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Dolly Parton has never personally struggled with alcoholism (she’s not much of a drinker), but she hit a low point in the early ’80s that made her understand what might draw someone to numb their pain with substances. In her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, the Queen of Country opens up about the difficult time in her life, how she dug herself out, and what she learned.

Dolly Parton performs at the Dominion Theatre in London.
Dolly Parton, 1983 | Pete Still/Redferns

What happened to Dolly Parton in the early 1980s?

In the early ’80s, Parton broke into the film industry. Her career was expanding in big ways. Despite that, those years were “the most troubled years in her life,” according to her 2020 book.

“She was financially stressed in the wake of the Porter Wagoner litigation,” wrote the book’s co-author, Robert K. Oermann. “She suffered gynecological problems resulting in hospitalizations. She endured death threats. She spent years battling her weight. She felt betrayed by trusted associates and went into a deep depression.”

In Parton’s words: “I went through a lot of health problems and emotional things. I was overweight and having female problems that can affect your mind. I really went through a bad time.”

Dolly Parton reshaped herself and came back better than before

Parton writes that when she looks back at that difficult time in her life, she can’t help but think it all happened “for a reason.” The Queen of Country also notes that her difficult years made her more empathetic to a greater variety of people.

“I think God just smacked me down,” she wrote. “That was a hard time, but it made me understand other people a lot better. I related to how alcoholics became alcoholics. I related to how drug addicts become drug addicts. Sometimes your pain is just so great you can’t hardly bear it on your own. I completely had an insight into other people’s sorrows.”

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Parton felt so low that she had nowhere to go but up.

“I had to take a good look at myself,” she wrote. “I had to tear everything down, reshape myself, and get some priorities in order, so that I could pick up, move on, and become bigger than I ever was before. And I think that’s exactly what happened.”

‘Songwriting is my therapy’

Throughout those difficult years, Parton leaned on her craft more than ever.

“It was all meant to be, because I really became a better person,” she wrote. “I became a better writer, too. Even during the time when I was really not in a good place, I was always able to write songs. Songwriting is my therapy, because I did not go to a therapist. My music has always been my best doctor. My guitar and my words always get me through whatever slump I’m in. That’s what helped me get myself back together, get myself back in shape, and get myself out of that whole world of darkness.”