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Natalie Cole on Her Journey to Faith and Sobriety: ‘Only Then Did Peace Flood in Where Pain Once Was’

Photo from Natalie Cole’s Instagram

Natalie Cole on Her Journey to Faith and Sobriety: ‘Only Then Did Peace Flood in Where Pain Once Was’

By Movieguide® Staff

Natalie Cole, the daughter of music icon Nat King Cole, recently opened up about her child, grief, and her road to sobriety.

Although Natalie has now experienced success in the music industry, her relationship with her father and music was not always positive.

At 15 years old, her father died. But she found that people were most concerned with mourning her father, something she would not learn to do until later in life.

“People asked me all the time what he was like,” she wrote in a 2009 article published in Guideposts. “They told me how much they loved his voice. Hardly a day went by someone didn’t mention him to me. That can wear away at you.”

Despite her fond memories of her father, Natalie said that a question from her counselor, Monty, caused her to reflect more deeply on her relationship with her father.

“‘Natalie, do you think you’ve ever really grieved your father? Grief isn’t bound by time, Natalie. If you want to heal, to get sober, you have to face it. You have to change. Today.’ I practically ran back to my room as if fleeing Monty’s words,” Natalie recalled.

Even as Natalie began a career of her own, the thought of her father would stick in her mind. Instead of facing her grief head-on, Natalie turned toward drugs.

“My career progressed too, but right before the release of my first record, I got busted for heroin possession. I was given several months’ probation and was able to kick my habit. ‘This Will Be’ became a major hit and I won the 1975 Grammy for Best New Artist,” she explained.

“Yet that pain in my soul grew worse. I turned to cocaine. Sometimes I’d quit using for a while. ‘God, bring me down and I’ll never do this again,’ I’d pray. But soon enough, I’d want to get high again,” she continued.

However, Natalie’s addiction became so severe that she said even God answering prayer was not enough for her to turn her back on the drugs.

“One night in 1981 I’d just finished a show with Bill Cosby at the Las Vegas Hilton and was in my room on the twenty-fourth floor when smoke started to fill the halls. The front desk said someone would get me. Before I knew it, the smoke had become impossibly thick. I wet myself down in the shower fully clothed, then came out and sank down onto soaking wet bedsheets on the floor,” she said. “I clutched my cocaine pipe. If this is my time, I’m not going straight, I thought. The headline of the story in the next day’s papers came to me: ‘Daughter of Nat King Cole Dies in Hotel Fire High on Cocaine.’ I closed my eyes. If you want to save me, God, don’t let me take a hit off this pipe.”

“The heavy air closed around me. Just as I put the pipe to my lips, firefighters burst into the room like soot-covered angels and got me out of there,” she added. “It hurts me now to say it, but even God’s grace that day didn’t convince me to change. Mom and Cookie finally got me to a rehab center in southern California. After 30 days I walked out of the facility, sped all the way home and got high.”

After the Las Vegas fire, Natalie recalled that change came in 1984 when her manager encouraged her to go to rehab.

“Maybe I’ve tested God’s patience too much. For years, He’d been giving me wake-up calls and I’d been hitting the snooze. I reached for my Bible, where I’d kept the rose from Dad’s coffin, and opened it,” she said of her time in rehab. “Through it all I’d never let that Bible go. I’d looked at that rose every day until it finally fell apart. Yet its scent still clung to the pages.”

“I felt like God was still clinging to me, despite all I’d done to push him away. I’d tried to fix my life, to change. Now, finally, in the cold of winter, I realized I couldn’t change myself. Only God could change me, and only if I asked with my whole heart.”

Natalie said that God was no longer the lifeline that she prayed to when things were challenging, but that she formed a personal relationship with a merciful savior.

“For the first time, God became not just someone to turn to in a crisis,” she said. “He was there when I shed tears for my father night after night, the tears I’d never shed as a teenager. He was there as I struggled to let go of my pain and defiance. He was there when I surrendered myself.”

“Only then did peace flood in where pain once was, one miraculous day at a time. No, we never forget pain, but we do let go of it. In surrender, we transform ourselves.”

Before her realization and transformation, Natalie only felt pain when she sang one of her father’s songs. But after a successful rehab, she sang “Unforgettable” with a new perspective.

“Through the magic of a new technology, I was able to record a duet with my dad on his signature song, ‘Unforgettable.’ It resurrected my career, yes, but more than that, it restored me. And a faint scent of a rose came to full blossom again.”

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