For Joseph Habedank, being up for his second Grammy award is not just a nomination — it’s a remarkable nod to his journey from drug addiction to recovery.
Habedank, 34, began his career in gospel music as the lead singer-songwriter of The Perrys. But things took a drastic turn for the rising artist when he developed an ulcer in his throat and began using opioid pain medication during his tour in 2008.
“There was a lady who saw that I was in pain and I think she very instantly asked me, ‘Hey, how are you gonna sing tonight?’” he tells PEOPLE of the first time he was introduced to prescription pain killers. “I said, ‘I’ll be fine. I’ll get through it.’ She said, ‘Well, I think I’ve got some medicine that will help you.’”
The Ohio native says he began taking low dosages over the next few days. “I might’ve had maybe five painkillers that weekend and then I stopped,” he recalls.
But soon he found himself struggling with the start of a life-changing battle with addiction.
“I remember somebody else on the bus was having surgery a couple months later and me trying to find ways to come up with an ailment to try to get some of their medicine,” he says. “At that point, I should’ve known, ‘I think this is going to be a problem for you.’ I really didn’t consider addiction at the beginning because it was for a legitimate reason.”
“Our family was very, ‘You don’t go to the doctor,’ that kind of old school family,” he explained of his limited knowledge of prescription medicine. “When the lady gave me the medicine and I took it for the first time, I remember feeling this feeling of — euphoria is not even the word — but more deeply than that. In my mind, it fixed every problem that I had in my life.”
Habedank says he is a naturally reserved person, but the medication brought out a different side of him — a side of his personality he began to enjoy.
“Everybody has insecurities, but I had been kind of a closet introvert, and I noticed that when I took this medication it made me more outgoing and talkative,” he says. “I think that really played a role in me becoming dependent and addicted to it, because it heightened a personality that had always been kind of hidden underneath the surface, and it’s pretty remarkable how that happens.”
“By the time it was all said and done, I was taking 10 to 12 hydrocodone or oxycodone every day. I’d wake up and take two or three, then wait a few and take two or three more,” he says. “I became a walking zombie.”
As his addiction progressed, Habedank recalls experiencing pain when he didn’t have access to the medication and manipulating others to get his next fix.
“When I would run out, I would get so sick because the withdrawals are absolutely brutal,” he adds. “I had so many different resources because I was in contact with so many different people on tour. I think I used my job as a way to get what I wanted. I definitely manipulated people and I know that wasn’t me, I think that was the addiction.”
In the midst of battling substance abuse issues, the gospel singer met his wife, Lindsay, whom he calls his “best friend” and “rock star.”
“Three weeks before the wedding, she found out that there’s a problem and she decided to marry me anyway,” he says of his wife. “I came off the road for about two or three weeks to try to get my life straightened out. But I never really got the help I needed.”
Their happily ever after came to a halt when Habedank relapsed. “After our honeymoon, I went back on the road and two months later I started right back using pills again.”
He continued leading a double life by hiding his drug use from his wife. But three years later, Habedank’s addiction had left him at an all-time low.
“When I lost my job as a musician, as a singer, that was so much of my identity,” he says. “When people talk about their rock bottom — that was rock bottom for me.”
At that point, Habedank knew it was time for a change. “I knew that what I was doing was wrong,” he says. “But I didn’t know how to quit.”
The singer says he called a counselor who works with musicians at Porter’s Call in Franklin, Tennessee — just south of Nashville, where he and Lindsay live. Porter’s Call is an organization that helps musicians battling addiction and alcoholism. That’s when Habedank learned about the Recording Academy’s MusiCares, a nonprofit health and human service organization that helps members of the music industry in times of financial, medical and personal hardship.
“He told me about MusiCares, and I didn’t know what MusiCares was, but he told me that it was run by the Grammys Recording Academy and that they often would pay for a musician to go to treatment if they really wanted help,” Habedank recalls.
MusiCares ultimately paid for the singer’s treatment at a rehab center, something he credits for his successful recovery.
“The most amazing thing I think about all of this is that the Grammys MusiCares program actually paid for me to get help,” he tells PEOPLE. “I had no job and no income coming in and they paid over $20,000 for me to go to treatment. That was pretty remarkable.”
Habedank says loved ones told Lindsay to leave him, but she stood by him anyway. “My wife had a lot of people telling her that she should leave me and I think she would’ve left me had I not gotten help,” he says.
“She stuck it out and I think she saw something in me that nobody else saw,” he adds. “She’s the greatest young woman that I’ve ever known. She’s the reason that I’m alive today, and I’m so grateful for Lindsay.”
The singer was sober for a little more than a week by the time he checked into Cumberland Heights on June 8, 2013 — five years after he had been introduced to opioids. After learning that only about 10 percent of patients remain sober, Habedank was determined to succeed by following all of the advice his counselors gave him along his road to recovery. He chose the rehab center in Nashville because his counselor had recommended it, due to its serene environment.
During his 30-day stay, the Grammy nominee learned a meaningful lesson.
“I remember one of the most powerful things I learned in treatment was when they blindfolded all of us patients and put us in a maze,” he says. “What we didn’t know was that there was no way to get out of the maze — unless you asked someone for help.”
Habedank recalls that day vividly: “I went to one of my counselors and I said, ‘Hey, is this the exit?’ and they said, ‘No, that’s not the exit, Joseph.’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to get out,’ and they said, ‘What do you need?’ and I said, ‘I need to find the exit’ and they said, ‘No, but what do you need?’ and I said, ‘I need help,’ and they were like, ‘That’s all you need to say. Take off your blindfold.’”
After completing his month-long treatment, Habedank continued the necessary steps to remain sober. But one thing the singer says he struggled with, on top of his addiction, was his Christian faith.
“I was tormented when I was using drugs because I was kind of a counterfeit,” he says. “When you say the word ‘Christian,’ it means Christ-like and obviously Jesus Christ was not an addict, and I was not living a life that was complementary of my Christian faith at all.”
“But I will say this, the best thing that ever happened to me as a believer in Christ, as a Christian, was getting sober,” he says. “Because I got to see this whole new side of God.”
“I think that a lot of people kind of look at God as this powerful being who sits on a throne and rules and he is all of that,” he says. “But he is a God of love.”
“I think eventually had I not gotten sober, the common theme is to go straight from pain pills to heroin because it’s the same high,” Habedank says of what could’ve been. “I’m so grateful I got sober when I did.”
Staying sober has helped Habedank find a new side of life. His new album Deeper Oceans is now nominated for the Grammy award for best roots gospel album.
And when he hits the red carpet next year, he’ll have his wife by his side.
“I think had I not gone through what I did, I don’t think I would have this Grammy nomination. It’s one of the many gifts of sobriety,” he says. “It’s surreal because an organization like MusiCares paid for me to get treatment — I had never been up for a Grammy before — but since I’ve gotten sober, I’ve been up for two.”
“Being nominated is the most humbling feeling,” he continues. “To me, it is a full circle moment — from rehab to the Grammys.”
“I’m just so grateful to my peers for voting for me and to the music community for putting their faith in my record,” Habedank adds. “I’m just so grateful. I just can’t wait for the experience and to share it with my wife Lindsay.”
Habedank, whose younger brother is currently fighting addiction, has some advice for anyone battling addiction: “I think the biggest thing is to talk about it, even though that might seem trivial. Just go to someone that loves you and ask for help. Those three words, ‘I need help,’ are the hardest words for anyone in the world to say. But you have to ask for help because otherwise I don’t know you need it. There are people that want to help you.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
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