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ADHD: Dealing With Divorce

Say it ain’t so, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires!


This week, Jason Isbell filed for divorce from his fellow bandmate and wife, Amanda Shires. This powerhouse musical duo has been together for all of Jason’s meteoric rise over the past ten years, from before their Southeastern album through their most recent album Weathervanes. Amanda has appeared at multiple concert dates with Jason as part of the 400 Unit, their band, which is named after a local psychiatric wing at an Alabama hospital. They have one child together.


Jason and Amanda’s relationship has been the subject of multiple songs penned by both Isbell and Shires. Jason is nearly universally regarded as one of the nation’s finest at the craft of songwriting, and Amanda isn’t far behind. (Amanda’s work is just less recognized in the male-dominated Nashville music scene.) Jason’s most popular songs to date have been “If It Takes A Lifetime” from the movie A Star Is Born and “Cover Me Up,” later covered by Morgan Wallen. He writes intimate and evocative songs about his own struggles with sobriety, the fears of parenting, and trying to be a decent husband and human being. He has been very clear in several interviews that he tries to write authentically about what it is like to be himself, though often in metaphor. The 2022 documentary Running With Our Eyes Closed detailed the creation of the Reunions album. Several moments of distress were shown between Jason and Amanda in the film, suggesting that their relationship was as difficult and troubled as their songs suggest. “There’s a man who walks beside me

He is who I used to be,

And I wonder if she sees him

And confuses him for me.

And I wonder who she’s pining for

On nights I’m not around

Could it be the man who did the things

I’m living down?”

…So I carved a cross from live oak

And a box from short-leaf pine

And buried her so deep

She touched the water table line”

(“Live Oak”, Southeastern, 2013 - a metaphorical song about addiction, sobriety, and insulating oneself from intimacy)



Before I take this blog post about ADHD further, let me clarify that to my knowledge, Isbell has never openly identified as having ADHD. There are many signs that it could possibly be something he deals with - high intelligence, high creativity, high empathy, addiction history, hyper-focus, anxiety, and others - but he’s never made a statement openly on the topic, to my knowledge. I  will discuss him on this blog because he and Amanda are both extraordinarily creative, likely somewhat neurodivergent people who are facing one of life’s great challenges: Divorce. I have followed Jason’s work more closely than Amanda’s.


Over the last year alone, Jason’s career has taken a sharp upward turn. He held a major role in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon alongside Robert Deniro and Leonardo Dicaprio. His album Weathervanes dropped, gaining him 2 more Grammys (for a total of 4), and leading to multiple TV performances. And today, as this article is being written, he has just announced that he has reached 13 years sober.  (Yay!)


Here’s the kicker: In multiple ways, on multiple platforms, and in several instances, Jason has established himself as a vulnerable, open-minded man who is intentionally trying to promote Amanda’s career while also advancing his own. He’s doing his best to remain sober and to create authentic art while his exposure accelerates upward. That's. His. Brand. I adore his work. I can’t imagine that he’s been able to find time to be a wonderful husband or perfect father as his career takes off, but I have no right to assume this, as I live neither in his shoes nor in his house. (And frankly, that part’s none of my business.) But the appeal of his work has always been his open vulnerability and transparency expressed in wildly creative and poetic fashion. Here’s one example of how he’s turned the struggles of marriage into a masterpiece:


“You gotta learn to keep yourself naive

In spite of all the evidence believe

And volunteer to lose touch with the world

And focus on one solitary girl.

Baby, let's not live to see it fade

I’ll cancel all the plans I’ve ever made

I’ll drive and you can ride in the back seat

And we’ll call ourselves the flagship of the fleet”

(“Flagship”, Something More Than Free, 2015 - a duet with Amanda Shires. Amanda would later reference this song in her fiery and angry song "Fault Lines")


I’ve been given the opportunity to work with many creative people who were going through difficult challenges, divorce included. Divorce is widely regarded as one of the most difficult and disrupting life events a person can ever experience. If you or someone you love has been through a divorce, you already know. ‘But in case you don’t, or maybe you forgot, i’ll lay it out real nice and slow…’  (sorry, music fans - I couldn’t resist.)


Divorce involves untangling the identities of two people who have grown together. Divorce means having to re-establish oneself without the former partner. A person’s identity may have to be re-defined, often after literal decades of relying upon another person in unrealized ways. It may come with crippling rejection, financial fears, and complete lack of confidence. It can leave someone feeling utterly alone and abandoned.  Many divorcing people have to find new homes, new friends, new jobs, all while working their way through the challenges life was already throwing at them before the divorce. A new life has to be established, which can be simultaneously terrifying and wonderful. 


Creative people always have their creativity as an outlet for the complex emotions divorce inevitably brings. Songwriter Steve Goodman is credited as saying “When things [in a relationship] are going good, who the hell wants to write a song?” His co-writer John Prine once described being left by a partner and writing a song “to get her back,” moments later clarifying with “I mean like revenge”. Divorce creates tremendous inner conflict. When an artist can examine or articulate their inner conflict and make art from it, they can then understand it better and accept it more readily. This is often a crucial part of healing for any creative person. We have to let our souls inhale the conflict and then exhale the art. It’s how we process the loss and grieve. It’s how we regenerate ourselves. It’s how we survive and even thrive.

As a therapist, I will also offer one point of caution here: If you begin the creative process and find that it is too triggering or too dark or too scary, stop immediately. You can then find a therapist like me who can help you process the more difficult parts of what you’re feeling. We can work together to process through your trauma, self-doubt, and other factors, and we can find safe ways for you to express what you need to express.  


We can certainly look for some wildly creative works of art from both Shires and Isbell! To be fair, we can retrospectively see from tracks like Isbell’s “Strawberry Woman” and Shires’ “Fault Lines” that things were getting pretty rocky. [See Below] From today’s perspective, these two songs and many of their others take on a new meaning. But see, that’s that absolutely beautiful thing about good art - we can identify with the artists’ vulnerability and openness to a point that we can better understand their conflict. And - just maybe - we can also understand our own!





I hope this post has been informative and helpful. I specialize in working with creative professionals across Georgia who have Anxiety, ADHD, and/or High Functioning Autism. If you’d like to speak more about these or other types of issues, please give me a call at 770 615 6300. You can also schedule a session and learn more about my practice at www.altmancounseling.com I offer telehealth and in-person sessions. I am in-network with Aetna insurance and provide paperwork for filing out-of-network claims.



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