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"You get up in the morning and you go, 'You know what? I'm not gonna drink today. I've got no reason to. I'm not gonna do it today.' That's all you have to do," explains Trace Adkins of the simple philosophy that is transforming his life.
"And a guy told me somethin' that stuck with me. He said, 'If you don't drink today, you'll never drink again -- 'cause it's always today.' "
For Trace, it's much more than that -- it's a new day. And a new life that, for the first time in years, doesn't include alcohol, the demon he's battled since he took his first drink at age 15.
Amazingly, in spite of the long shadow the bottle cast on his life, Trace was able to build a successful singing career that included seven Top 10 hits, plus one platinum and one gold album. His current single, "Then They Do," is in the Top 25 and climbing. It's on Trace's Greatest Hits album due out July 8, the same release date as the companion book Then They Do. Trace wrote the book's opening chapter about his children.
He's also made numerous hit videos, had a NASCAR Busch Series race named in his honor and used his voice as "Big John the Truck Driver" in an upcoming episode of Fox's hit show, King of the Hill.
From all outward appearances, life has been pretty sweet for the big Louisiana native. The truth is, though, it hasn't.
And on a cold day in December 2002, Trace hit bottom -- and began his climb upward. It was the day he finally decided to accept some help in trying to save himself.
"Some people near and dear to me -- my wife, manager and a professional they brought in who had done interventions before -- sat me down and just laid it out for me," Trace recalls. " 'OK, here's what you've been doin' that's causin' us pain.' Which is what an intervention basically is.
"Once they get started, you can't stop 'em. There came this point not very far into the deal when I was like, 'OK, that's good enough! I'm ready to go.' No. You're gonna sit here and listen to all of it. And it was heartbreaking, it was embarrassing, it was shameful. It was a life-changing experience for sure."
But Trace wasn't prepared for how immediate the trip to rehab would be. "When it came to the end of the thing, the expert said, 'OK, let's go.' And I said, 'What do you mean, "Let's go?" ' He said, 'I'm takin' you -- now.' And I said, 'Man, I gotta pack some stuff.' And my wife goes, 'It's packed.' "
So Trace spent 28 days -- including Christmas and his 41st birthday -- in a Nashville drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility.
"The day I got there, it was just shock," he admits. "Then for the next week or so, it was anger with myself. Because I was thinkin', 'Well, it's come to this, you stupid son of a bitch.' "
The program eventually helped Trace realize that everybody needs help sometimes -- even macho guys who think they can handle everything by themselves. Treatment also showed him things that may have contributed to his alcoholism.
"You know, I've never been a big fan of me," admits Trace. "I don't think I'm great at anything, but I demand perfection of myself. Therein lies the struggle that I have. And so it's a dichotomy that's hard to deal with."
Drinking was one of the ways Trace did that. "I don't think I got loud or belligerent when I drank," he declares, "but I did get mean and surly. I hated that part of myself. So I would just get away from people."
Because Trace drank alone, his problem wasn't common knowledge, but he had a well-publicized DUI in 2001 and now admits alcohol's role in other incidents, including a long list of scrapes, broken bones and visits to the emergency room.
"I can look back on just about my whole life," he declares. "And every scar I've got on my body and every vehicle I've wrecked and everything I've tore up, there's an alcohol-related part to it."
While Trace accepts responsibility for his actions, he does believe there's something in him that's not in the average social drinker. "After intense retrospective study," he smiles, "I've realized that I was an alcoholic when I took my first drink. There's no question about it. My grandfather was an alcoholic. He left when I was three and never came back. Died in a mission, I later found out.
"But to this day, I've never seen alcohol cross my father's lips. He just made a conscious decision he was never gonna do that. But he and I never discussed it. So I was just kinda left to my own devices, to discover it."
And Trace did -- in a big way. He recalls a period when he hit rock bottom. "From about '86 to '89 when I was playin' clubs in Texas," he explains, "I remember wakin' up in the mornings and not even opening my eyes, and reachin' over the side of the bed to find that gallon of Cuervo. Lift it up and hit the cap with my hand where it would just spin, and turn it up before I even got out of bed.
"One time I'd been up for about three days, and I looked at myself in the mirror and said, 'God, five years ago I wouldn't have been caught hangin' out with somebody like you.' "
But not until recently did Trace realize he needed the kind of help only rehab could give. He'd already tried a private therapist -- to no avail.
"I'd go in there and sit for an hour, at 110 or 120 bucks an hour -- and cuss," he explains with a chuckle. "And that's about all it amounted to. I finally just went, 'You know what? There's a guy standin' down there on the corner with a cardboard sign. I bet if I went and gave him 50 dollars, he'd sit and listen to me cuss -- for two hours! And we'd both be happier!' "
The real help came only when Trace finally confessed that his life was out of control.
"That initial admission was probably the hardest part," he declares. "For me to say, 'I cannot manage my life by myself,' that was a pretty big deal."
But with that admission, Trace gained far more than just his own sobriety. He's in better health and singing better than he has in years. And he found out how much he means to the people who care about him.
"I don't think 'happy' is strong enough," he says. "Everybody who knows me and loves me is just ecstatic!"
That includes wife Rhonda, who was on the receiving end of a lot of his frustration and pain. "I think she knew -- well, I know she knew -- that it wasn't directed at her," Trace says quietly. "She just had to hear it."
His band and other friends in the industry have also been incredibly supportive.
But the thing Trace feels best about is his chance to be a better father to his four daughters.
"There's nothin' more important than that," he proclaims. "For the rest of my parenting days, hopefully I will be a better one."
And he'll have some help he hasn't relied on in a while.
"I haven't made a conscious effort in many, many years to stay in touch with my spiritual side," declares Trace. "That's something I'm trying to do now. Because that's where you find your peace. I've come to accept that He's watchin' over all of this, and I've just gotta trust that things are gonna work out the way He wants 'em to.
"And all I can do is keep trying."