WAILUKU >> Although he performed before a crowd of 20,000 a few nights ago, rock ‘n’ roll superstar Steven Tyler admitted to a touch of nerves as he addressed 11 Maui Drug Court graduates and their families Thursday afternoon in Circuit Court.
“I’m nervous here because I’m telling you all my truth,” the Aerosmith founding member and lead singer said. “I am also a drug addict and alcoholic and fighting it every day.”
As a guest speaker at the 49th Maui/Moloka’i Drug Court program graduation, Tyler encouraged graduates to continue in their recovery, in part by attending Alcoholics Anonymous and other support group meetings, as he does.
“If you stop going to AA meetings, you’re going to wind up using again,” he said. “They’re all over the island and they’re all over the world. I express my joy all because of AA.”
The Drug Court marked a milestone Thursday with the 500th graduate of the program that began on Maui in August 2000.
The graduates had charges dismissed or probation periods ended early based on their successful completion of the program offering intensive treatment and supervision as an alternative to incarceration.
Drug Court Administrator Dean Ishihara estimated that about 2 percent of graduates reoffend.
“It’s a very, very small percentage,” he said. “They learn recovery, and they learn not to get involved with criminal behavior.”
“It’s not an easy program,” he said, noting that not everyone successfully completes Drug Court.
Second Circuit Chief Judge Joseph Cardoza, who is the main Drug Court judge, said it was essential that the graduates remain committed to recovery.
“I ask that you never allow any choice that you make to change the tremendous progress you have made throughout the program,” Cardoza told the graduates.
Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu, another guest speaker, told the graduates that “accepting that life is hard does not mean that you accept every circumstance.”
“It’s you that controls everything,” Faaumu said. “The beauty of life is you always have a choice.”
Some of the graduates confessed to being fans of Tyler, who stood with Cardoza, retired 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Shackley Raffetto, Faaumu and other 2nd Circuit Court judges to congratulate the graduates.
“This is the man right here,” graduate Rubin Tabilangan said as he embraced Tyler.
“You know what, you are the man,” Tyler responded.
He said he was inspired by the stories of change told by the men and women.
“Listening to you guys opened up my heart again,” Tyler said. “You touched me beyond belief, deeper than any song, deeper than any sunset.”
He said he began “getting high” in 1964. “By 1984, I was 126 pounds, shooting cocaine,” when he first went into a rehabilitation center, Tyler said.
“They weren’t rehabs,” he said. “They were mental institutions where people that sat next to me had dribble bibs.”
Later, he relapsed. “I had it all. I didn’t care,” he said. “And I hurt my family and my children and my friends. If it wasn’t for the program of AA, I would have nothing.
“I’m a better drug addict and alcoholic than I am a musician. I got to keep it in check.”
Tyler acknowledged the family members and friends of the graduates who filled the courtroom gallery and overflowed into another courtroom where the graduation was streamed on television. “You, who they hurt so much, still came here,” he said.
Second Circuit Judge Richard Bissen said it was a “hana hou” appearance for Tyler, who spoke at a Drug Court graduation two years ago.
At home on Maui for a brief stay between concert tours, Tyler said he wanted to be there after asking Bissen last week when the next Drug Court graduation would be.
After the ceremony, Tyler stayed to pose for photos with graduates, their families and others.
He said he has volunteered to speak at the graduations, hoping to reach others like him. “If I knew just one person heard me and said, ‘If he can do it, I can do it,’ ” he said.
Tyler said he was introduced to Drug Court in California during his first year as an “American Idol” judge in 2011. He even did a commercial for the Drug Court.
“It’s an honor to be part of a new society where judges and – as they said today – police officers are involved in knowing when someone’s in trouble, what drugs they’re on and offering them, if they go through the program, to get out of jail,” he said.
Tyler said he has seen the “complete turnaround” people can experience through Drug Court. “You never see that in jails,” he said. “People don’t change. You can’t get anybody to change. But here they change.”
After getting sober in 1988, Tyler said he stayed sober until 2004 when he had surgery on his foot and was prescribed pain medication. “You can’t hold your own drugs when you’re a drug addict,” he said. “Give it to a nurse, a friend, someone in AA.”
“Addiction’s a strange, crazy thing with humans,” Tyler said, noting that it’s not easy to stop after overindulging once.
“We have to wait until we’re on our knees, some people with addictions – those of us with passion,” he said. “They say us drug addicts and alcoholics have this gene in our body. It’s like Christopher Columbus. They said the Earth was flat. He said, ‘I’m going anyway.’ We’re risk takers.”
Tyler said he regularly attends AA meetings. “On tour wherever I am – Instanbul or Beirut or New York City – I just look it up, find out where the closest meeting to the hotel is. I walk in and say, ‘I’m home.’ “
Now approaching five years of sobriety in December, Tyler said he continues attending the support meetings and sharing his story because “I can’t keep it unless I give it away.”
“It keeps me honest because I know how to lie to myself easily,” he said. “But I’m getting better.”