Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars on Dealing with Addiction, Grief, and Loss

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Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars on Dealing with Addiction, Grief, and Loss

Showtime’s new documentary, Eric Clapton’s “A Life in Twelve Bars,” is due out in February of 2018. The film discusses much of the historical impact Clapton has had on rock and blues music. There are many candid interviews from people with firsthand experience of Mr. Clapton’s influence and power, as can be found in many rockumentaries.

“A Life in Twelve Bars” offers more though. If offers glimpses into the storied past of Clapton’s legendary alcoholism, drug addiction, and finally his recovery, against insurmountable odds.

As of yet, not much information has been released regarding the film. The preview features some powerful cameos from some of the greats–B.B. King’s opening quote regarding the rock giant gives hint of much more to come.

At first glance, Eric Clapton’s story looks much like that of any other famous musician stereotype. He made it big, ended up addicted to drugs and almost destroyed himself, then finally managed to get clean. There’s more to Clapton’s story though.

Eric Clapton managed to stay sober through the death of his son Conor. He is also now a huge proponent of recovery, owning and running a successful rehab in the West Indies, on the island of Antigua.

Mr. Clapton credits the power of music with saving his soul.

Eric Clapton’s Struggles with Drug Abuse

If there is such a thing, Eric Clapton was no average drug abuser. Due to his fame and unlimited access to wealth and power, drugs of all sorts flowed freely whenever he chose. The documentary speaks of acid, cocaine, mescaline and alcohol. The depths of his heroin and alcohol addictions can’t neatly fit into a preview.

According to the man himself, Eric Clapton estimates during the worst of his heroin addiction, he was spending about $16,000 dollars a week. “Financially, it was ridiculous,” he told NPR during an interview. Clapton always thought he had his addiction under control because he could afford it.

The worst of his heroin addiction lasted a little over three years. But once he finally managed to get clean from the heroin, he soon replaced it with cocaine and alcohol. This is not a harm reduction technique that can be readily advised.

During the seventies, he consumed a prodigious amount of alcohol. Commenting on the legendary show he played laying on his back “It didn’t seem that outlandish to me. And in fact, it was probably all I was capable of. It was either that or just laying down somewhere else. The fact that I was laying down on stage means at least I showed up.”

Eric Clapton’s Long Road to Recovery

Eric Clapton spent at least twenty years drunk and abusing drugs such as heroin and cocaine. He entered treatment at Hazelden for his alcoholism in 1982, and writes candidly about the experience in his autobiography:

“In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink any more if I was dead. It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic.”

After finishing his treatment, he was only successfully sober for a brief time. It was during this period that he met the soon-to-be mother of his only son, Conor. He began dating Lori Del Santo while still married to Patti Boyd, though the unhappy marriage was ending.

He was still dealing with his crippling addiction when his son was born. Clapton claims it was only through the love of his son that he was convinced to give sobriety another chance.

Even after Conor’s tragic death after a fall from the 53rd floor of a building where Lori was staying, Clapton managed to hold on to his fragile sobriety. Though his pain and grief from the loss of his son were palpable and incomprehensible, Clapton maintains that his love of music kept him clean and sober.

“The presence of music in my life has always been the salvation element of it. Not necessarily the playing, as much as just being conscious of it, listening to it, has kept me moving,” Clapton says.

Clapton’s Mixed Emotions about Sobriety

Mr. Clapton doesn’t always speak very much about sobriety unless directly asked. However, when he does, he his candid and doesn’t mince words. Once he managed to get sober, he realized that drugs and alcohol were a “shortcut” to inspiration–a detriment.

He never thought that they negatively affected his playing while he was still addicted. He claims that if he did “it would have brought me to recovery that much earlier.”

Like many addicts, the rock star sometimes has mixed emotions about his sobriety:

“I don’t know that I can honestly regret any of it safely, because it’s brought me to where I am. My life would not be the same, and I would not have what I have today, were [it not] for the fact that I went through all this stuff,” Clapton says.

“But I suppose if I do have any regrets, it is that musically I lost something there.”

He does go on to lament some of the damages he has caused to loved ones over the years. But he is wise to know that the actions we take are what define us as people today–to ourselves as well as others. He knows that his sobriety is what allowed him to process his grief for the loss of his son.

Without his sobriety, he would not have been able to write his most successful song, “Tears in Heaven.”

Sobriety’s Challenges and Rewards

Since his second, successful attempt at drug and alcohol treatment, Eric has managed to stay clean and sober. His behavior shows that he knows that “to keep what we have, we must give it away.” He didn’t realize just how much of a physical toll that the alcohol and heroin had on his body. He says he was unable at first to write any music or to physically make love.

“And so when you took it away, I just didn’t know what to do and actually was, for quite a while, physically impotent. I was terrified. I would be paralyzed with fear. And I think, musically, it was the same,” he says.

Realizing what a struggle he had with his initial recovery is what fueled Clapton toward his charity work. In the mid 90’s, after having several years’ sobriety under his belt, Eric became director of Clouds House, a UK treatment center for drug and alcohol dependence, and served on their board until 1997.Clapton also served on the board of directors for The Chemical Dependency Centre from 1994 until 1999.

It was during this time that he learned much about the management aspect of the treatment and recovery business and decided to open Crossroads Centre Antigua. This nonprofit 12-step facility provides treatment scholarships for people of the Caribbean and across the world.

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Learning from Clapton’s Recovery

Eric Clapton’s crippling addiction to drugs and alcohol shows that no matter where we are in life, addiction can bring us to our knees. Although he had more money, fame, and power than most people can ever dream of, all Clapton thought about was his own death.

Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are poor or wealthy, weak or strong, man, woman or child. If left untreated, this progressive and fatal disease only has three outcomes: incarceration, institutions, or death.

Clapton’s recovery story is powerful though. The man faced the death of his son during a newfound sobriety and was able to maintain it through the help and support of his peers and loved ones. No matter how close we are to the brink, we can come back from it. No one should ever feel that they have no option but to die a broken and destitute addict.

If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out. Talk to your loved ones. If they aren’t the most viable option, speak to a counselor or another addict about the problems you are struggling with. Addiction is a disease of isolation and dishonesty. Being honest with someone who can relate to you is a very valuable and powerful tool in this fight. This will have you on the road to a safe, healthy and happy recovery and a life of freedom. You can do this.

“Life in 12 Bars” airs on Showtime February 10, 2018.

December 15th, 2017|10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Jill Cotter February 11, 2018 at 4:22 am

    I knew there was something about Eric that I respected and connected with (more than his amazing talent)
    I’ve been sober for 25 years. I just watched his new documentary (and reading this webpage) and I am honored to be in recovery with such a talented man. I find that “living life on life’s terms” in my little world is difficult enough. I can’t imagine what strength he has to have lived one day at a time through so many years of being in the middle of “accepted, not so unusual” lifestyles of alcohol and drug use has been like.
    You are a power of example and I am grateful for having read this tonight and watched your documentary. God bless you and your beautiful family

  2. Rick Linville September 27, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    I know that Eric has experienced the same magical transformation that I have. I know I have the utmost respect for a man that had unlimited wealth & resources for alcohol, drugs & whatever but turned his back on all of it. I have 31 years clean & sober, a successful 25 year marriage begun within the AA program & daughters 19 & 22 years that are angels. Eric & I may never meet but I know we will both continue our service to others.

    • Ashwood Recovery October 16, 2018 at 3:21 am

      Thank you for your input and perspective concerning this post! Best wishes.

  3. Gail November 25, 2018 at 8:58 am

    I too lost a child while in recovery I was 17 years sober in 2013 when my 14 year old daughter died in a fire.
    With the help of my recovery family and my faith I stayed sober through it today I have 23 years sober Eric Clapton and many others are my inspiration because I know that nothing gets better when your drunk only worse.

    • Ashwood Recovery November 28, 2018 at 2:19 am

      Congratulations to your continued sobriety, Gail! We wish you and your family the best.

  4. Jennifer M. February 2, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    I am so proud of all of us. A while ago, I was in service at a recovery convention in San Jose California. I was happy to find that my participation in others recovery allowed me a 5th row seat to see Eric Clapton the following night because he was hosting the entertainment for the convention. WOW! He got on stage and broke his annonimity. 30 thousand people were instantly on their feet but he just didn’t miss a beat and payed a remarkable show. YOU CANT KEEP WHAT YOU HAVE WITHOUT GIVING IT AWAY.

    It was one of the proudest days of my entire 34 years clean. Of all the wealth and pain he was just a humble guy with one day clean. It hit home in a huge way that it doesn’t matter who you are; rich poor, black white, low bottom high bottom! We are all in this beautiful life together.

    Thanks Eric! Your music and autobiography have helped me tremendously along my path of pain and salvation. Jenn ~

    • Ashwood Recovery February 2, 2019 at 5:08 pm

      We are glad this article resonated with you, but most importantly that Eric helped to inspire your sobriety! That is truly awesome and glad that has helped to keep moving your forward on your sober journey! Great job Jenn, we wish you nothing but the best as you continue on your journey!

    • Bill ENGLE March 9, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      Jen, I also have 34 years clean, “class of 84”. I also was at this concert. I was just telling my wife of this event and convention. 15 years i still can not talk and tell people about it without getting choked up with emotions. I still feel the burning in my eyes, throat and lungs from the experience. When he came back out for encore and did “Cocaine” the entire concert was wired into each other.

  5. Jim March 25, 2019 at 2:41 am

    Great story my respect to you Mr Clapton
    I’m working on 22 Beautiful years. One day at a time. Don’t know how it happens but I’m thankful. Grateful

    • Ashwood Recovery April 3, 2019 at 7:47 pm

      Glad the article resonated with you! Wishing you the best and awesome job on your 22+ years!

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