Lost & Found: Former Hootie & The Blowfish Drummer's Road to Recovery

By Lindsay Williams, contributing writer, uptv.com
Fri, 08/17/2012 - 3:05pm

Jim Sonefeld’s life plays a lot like an episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music.” The boy, who would become the drummer for a famous band, grew up in Chicago and was raised by Catholic parents. He went to college to play soccer at the University of South Carolina. There, he met three guys who were all interested in music and songwriting. What started out as a friendship between like-minded college buddies turned into one of the biggest bands in pop history. Hootie & The Blowfish was catapulted to superstardom, thanks to 1995's Cracked Rear View, which sold more than 25 million copies worldwide and became the fourth biggest-selling debut and the 20th biggest-selling record of all time.

For Sonefeld, the band’s longtime drummer, the road to fame and fortune was paved with drugs, alcohol, and a reliance on his celebrity status for fulfillment. It all came to a screeching halt when his lifestyle began to conflict with his personal life. With a wife and two kids in the mix, Sonefeld was faced with the reality that something had to give. With loving mediation from family and friends, he was prompted to seek professional help. “There were people around me who loved me and were genuinely concerned with my lifestyle, and they were right,” he says.

Twelve steps. That’s what it took to restore the award-winning drummer’s life and faith. It was the start of a long journey toward sobriety and the beginning of a new calling for Sonefeld. “Here’s what those 12-step programs do: They give you a design for living a sober life, because I didn’t know how to do it. The 12 steps originated with several Christian traditions like conviction of sin, yielding to God, self-assessment, confession, restitution, prayer and witness,” he explains. “Since my Catholic upbringing had already given me a belief in God, I just followed the steps, and it led me back to Christ. That's how it worked for me, but that is not necessarily every alcoholic's path.”

While Sonefeld makes it sound relatively simple, the process is painful and not without struggle when met with consistent temptation. While Sonefeld was taking steps to get sober, he continued to tour with Hootie, which put him in the midst of a non-stop partying scene. “We went on; we toured. In fact, I did one long tour sober... We call it ‘white knuckling,’” Sonefeld says. “I learned that to get clean, you have to really want it and realize you’re getting clean for you first. Without sobriety, you’re just going to fall back in. I have to stay sober, and that means I have to protect myself.”

Sonefeld says his bandmates were respectful of what he was trying to do, and while he’s not sure if any lives – other than his own – were drastically changed by his choice, he realizes others took notice of the change in him. “Did I change anybody else’s lifestyle? No. I think it was probably my earliest moments of ministering to other people... I think people were able to see a transformation beginning, and that was my opportunity, without even really trying, to have other people look at their own lives,” he muses.

When the band collectively agreed to come off the road in 2008, it came at a good time for Sonefeld. While he was staying on top of his addiction, he realized there were some things in the aftermath that couldn’t be fixed. “When you clear away the mud of drugs and alcohol, you learn the truth,” he shares. “When you ask God to reveal the truth, you can realize some devastating things. I realized [I had] a very broken marriage and, in fact, an
irreparable marriage.”

Sonefeld and his wife divorced, but with the drummer now off the road and freed from addiction, he turned all of his attention to his two young children. “Coming off the road with a touring band and spending 100 percent of my time dedicated to my family really changed my outlook. I now see my family as a gift, as something I want to take care of and treasure all the time. They are not something I just come home to between tours. I see this decision as something God has given me, not something I just came up with on my own,” he admits.

Eventually, Sonefeld remarried. His wife, Laura, had three children, so the couple now has five kids between the ages of 8 and 14. Today, Sonefeld is not only focused on family, but he’s discovered a new season as a songwriter and, for the first time, a vocalist. He recently released an EP, Found, his first foray into Christian music. At the insistence of his wife, Sonefeld started writing about his faith. The longtime drummer is hesitant about stepping out as a vocalist, but he’s sure of his calling and considers each God-breathed song a gift.

“I’ve never felt more comfortable in my skin than I do now, and it’s not because I’m smart; it’s not because I have a good education; and it’s not anything else other than being reborn. So I just want to tell people about it,” he
says simply.

Found is a collection of songs declaring the goodness of God, intertwined with the threads of Sonefeld’s personal story of redemption. “I’ve struggled with boldness in my journey. I received Jesus, and I thought that was enough,” he continues. “It took me a few years to realize He wants me to be bold. Praising the Lord through my music and giving my life to Him every day is how I show Him I am thankful. It's how I show my kids that God is working in
my life.”

He’s also setting an example for other young men struggling with addiction. He’s a mentor and encouragement to others battling the same thing he says he will spend the rest of his life wrestling with. “[I have to] be patient. Years of addiction means it may take years to discover a new way of thinking. I will always be an alcoholic, and I admit that fact every day,” says Sonefeld candidly. “I do know what will keep me sober today, and it's working with other alcoholics. It might mean teaching them the steps, or showing them how I pray, or just sharing my journey with them. But the more I work with others, the more likely I am to stay clean.”

In fighting his own demons he’s discovered there’s life and beauty in the midst of the struggle, and through his mentoring and music, his greatest desire is to help people come to know the same loving, forgiving father that chased him down. And that’s why he’s adamant about sharing his story with others.

“Perhaps I will give someone the courage to turn their life over,” he says.” Fear is a huge obstacle to overcome, but I've done it, and I see others doing it as well. I just want to tell people that you don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to think your past is too big to overcome, because there’s somebody who has overcome the world. What helps me stay sober each day is to surrender to a higher power, and for me that higher power is Jesus Christ.”