Update 4/23/2018: Eminem celebrated 10 years sober a couple days ago by posting this photo to his Instagram feed.
An example of how opioid addiction does not wreck a person’s neurology for life. We heal.
[Originally published 11/19/2010]
Standing in Whole Foods’ checkout line last night, and there was Eminem on the cover of Rolling Stone, nose peeking out from his (shady) hoodie.
I shelled out. Eminem is currently the music industry’s bestselling and most visible recovering addict. From the glimpses I got waiting to buy my pork chops, I could see that his recovery from addiction was the first subject discussed and the subject most referred to throughout the interview. That, and his kids, and his work.
So I thought I’d share a few tidbits with you guys, in case you’re interested. Because I know you’re interested. Lots of you land here looking for “Eminem sobriety” or “does Eminem go to meetings.”
(For those who may not be familiar with Eminem: birth-name Marshall Mathers, 38; he is a hip-hop artist who grew up and still lives in Detroit; in December 2007 he was hospitalized for an overdose of methadone and the sleep-aid Ambien which nearly killed him. One relapse after that, and he committed to recovery. Also the title of his most recent album, Recovery is expected to be the bestselling album of 2010.)
Ambien is addictive. On his Ambien use:
Toward the end, I don’t think the shit ever put me to sleep for more than two hours. It’s very similar to what I’ve read about Michael [Jackson]. I don’t know exactly what he was doing, but I read that he kept getting up in the middle of the night, asking for more. That’s what I was doing—two, three times a night, I would get up and take more.
On the shooting death of his good friend, Detroit rapper Proof, and how addiction made him self-absorbed in his grief:
I remember days I spent just taking fucking pills and crying. One day, I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t even want to get up to use the bathroom. I wasn’t the only person grieving—he left a wife and kids. But I was very much in my own grief. I was so high at his funeral. It disgusts me to say it, but I felt like it was about me. I hate myself for even thinking that. It was selfish.
On getting high on methadone—a drug that most physicians and even many addiction specialists don’t believe can make you wasted:
I remember I got the methadone from somebody I’d gone to looking for Vicodin. This person said, “These are just like Vicodin, and they’re easier on your liver.” … I remember taking one in the car on the way home, and thinking, “Oh, this is great.” Just that rush.
Eminem’s just like a lot of us who committed to recovery to be here for others:
I knew I had to change my life. But addiction is a fucking tricky thing. I think I relapsed within … three weeks? And within a month it had ramped right back to where it was before. That’s what really freaked me out. That’s when I knew: either get help, or I am going to die. As a father, I want to be here for things. I don’t want to miss anything else.
Eminem apparently does not go to meetings. He wanted to attend meetings but people inevitably recognized him and wanted things from him, which made it difficult for him to be open in the group. On anonymity:
I tried some meetings—a couple of churches and things. It tended not to do me much good. People tried to be cool, but I got asked for autographs a couple of times. It made me shut down. I called a rehab counselor who’d helped me the first time. Now I see him once a week.
It’s well known that Elton John acts as his sponsor:
I speak to Elton [John]. He’s like my sponsor. He usually calls me once a week to check on me, just to make sure I’m on the up-and-up. He was actually one of the first people I called when I wanted to get clean. He was hipping me to things, like, “You’re going to see nature that you never noticed before.” Shit you’d normally think was corny but that you haven’t seen in so long that you just go, “Wow! Look at that fucking rainbow!” Or even little things—trees, the color of leaves. I fucking love leaves now, man. I feel like I’ve been neglecting leaves for a long time.
And this is where I put the magazine down to take a breath, because I enjoyed this guy’s unpretentious poetry so much and I was starting to love his process. There’s no one right way to get sober. But there are some essential ingredients: honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness to do whatever is needed. Especially willingness.
It seems Elton John, sober for 20 years, regularly reaches out to other celebrities with drug problems. Eminem has made it clear that he rang up Elton John for help because he knew Sir Elton would be able to understand the mental distortions that extreme fame exerts on a person, and he wasn’t able to get that in an ordinary meeting. Which is too bad—because when you get right down to it, in Orwell’s words, none of us addicts is “more equal” than any other. Maybe some people might think this choice in itself is grandiose and ego-driven. But I respect it: I see him recognizing the real limitations that he’s presented with, and then seeking help where he can, so that he can save his life and continue to do what he needs to do … stay sober, take care of his kids, and do his work. Each of us has to do this—get help in the way that best fits our life.
“There’s a lot more awareness of addiction these days,” my husband said this morning when I told him about this heretofore homophobic hip-hop singer calling on a flamboyantly gay star. “Imagine who might have been saved in the past if there had been more awareness. I mean, who was looking out for Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison? And so many others.”
And here he is on some of the cleanup. On working sober, and the time lost on his CV:
I don’t know, man. I feel like I took a lot of time off. Not doing shit for those four or five years, how lazy I got—it’s time to get back to doing what I love. I feel like I’ve got a lot of gas in the tank. I just want to make up for letting people down.
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