Jo Dee Messina talks to CMT Insider in her first TV interview after completing an alcohol rehabilitation program. The conversation is featured in the CMT Insider episode debuting Friday (May 7) at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT.
SALT LAKE CITY — The Sundance Ski Resort outside Salt Lake City is nestled snugly at the end of a winding road below several massive snow-capped mountain peaks. The sky here is bluer than most, dangling perfect cotton candy clouds as a nearby stream fills the silence. Even the air smells different somehow.
It’s easy to see why Robert Redford found the place so enchanting. It was also the perfect place for Jo Dee Messina to spend her time in a rented cabin as an outpatient after a 30-day stay in an alcohol rehabilitation program. Well, almost perfect.
“When I first got here, I could actually see these slopes from the rehab center and people snowboarding and skiing down,” Messina said during a walk around the grounds. “That was kind of depressing. That itself will make you want to drink because you couldn’t go anywhere near the slopes. All we could do was watch other people having fun.”
This is the one “down” moment Messina will allow herself during our visit in Utah just one day before she left rehab and returned to Nashville. Looking fit in jeans and a crushed cowboy hat, the energetic singer seemed rested and ready to talk about her experience.
“I think the reason I went public with being in rehab is ’cause it was the last place I think a billion people would expect to see me, including myself,” Messina said. “There’s a stigma that goes along with someone who either has a drug problem or is addicted to pain killers or stuff like that. But the stigma is just that: It’s a stigma. It’s not necessarily fact.”
Messina says her manager, Stuart Dill, confronted her in Houston following a rough performance after the 2004 Super Bowl. She says she wasn’t “stumbling drunk,” but she acknowledges that she doesn’t recall much about the performance either.
“I forgot the words to ’Stand Beside Me.’ That’s what I can remember,” Messina said.
After Dill’s confrontation, Messina was on a plane to Utah the next day. She entered a detox center for a few days before checking into rehab.
“I thought detox was the wing of a hospital, but it was actually on the psychiatric ward,” she said. “You couldn’t have anything that could be used as a weapon. They take everything, cells phones … any sharp objects and anything containing alcohol, whether it’s perfume, face lotion or nail polish.”
Although Messina started singing in bars as a teenager, she says her family didn’t drink, and she didn’t either. She said she took her first drink at age 29 when someone offered her a glass of wine after a show. Wine became a crutch and a sleep aid during the next few years, which were tough times both professionally and personally. After a quick start in 1996 with the Top 10 hits “Heads, Carolina, Tails, California” and “You’re Not in Kansas Anymore,” her singing career stalled, and she nearly filed for bankruptcy in 1997. She checked herself into a hospital in 1999 to recover from exhaustion. In 2003, Curb Records rejected an album she loved and released a greatest hits package instead. And finally, her engagement to longtime tour manager Don Muzquiz ended after much speculation.
“You know sometimes two people together aren’t the right match, that’s all I can say,” she said of her broken relationship. “I could sit here and tell you, ’We were so different.’ But the truth of the matter is, we were so alike. I think that was our curse right there. We were so much alike, workaholics and just perfectionists.”
Her drinking progressed steadily as her life unraveled, though she says she never hit the hard liquor.
“I didn’t drink in the morning. I didn’t do shots of whatever,” Messina said. “At the end of a hard day, I’d have a glass of wine, and that was my coping device. There were times when I was like, ’OK, I’m not going to drink tonight.’ Then, boom, I started moving on to ’OK, I’ll have a couple.’ You know, then I’m going, ’Wow, can I even stop?'”
Messina doesn’t blame Muzquiz or Curb Records for her drinking problem. Instead, she points to her workaholic tendencies. She said rehab gave her the time to focus on herself and her issues, and she was able to turn to songwriting again for the first time in a long time. She penned a song about her experience called “My Way Back Home.”
“It talks about, you know, I just kind of got lost in the commotion, and I’m really just trying to find my way back home, which is back to who I am and what’s important to me and the real person that’s inside of me and not the person everyone thinks I should be.”
Messina has also written a book, That’s Right, I’m an Addict, and she hopes to find a publisher who will release it. During her outpatient stay, the usually-fit singer returned to her strict diet and exercise regimen, using the steep mountain trails and lower oxygen levels to pound her back into shape. And though she says she’s ready to get back to her life in Nashville, there is a slight note of trepidation in her voice when she talks about leaving Sundance for the real world.
“It’s going to be a good year,’ she declares, to herself as much as anyone else.