"There have been people who've said, 'You shouldn't tell your story,' " says Jo Dee Messina. "But there is someone out there who's gonna need to hear this story."
Jo Dee's story is that of a woman who finally decided to do something about her drinking. After years of struggling with a secret addiction, she checked herself into a Utah rehab clinic in February.
Today she's celebrating her new sobriety - and making sure she never falls off the wagon again.
"It wasn't a problem as extreme as I see on a daily basis," says the singer of "Heads Carolina, Tails California,"
"I'm Alright," "Stand Beside Me," "Bring on the Rain," and other hits.
"Yet it was something that needed help." Jo Dee says she decided to go public with her alcohol problem in
this exclusive Country Weekly interview so that others might benefit from her experience - especially others who
might share her addiction.
"I want them to know that they're not alone," she says, "because the scariest thing for an addict is they feel very
alone and isolated in their feelings."
Jo Dee says she knows the possible repercussions to such a public acknowledgement. "Being an alcoholic
has a stigma to it," she admits. "To be a woman and an alcoholic - oh, my gosh, the stigma's even larger.
It's even more of a sin [than for a man]. I've never know a woman in the entertainment industry to have a
problem and come out unscathed. But that's a chance I have to take."
One thing's for sure, Jo Dee hasn't lost her sense of humor. When asked how she's feeling these days, the
spunky singer doesn't miss a beat.
"Drunk. Hung over," she deadpans, before giving herself away with the twinkle in her eyes. She shrugs
and smiles. "You need a sense of humor to get through life in general. If you can't laugh, forget about it."
Truthfully, Jo Dee hasn't had much to laugh about in the last year. In February she checked herself into the
treatment center, which came as a shock to the music industry and her fans alike. But as Jo Dee explains,
doing so saved her life. In the span of 12 months, she'd ended a seven-and-a-half-year relationship with
former fiancÚ Don Muzquiz, and finished recording an album - four years in the making - that she's still
waiting to be released. Add to that the stresses of four years of nearly nonstop touring, being held under
the spotlight on- and offstage, and something had to give.
"I remember saying to someone around Christmastime last year that inside, I was numb," confides Jo Dee,
curled up on her couch in her Nashville home. "I didn't hurt, I didn't laugh. I wasn't happy or sad. I wasn't
afraid. I was numb across the board. I hadn't felt anything in about a year - meaning real intense emotions.
Now, being the person I am, my emotions are extremely intense, so it's easy for me to recognize when I'm
not fazed. It was like, 'Yea sure, she's great to get along with, 'cause she doesn't really care.' "
And Jo Dee didn't care - because, as it turned out, she was numbing herself with alcohol. "I didn't drink
everyday, not until the last month before I went to rehab," she explains. "I was off the road, home alone
by myself most of the time. I'd drink every night to go to sleep. I'd also take Dramamine. I didn't want to
lie in my bed and let my mind keep churning and churning. So I wouldn't hit the bed until I was ready to go
to sleep. I would drink a few glasses of wine, take my Dramamine and wait for it to kick in. As soon as I
was about to fall asleep, I'd go upstairs to bed.
"I wasn't a big, 'go out and party'-type person," she adds. "There were times where I'd go out with the
band and crew and we'd party hard, but it wasn't an everyday thing. And I didn't leave this big path of
destruction behind me. The day I knew I was going to rehab, I called my mother and said, 'Mom, I'm
going away for a while - to rehab.'
"My mother lives 25 feet from my back door," notes Jo Dee, pointing out to her mom Mary's house.
"She said, 'Why?' I said, 'I have a problem.' But not even my mother knew. My brother lives across
the driveway and he didn't know. Nobody really knew. Like I said, it wasn't like I was dancing on tables and picking barroom brawls."
Jo Dee didn't even have her first drink
until she was 29. As a child, the Messina home was alcohol-free.
"My mother said, 'Women just didn't drink in my day.' That's the way she was raised. So there was no
alcohol in the house. She never drank. I came from a very clean kind of family.
Jo Dee's drinking pattern was sporadic. "I'd have a few glasses of wine on Monday, a few on Wednesday,
and then on Friday I'd party hard with the boys," she recalls. "I was one of those people who would see
someone leave a half a glass of wine on the table at dinner and go, 'Oh, how could you do that - waste a
perfectly good half glass of wine!' "
"But there was a key thing that I now [understand], which I didn't then - I'd drink at the end of a bad day,
or in an anxious situation, like before I got on a plane. You'd see me in the bar at the airport. When I would
start to drink, I wouldn't slam 'em back right away. I'd just have a casual glass of wine and continue to drink
until I was ready to go to bed.
"There were a few times during those partying nights with the band and the crew, where I would wake up
the next day and have the jitters. My hands and finger would feel numb. And I'd say, 'Whew! I am never
drinking again.' "
But by that time, Jo Dee couldn't stop. "It would last a day or two and then I'd be like, 'I'll just have one
glass of wine.' And that would lead to two or three. Id say the most amount of time I went without a drink
was maybe five days. And it's weird, because I didn't really do shots. I did do vodka cranberries before I
got on a plane, and wine mostly. I didn't drink the heavy stuff, and I didn't do the 'hair of the dog' thing. I
was not the hangover queen. I didn't have tons of hangovers. It didn't interfere with my job - except for
And that one time became Jo Dee's "rock bottom" moment. It was at the Super Bowl after party for the
New England Patriots. Just like always, Jo Dee bounded onstage and did a show. The only problem?
She can't remember it. And to make matters worse, gossip began spreading within the music industry that
Jo Dee gave a bad performance that night.
"I know plenty of people who drink onstage, who go onstage blitzed," she declares, "but that for me was
rock bottom. What is rock bottom? It's when an event happens that is no longer acceptable to the addict.
For some people, that's living on the street, losing their house, or job or family. For me, the addict part of
me that's a perfectionist - which drove me to drink in the first place - was actually the part that saved my
life as well. Because [a bad show] was unacceptable.
"There were hundreds of times where I'd gone onstage and had a stellar show. I pulled them off and nobody's
ever sat around and talked about, 'Wow, what a great entertainer.' With that one show, I gave whoever
decided to talk smack about me something to work with. That's the nature of this business: Try to find dirt
on someone, and by God, when you find it, smear it as much as you can. And I handed it to them on a silver
platter - 'Here ya go, here's a crappy show.' "
The day after Jo Dee heard the gossip about her, she got up at 5 a.m. and boarded a plane bound for rehab.
She knew it was her last day to drink - so drink she did. "I ordered a couple of drinks on the plane," she
admits, "and it was early morning. When I landed in Salt Lake City I stopped at the sports bar in the airport
and slammed back three or four vodka cranberries."
"A few weeks later, I said to my treatment counselor, 'I totally feel ripped off because my last 'high old time'
was when I drank in your airport, where the alcohol content is lower than any other state in America! I feel
cheated of that last drinking binge!' " She laughs.
After two days in detox to get the alcohol out of her system, Jo Dee began a daily schedule that was even
more packed than the one she has an entertainer.
"I'd get up at 5 a.m.," she says, "work out, take a shower, get dressed, go make coffee for everybody in the
lodge. I was in charge of the coffee - it was all perfectly organized. We'd have breakfast at 8:30, then at 9
we'd all get together and go over the schedule. At 9:45 we'd start lectures and meetings and classes, learning
about the disease of addiction.
"We'd have counseling in groups and individual counseling, and we'd have speakers come in in the evening.
Then we did  step work. Someone would present their step to the rest of the group. Evening activity would
end about 9, and then lights were out at 10. No TV or newspaper, no e-mail, limited time on the phone. I didn't
have a calling card."
She didn't have her celebrity status, either. "They didn't make a big deal out of it," says Jo Dee of her counselors and fellow patients. "On my second day, one of the guys said, 'Hey, I have your greatest-hits record in my room. I brought it with me.' And I'm like, 'And now you have me to to sing to you in person!' But they didn't allow me to perform in rehab. They wanted me to have the same treatment as everyone else. So that was cool."
Jo Dee stayed in rehab two and a half months. "I opted to stay because after the first 30 days I was like, 'Wait a minute, I'm just getting it.' My first week or two was denial and rationalization and, 'Maybe I don't have a problem.' About two weeks in, when all of your feelings are exposed and raw, that's when you're like, 'Oh boy. Now let me start paying real close attention to what's going on in these lectures, because I need this information.'
"But even though I spent two and a half months there, when someone leaves rehab, you're not cured.
You're given the tools to get through the rest of your life. I'll be 95 years old - I may never have another drink between now and then - but I'll still be in recovery."
Now that she's home from rehab, Jo Dee goes to local 12-step meetings and has frequent conversations with her pastor. "I spend a great deal of time with him," she admits. "We're walking through the Bible together. I've got my Bible verses to memorize. I have to find another thing to take [alcohol's] place," she reasons. "The 12-step programs have you start to rely on a power greater than yourself - which for me is God - to fulfill that empty spot in your heart, to give you something to turn to besides the bottle, the pills, the lines, the bag - whatever your drug of choice happens to be."
Jo Dee will be spending the summer touring, supporting her new single, "Too Late to Worry" - and attending 12-step meetings across the country if she feels the need. "My new tour manager already knows it's part of his gig," she notes. "In case I need a meeting [on the road], I need to get to one."
Will she ever have another drink? "I can't promise that I will never drink again for the rest of my life," she confesses. "Because I can't possibly see beyond today, never mind next week or next month. But I can make the promise that I'm not gonna drink today."
And, most important, Jo Dee's optimistic about her future. "I think the greatest stuff is yet to come," she declares. "I'm looking forward to it. The future seems hopeful, and I don't even know what lies ahead. I have no clue what tomorrow has in store, but whatever it is, it's gonna be cool."