Brandi Carlile opens up about scary moment when she almost accidentally overdosed: ‘I don’t know if I would have ever woken up’

Suzy Byrne
·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·5 min read

Brandi Carlile is opening up about her past drug dependency — and how she almost accidentally overdosed in a New York City hotel room.

In an interview promoting her memoir, Broken Horses, the Grammy-winning singer, 39, details how she abused sleep aids and steroids amid the success of her acclaimed 2018 album, By the Way, I Forgive You — and for years prior. She said it was to keep up with her grueling work schedule, making records and touring nonstop, while also dealing with recurring cysts on her vocal cords.

"I had a problem," Carlile told People magazine. "And the problem is that I thought that sedating myself was normal."

"The Joke" singer said it was "with the help of a lot of sleep aids" that she kept up her schedule of performing at night, sleeping on a tour bus or airplane and then being able to "get up and go to the radio stations" in the early morning to promote her album or next show. "No one told me that it wasn't normal or that accidents can happen."

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 14: Brandi Carlile on the red carpet at THE 63rd ANNUAL GRAMMY® AWARDS, broadcast live from the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Sunday, March 14, 2021 (8:00-11:30 PM, live ET/5:00-8:30 PM, live PT) on the CBS Television Network and Paramount+. (Photo by Phil McCarten/CBS via Getty Images)
Brandi Carlile at the 2021 Grammy Awards is getting real about tour life. (Photo: Phil McCarten/CBS via Getty Images)

Instead, she learned it for herself. While in NYC for a three-night gig at at the Beacon Theatre in April 2018, she was alone in her hotel and almost took six Xanax, used to treat anxiety and panic disorder, instead of sleeping pills she had been prescribed.

"I suddenly realized with a shot of adrenaline and shame that I was staring down at six Xanax that I was about to pop into my mouth and go back to sleep. I don't know if I would have ever woken up," Carlile wrote in her book.

She imagined "the stain" on her name that would have resulted by the "simple accident" — and how "no amount of defense" by her wife of nearly 9 years, Catherine Shepherd, or her bandmates, Phil and Tim Hanseroth, would have been able to fix it. However, the reality was she was really "just a tired mom alone in a hotel room afraid to let anyone down and wanting the show to go on."

Carlile said as a result of the close call, "I will always think about that before I pass judgment on a person who's had a drug overdose."

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 06:  Brandi Carlile live in concert at the Beacon Theatre on April 6, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images)
Carlile performing at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on April 6, 2018. (Photo: Debra L Rothenberg/Getty Images)

The mom of two told People the incident led her to get help and today she's in a "better headspace." She'll cancel things when she's feeling sick now instead of taking steroids, playing a show and hurting her voice. 

"These things are weird, complicated, hard to talk about, embarrassing and a really big part of being a musician and touring," she said. "There are a lot of people that work around you who will tell you that the world stops turning if you take rest, if you cancel the show because you're sick. Cancel the show. Take the rest. Avoid some of the paths I went down."

In a 2019 profile in Rolling Stone, it said Carlile spent the better part of a decade in that "bitter cycle of sleeping pills, steroids and caffeine to get through" her grueling schedule of making music and touring.

Carlile said in another interview this week that the pandemic also forced her to look at her life and re-evaluate some of her bad habits.

"It was getting to the point around the time that the pandemic happened that I was going to start seeing diminishing returns," she told WKMS-FM in Murray, Ky. "I was going to start veering into old patterns. I was going to start getting sick. I was gonna start getting tired, getting hurt. And then that brings in the subject of synthetic things like sleep aids and stuff that I've had problems with in the past." 

However, the pandemic "forced me to sit and confront the things that were keeping me on that treadmill and making me work, making me want to work that hard, and where sort of ambition and avoidance intersect," she continued. "So it was a real study. And can I sit still and should I sit still more? And I think the answer to this is a resounding yes, I should sit still a lot more... As I'm sitting here and I'm looking at 40 and I got my kids and I got my wife and I have some of the affirmation that I always wanted around my music, and now I've written this book. I think I'm starting to really feel sort of solid and loved in my world. Like maybe I've kind of finally found my place."

In Broken Horses, out now, the singer/songwriter also details her impoverished and dysfunctional childhood as the eldest child born to a 20-year-old hotel hostess mom and 21-year-old prep cook dad who struggled with alcoholism. She opens up about her sexuality, coming out by the time she was 15 (inspired by Ellen DeGeneres's historic coming-out episode of Ellen), as well as her career, which has netted her six Grammy Awards.

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