Former Hole Drummer Patty Schemel on New Memoir & Addiction: 'There Is Hope'

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Patty Schemel nearly lost everything to addiction -- twice. In 1998, four years after watching heroin’s grip claim her close friend Kurt Cobain, the Hole drummer was so strung out on dope and crack that even Courtney Love’s well-documented chaos was no match for Schemel, who was kicked out of the massive ’90s band and ended up living on the streets, trading sex for drugs at age 31. The next year, the Washington State native got clean and joined actress Juliette Lewis’ outfit, Juliette & The Licks -- only to relapse, get fired and lose everything again.

Now 50, the alt-rocker is 12 years sober after a stint in rehab that stuck; living in Los Angeles with her wife and 6-year-old daughter, Bea; and playing in pop-punk trio Upset. In Hit So Hard (Da Capo Press, Oct. 31), Schemel recounts her ultimately hopeful story of how an alt-rock feminist, lesbian and recovering addict survived what so many of her peers did not.

You begin by saying you were born in recovery. What do you mean by that?

Both my parents were alcoholics, so I’m predisposed to alcoholism. As a child feeling weird, awkward and gay, I discovered drums, and they were my first drug. Then I had my first drink [at age 12] and felt I’d arrived in my body. I never thought that would take me to shooting heroin, but one drug leads to another. At first, heroin is like a blanket. Or like your mom hugging you. But the bliss is so temporary. It turns dark quickly. And then it’s on: the chase to get back to that feeling.

It took 22 detoxes and 15 rehab stints before you finally got clean. Why were you so forthcoming in the book?

I made a point to talk about the experience as honestly and as gritty as it is. I was a drug addict in a band with crazy people, I was crazy, and it was chaos. It isn’t romantic -- I didn’t have a hustle on the street. I didn’t belong out there, and everybody knew it. I describe [the cycle of] addiction and recovery like a hamster wheel -- and what does it take to get you off? Deaths of friends? Suicide? The loss of everything important? Your family?

How is your relationship with Love now?

We talk. We text. I sent her the book. She’s working on her own book now, so when I remember stuff, I’ll go, “Oh, my God, this story -- you have to put it in the book.” I’ve done that three times. Because she does not remember.

What’s the biggest takeaway from your story?

No matter how freaky or weird or gay you feel, that’s what makes you special. Whatever you’re suffering, you can get through it. It’s so hard to convince somebody in the middle of it there is a way out, but there is hope. 

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 11 issue of Billboard.