November 24, 2015

Donovan Melero – Part II: Addiction and Sobriety

image1Melero performing with Sianvar. Photo by Michael-Rex Carbonell

In the second part of our interview Donovan discusses his struggles with addiction and how he found his way back to music.

CPF: I’ve heard you mention addiction here and there, would you be comfortable sharing that story?

Donovan Melero: Yeah, of course man. I guess I should say the disease of addiction runs in my family- in the males. My brother is a recovering addict and my dad is a recovering alcoholic, so I was kind of predisposed to get it. It started out in high school just drinking and smoking, but over time it just kinda got worse and worse. I started chasing new types of highs. It had a lot to do with being very insecure with my own self and not being comfortable in my own skin. I started seeking outside sources to find ways to feel more comfortable and that became using drugs. Eventually it just took over my purpose of living.

I wouldn’t play as much music anymore, all I wanted to do was feel that comfort, feel that euphoria from getting high. I didn’t really give a fuck about school anymore- first high school, and then college. It affected my relationships too. I know I acted like a fucking asshole to friends, and also girlfriends that had dated me during that time of my life. When I finally came clean to my family I was 18. I had been arrested for possession of a controlled substance.  That was a very defining moment. I didn’t get sober then, it still took me two more years. But after getting arrested, using drugs always made me feel guilty. Before I could kind of just ignore it. Now I always felt guilty. I knew I had a problem at that point but I just chose to ignore it. I never was in denial that I was an addict, I was never like “No, I’m fine, I can fix this when I want.” I knew I had a problem and I was totally ok with it. I was almost at peace with it. I thought- “I’m a drug addict, I like to use drugs, that’s how I operate and that’s just the way that I live my life.” That’s how I felt about it at the time.

People tend to forgive some of the unhealthy substance abuse that young people, especially college students, go through. What is your take on that?

Some people can only stay at that abuse level. They’ll abuse drugs or substances through college but it never becomes an addiction. I do believe that something actually changes in your brain chemistry when you become addicted to something and you never know when it’s gonna happen. With some people it never happens. I have friends who love to drink. They drink heavily and they can do it pretty often. But I know they’re not addicts because they don’t need it. There are always times when they don’t feel like doing it, so they don’t. That was foreign to me. I needed something to feel OK. Not taking drugs? That was out of the question. I thought “Why would you not do it?”

So it’s like a switch?

It really was. I realized I needed it to feel normal, to feel comfortable. And then it got to the point where if I didn’t get it I would feel sick, or just horrible about myself. My self-esteem was fucking shitty. So I came clean to my family. When I got arrested they knew I was using drugs. I started using speed around 18 and then I got into heroin in the next year. I came clean to them about the heroin when I was 19. I came home from college and they looked after me for a little while while I tried to get better. There were a few attempts where they would try to get me clean and I just wouldn’t do it. I would always go back. But I had seen my brother go through it and not get clean until he was older. I think that helped steer me. And I had my dad and everyone else saying: “You have to trust us, and know this is not right. You gotta get clean.” By some miracle, it did get through my skull when I was 20. I didn’t understand it yet though. At the time I was still like “I don’t know why I’m the type of person that can’t use drugs” but at the same time, I knew I should just trust that it was the right way to go. Since then shit’s just gotten better.

Did you end up going through a treatment program?

I did. I went to detox and I owe the start of my sobriety to the Ventura Drug and Alcohol Center. I would go there for an outpatient program every Monday through Thursday for 3 months. They helped me re-learn how to live. To know that I don’t need those substances to do certain things, and that these are normal feelings. I even started to discover why I used drugs to begin with. I discovered that my interests had changed a lot, including my interest in music. Things that I thought I liked I realized I didn’t actually like at all. I had just been high. And things I thought I didn’t like anymore, I still liked. Like writing songs. In the beginning I thought that drugs would make my songwriting better, but then I just stopped playing altogether. While I was working to stay sober things just got better and better. Of course there are still downs in normal life, but I’ve learned to deal with them a lot better, and I feel like I’m way more motivated now.

I’ll say. You’re definitely up to a whole lot right now.

I’m trying! I want to keep going full steam ahead.

I appreciate you being so open about all of this. I think it’ll be really valuable to people who might be struggling with substance abuse or addiction.

Yeah, I hope so. It really helped me to hear other people’s stories during my treatment. I met with a lot of different people that really changed my perspective, young and old. It would make me deathly sad to hear an older person’s story. Like an 80 year old man who had 15 years clean. Sure it was a success story, but to hear him say “I lived until I was 65 and my kids hate me, my ex-wives hate me, I fucked so much shit up and it took me this long.” That really affected me. They would say, “I wish to god I had just caught it when I was 25, when I was 30, or even just when I was younger. I took all that time.” And granted their lives are good now, it was just terrifying to think of myself being 80 and to have so many regrets to work through. Actually, terrified is an understatement. It was awful to imagine sitting in a room at that age, thinking about all the people I would hurt if I didn’t stop doing what I was doing. So I hope that I can be one of those voices to someone somewhere that needs it. I’ve met people on the road who have asked me about it because they know I’m clean. I stay very open about that. Our guitarist Aric (Hail The Sun), is a recovering drug addict as well and he’s open about it now as well. We’re glad to support others because we know the difficulties of addiction first hand.

Did you and Aric go through it together?

We did. We used drugs together for years. We got into the more serious shit together. We both would try to stop together, and fail time and time again. Eventually I got clean of course, and he got clean as well a few years after. So on tour we’re like the sober ones. It’s real easy to just go and get Cherry Cokes from the bar or something and not have to worry about being alone and being sober, you know?

For sure, it’s nice to have a support system.

It absolutely is. The biggest thing I had to overcome that I think other young people think about is that what they’re feeling, in regards to needing substances to be themselves, isn’t normal. I just knew something wasn’t right but I was too afraid to voice it. When I was 18 I would think: “My buddy is 18 too, he has a normal life, a girlfriend, loving parents, he can drink. So fuck it, I can too.” But I couldn’t though. It took a while to actually know we were different. I always knew I had a problem but not that we were just different. And not different in a bad way. It was just that his brain and my brain were different. I used to get offended when people would say: “Well, you just don’t know how to control it.” People would say: “It’s about self control.” But it’s not. Eventually sobriety becomes about having a strong foundation, but it’s not about self control. So if kids are beating up on themselves because they keep fucking up and getting blackout drunk and thinking that they’re just weak or they don’t have self control, that’s not true. They probably have a problem that they really can’t control by themselves and they need help. People should know it’s ok to search for help. I think asking for help makes you stronger, rather than the perceived idea that it makes you weak.

Exactly. That’s kind of what I was going for with this interview. I wanted to share a great success story like yours to help enforce that idea, to help remove the stigma. I hope it will mean a lot coming from someone like you, who has a lot of young fans, to say: “It’s ok.”

Totally. I appreciate that.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please consider these resources for help and information:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health National Helpline

National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information Center


Read Part I of this interview here.


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