. So I did, and when I started looking at it that way, it’s easier to see God when I ask for Him today instead of looking at the past and being remorseful or looking to the future saying, ‘Oh, tomorrow, I’m going to do it different.’ It forces you to look at today and that’s what Jesus taught. It’s about today; it’s not about some other day. I started understanding that God put AA in my life. It’s about my heart, my decisions and where I put my faith.
Jim Sonefeld has a new solo album out that shares his Christian faith. Check out Found!