Scott Stapp: "I Should Not Be Here. It's Only By The Grace Of God That I Was Spared"

Former Creed frontman Scott Stapp goes deep on depression, recovery and how regaining his faith saved his life and inspired him to help save others…

Scott Stapp: "I Should Not Be Here. It's Only By The Grace Of God That I Was Spared"
Sebastian Smith

There was a time that Scott Stapp, as the lead vocalist of Creed, was one of the biggest names in rock music. When the Florida rock outfit released their second album, Human Clay, in 1999, they were – thanks especially to singles Higher and With Arms Wide Open – almost impossible to avoid. That record alone has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide since it was released two decades ago. Yet as successful as the band were – and as devoted to his Christian faith as Scott was (and still is) – behind the scenes and the fame and the fortune, it was all falling apart. Scott became addicted to alcohol and substances and even came close to taking his own life. He also found himself increasingly known not for his music, but his hedonistic antics, which includes a 1999 sex tape involving himself and Kid Rock with four women. Now, however, those days are behind him, and his faith has been restored. His third solo record, The Space Between The Shadows, has just been released and he’s now able to look back on and speak about those times with a great deal of candour and clarity. Perhaps reborn is the wrong word to use, but Scott has, thankfully – and against what seemed like awful odds – landed back on his feet, and is set on helping others avoid the same fate.

Your third solo album, Space Between The Shadows, has just come out. Did you ever think you’d make this record? Presumably, you couldn’t have done so without going through the experiences of the last five or six years?
“I absolutely knew and thought that I’d make another record, and most definitely life experiences and the things I’ve been through personally, professionally and publicly over the last six years played a part, [as did] my view of the world and how the songs came about in terms of the self-reflection and knowledge that I gained through those life experiences.”

It definitely feels like there’s a lot of redemption – and self-redemption – on this album, especially when you listen to Ready To Love and Purpose For Pain. Those songs sound like you talking to yourself and being like, ‘Hey, I got through this and it was worth it.’
“Yeah. What Purpose For Pain is about finding a meaning and a purpose for things in life that sometimes we either just hold onto as something we’re embarrassed of, or maybe something we’re ashamed of. Like with any negative experience, it's about not looking at it as a lost time in our life or lost experience, but something that we’ve gone through and we’ve learned from and that we’ve repurposed in our minds as something that we now have knowledge of in order to share with someone else who may be going through a similar situation to help them overcome it. So it’s really about psychic change.”

What was the trigger for you to come to that realisation?
“It started happening in 2010. That’s when the initial process was given to me. I was in a situation of trying to get sober, and Steven Tyler from Aerosmith reached out to me. We spoke every week for about an hour on the phone each week and he was sharing that with me, but I don’t think I was ready to comprehend it and digest it, and it took years. And, finally, a little over five years ago, it sunk in. I guess you have to be ready and also have enough clarity to start hearing, digesting and understanding some of the wisdom that’s passed onto you.”

You probably also have to want to help yourself, and it takes a while to get that point, right? “Absolutely. There’s deeper levels of ‘want to’ – you can want to, but still try to do it on your own, and I found that in trying to make those life changes that needed to happen for me alone and on my own, I couldn’t do it. They would only be temporary. They would only last for three, four or five months and then I would fall again and succumb to my demons. It wasn’t until I got to the point of complete surrender, so to speak, where I said, ‘I can’t do this alone anymore – I’m going to lose the one and only thing I have left in my life that matters to me.’ And that was my wife and my children. So it was a combination of that and just repeated failures of trying to do it on my own to get me to a point where I reached out to people and said, ‘Whatever you tell me to do that’s gotten you to the place where you’re at, I’ll do it.’ I humbled myself and said, ‘Show me the way’ and once I did that, that’s when the time started adding up and that’s when 24 hours turned into six months and another 24 hours tuned into a year, and a year turned into two and three and four and five. So you just take it 24 hours at a time, but if you’ve made that commitment you realise that you don’t know it all and that there are other people who have been through it before you and if you listen to them you can do it.”

What do you think it is about the human condition that makes us want to do these things by ourselves and not reach out for help?
“I think for me, initially, when I was dealing with depression, there was a lack of understanding of it. I didn’t really understand what was going on with me and I didn’t know why I felt the way that I felt, especially when all my dreams were coming true – Number One records, sold-out arenas, everything. All my dreams were coming true and I didn’t understand why I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed or why I felt weak and mentally unclear and down and miserable and all the things that come from depression. So from that standpoint, it was just a lack of understanding and not wanting to appear weak and like there’s something wrong with you to your friends and family; there’s a little bit of embarrassment and shame, even though you don’t have any control over it. And when it comes to addiction – which started for me as self-medicating because of the depression – once you become addicted to using chemicals to cope, there’s an ego involved where I wasn’t really ready to give it up. I knew I couldn’t continue using like I was and be a daily habitual drinker – or whatever else I was doing – but I thought I could control it, and, again, I didn’t want to present to my friends or my family or anyone that I had a problem, that there was something wrong with me. So again, it comes down to ego and embarrassment. I think those things were part of my story and maybe others had the same mentality, and maybe that’s part of the human condition and why there are so many millions of people out there who continue to struggle with this and suffer in silence.”

It can’t have helped to be thrust into the limelight at a relatively young age, either. You were 26 when Human Clay came out, so you were an adult, but still young and tender, and to have millions of eyes watching you go through what you were going through can’t have been easy.
“No. It wasn’t. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to keep everything rolling. I was 23 or 24 when Creed hit with our first record [1997’s My Own Prison] and when the depression hit in ’99 with Human Clay, I didn’t want to let anybody down. So that pressure to please and keep everything going was another reason I felt compelled to be like, ‘Hey, whatever I’ve got to put in my body that can make me feel better and get up and do what I need to do to keep this going, I’m going to do it.’ And so yeah, it had a tremendous impact. My intentions were good, it was just my manner of going about it was self-destructive. But I was innocent. I didn’t know that at the time and it didn’t really all come to a head until the end of 2002 and 2003.”

With hindsight, is there anything you would have done differently in terms of reacting to your depression?
“Knowing what I know now, I would have gone to someone who specialises in that and I would have put everything on hold realising that it wasn’t all about today, right now, this month – that all that would have still been there had I taken the time to get the help that I needed. And everything probably would have been different had I said, ‘Hey – I’ve got to take six months or a year off to get the help that I need so this can continue on forever.’ So I would have put the brakes on everything and got the help that I needed, whether people understood it or not. Because there was a much different understanding – people weren’t talking about it like they are now. There wasn’t the knowledge, the understanding, the compassion – there was a lot of stigma and a lot of lack of understanding, so when I did try to share what was going on with me, even to the people closest to me, they didn’t get it. And some of them misunderstood it as something that it wasn’t. So I think today is a much different scenario than it was 20 years ago.”

Heaven In Me on this new record kind of addresses this, but what impact did going through all that stuff have on your faith? It must have really shaken your belief system.
“Yeah. There were some times where I was very angry, there were some times where I literally cut off my connections to my faith and my spirituality and was bitter and felt, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ And I blamed God and really had a lot of resentment and anger inside and I channelled that towards my belief system and turned my back on it for a period of time. But that only made things worse, and I spiralled further and further and deeper and deeper into a dark place. And I do talk about that in Heaven In Me – that even though I did that, I can look back now and reflect and realise that faith and spirituality and, as I see it, God never abandoned me. Because there were many, many times when my life should have been extinguished. I should not be here. And it was only by the grace of God, in my opinion, that I was spared.”

Are you talking specifically about the time you tried to end your life, or just in general?
“Well, there’s been some misreports about that. When I fell from the hotel, like I wrote in my book, that was an accident. That wasn’t a suicide attempt. There was only one time when I came close to going through with it and not pulling the trigger, and – as I talk about in my book – in the throes of that moment, I saw a picture of my son and dropped the weapons and I began to cry. I couldn’t do it. And that was the closest I ever came. But that situation – and even the fall, even though it was an accident – was drug and alcohol-fuelled. I should not have survived that fall. Even the doctors said, ‘We don’t know how you survived this fall.’ And there were many other circumstances during those dark times where I should not have made it because of the amounts of chemicals I had in my body, so I look back and, like I said, by the grace of God, survived that. I think knowing that has really inspired me to want to help others that are going through the same things. Because I feel like I was spared and I want to help others because of that.”

Reading and watching interviews you’ve done recently, you seem happy.
“I am extremely happy. I look at my children and my wife and family and they bring so much joy and happiness to me. And with this new record and the fans and the shows and everything that has come full-circle in my life, just being able to experience with true clarity and being present and in the moment, having gone through what I’ve gone through, gives me a much greater appreciation for it. Which brings a deeper sense of joy and happiness. I really am in a good place and I’m very happy with things and so excited for this next chapter in my life, because musically and career-wise, I lost 10 years. That’s 10 years I could have been putting out records and building on my career, but I’ve gained so much now in other areas, so I feel that period of time – although for a long time I felt like it was lost, I realise now that it wasn’t and I have such a vast amount of experience to draw from and take with me during this next chapter of my life, and I’m a better husband, father and friend and artist because of it.”

How does the you now compare with the you that was addicted? What effect did that have on you and your creativity?
“When I was in those dark places, there was no creativity, there was no inspiration, there was no music. The only times I’ve ever been able to create were during periods where I wasn’t using and abusing. So to be in a place of clarity, I think it really came through on this record in a new way for me, lyrically. I think I’m much more candid and clear and concise in my thoughts. I’ve matured in the sense that I don’t hide behind analogy and innuendo and this idealistic, poetic façade – which I really think was just an excuse to not speak your truth. Whereas now I think that clarity has come back, and it’s matured and it’s unafraid and honest and candid and I hope that can connect with the listener when the time is right for them.”

One of the songs that really speaks to that clarity is Gone Too Soon, which addresses the deaths of Chris Cornell and Chester Bennington. How did their passing affect you?
“First, with Chris, I liked him so much and respected him so much as an artist and a vocalist – and also as a family man. He was a good man, and his passing shook me to my core and my heart just broke for his wife and his children and those who loved him. And then with Chester, the same thing. And it was a like a double whammy – Chester’s passing happened on Chris’ birthday. I really felt those emotions when Chris passed, and with Chester, he was so good to me and my wife and my kids. He always made everyone he came in contact with feel so special. But after I wrote that song, I began to reflect and say, ‘Man, that could – and should – so easily have been me.’ And it inspired me to never go back to that place.”

Going back a little, you said it was 2010 that first set you on the path to clarity, but it wasn’t until 2014 – when you made the video saying you were broke and homeless – that MusiCares came along and really helped you out. So did things develop in those four years?
“Well, the situation was not as bleak as I portrayed it in terms of what I said while I was severely under the influence and in a dark place. Those that loved me and cared about me immediately took away the keys, so to speak, of my access to resources, so I couldn’t continue to fuel this binge I was on. That’s what I was referring to when I said 'broke' – my wife and my business managers had shut everything down so I couldn’t continue to buy alcohol and whatever else to put into my body. They were trying to save my life. And in terms of the homeless comment, that was my own choice. I was driving around in my car or on a bench or in a hotel room, and not at home with my wife and my kids, so that was very very drunken, melodramatic stupor of nonsense. But I was in and out of moments of clarity, and when I would have a brief moment of clarity, of course I would call my wife and she was trying to talk me through it. And then MusiCares reached out to her and they came up with a plan to help me and help get me into a treatment centre to get me the help I needed. So if it wasn’t for my wife and MusiCares coming in and working to capitalise on those moments of clarity during that relapse, who knows where I’d be.”

And it was after that that you were diagnosed with bipolar disorder?
“Yeah. That was the initial diagnosis, but a lot of that they eventually determined was drug-induced. And so the final diagnosis was depression with anxiety. So the ending diagnosis a year later was major depressive disorder and anxiety. And then, of course, addiction. And that was the whole process of getting to the core issue – and discovering what the core issue was. Basically, when I would abuse substances and alcohol, it would present itself like a bipolar episode – and that’s why that initial diagnosis was made. But after a year of sobriety and living, things progressed and they realised that free of substances I wasn’t actually bipolar.”

The whole time when you were dealing with this stuff, you were tabloid fodder and there were all these scandals spread across the newspaper. How did that make you feel? It can’t have been easy.
“No. But all those things were the result of abusing alcohol and drugs, and during the time that those things were happening, of course you’re embarrassed and ashamed and humiliated and angry. But sitting here today and looking back, I look at it all as the result of my abuse of alcohol and drugs. It started out with trying to self-medicate my depression, but I still at some point had a choice and could have handled it differently, so I look at all that now from a different point of view. And when I start sharing those stories with someone that I’m trying to help who’s in the throes of addiction and I bring up a story that made national or global news, they look at me a little bit differently, like, ‘This guy’s been through it. He knows what he’s talking about.’ So those situations have now become assets for me in my communication with other addicts and alcoholics. What was embarrassing, humiliating, hurtful, painful to experience – all that has been repurposed for me and is now something I can use when I work with others who are suffering. But I would never want to go through it again.”

If you've been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please head to Samaritans. Scott Stapp's new album The Space Between The Shadows is available now through Napalm Records.

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