Hip-hop legend Eminem recently celebrated a sober milestone on social media by sharing his 11 year medallion. The medallion, a chip given out by Alcoholics Anonymous, is meant to signify the anniversary of the rapper's decision to get sober and stay committed to his recovery after struggling for so many years.
The star has been open about his struggles with addiction to prescription painkillers and has spoken in-depth about what it took to get back on the path of wellness. Thankfully, Eminem lived to tell his story and now inspires others to overcome their demons. To understand the story of Eminem, we must start with the story of Marshall Mathers.
"Yeah, it's been a ride
I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one
Now some of you might still be in that place
If you're tryin' to get out, just follow me
I'll get you there."
Eminem, real name Marshall Bruce Mathers, was born October 17th, 1972, in St. Joseph, Missouri. His father, Marshall Mathers Jr., left his wife and child while Marshall was still an infant. Deborah Mathers had difficulty raising the child on her own and struggled with holding down jobs, possibly due to her own battles with addiction.
Although Deborah has denied allegations, Eminem has accused his mother of being addicted to painkillers and inflicting mental abuse on their household while growing up. This combination of genetic history with addiction and living with an abusive parent may have played a role in influencing Eminem’s own battles with addiction.
Eminem’s first successful commercial project was the Slim Shady LP, released in 1999, which detailed Eminem’s already growing affinity for drugs and alcohol along with profanity and hyper-violence. Eminem followed it up with the Marshall Mathers LP, which was released in 2000, selling over 19 million copies and winning a Grammy award for Best Rap Album. Although Eminem’s popularity was skyrocketing, his problems with substance abuse were beginning to get out of hand.
“I don't know what point exactly it started to be a problem, I just remember liking it more and more, whenever people would try to help me I would say get that fucking person outta here, I can't believe they said that shit to me, they don't know anything about me or my life. It's not like I'm out here snorting coke or shooting heroin up my arm.”
During the 2000’s Eminem developed a serious addiction to prescription drugs, including Valium, Xanax, Ambien, and Vicodin. During the peak of his addiction, Eminem was mixing multiple medications and doing serious damage to his brain and body. In one interview with Rolling Stone, Eminem discussed how pills accelerated his rapid weight gain, saying that the combination of massive amounts of Vicodin and Valium literally made a hole in his stomach that could only be satiated by constantly eating.
“The pills had a lot to do with it. Just wiping out brain cells. I don't know if it sounds like I'm making excuses, but the absolute truth is a lot of my memory is gone. I don't know if you've ever taken Ambien, but it's kind of a memory-eraser. That s**t wiped out five years of my life.”
By 2007, Eminem was over 200 pounds and in serious danger of death. He had just divorced his wife and was in a protracted custody battle over his daughter Hailie. He was also dealing with a serious case of writer’s block that had him popping more pills. In Christmas of that year, Eminem overdosed from a handful of methadone pills and was rushed to the hospital. The rapper was nearly put on dialysis just to keep him alive.
The episode was a jarring moment of reality for Eminem, who checked into rehab immediately after leaving the hospital. However, after completing treatment he immediately went back to using and got right back to the same levels he was at pre-rehab. For weeks, he stayed up days and nights zoned out on prescription medication, unable to fathom why he couldn’t quit. Eventually, the rapper was hospitalized again and entered into rehab immediately after.
“After I got out of rehab I did not sleep for three weeks straight, I mean like not even nodding off for a fucking minute. I would just sit up and stare at my TV. I would walk around my house and thinking every single day, "I'm gonna ***ing die." I'm looking at my kids, and like, I need to be here for them. I'm growing. I just couldn’t believe that anybody could be naturally happy or naturally function or be just enjoying life in general without being on something.”
This time, Eminem’s resolve to complete rehab and stay sober was serious. He finished treatment and immediately set to work on his road to recovery. He has described himself as having an “addict’s brain”, and sought to replace his addiction to substances with a dedication to working out and writing. Running gave Eminem a natural endorphin high, and the rapper began running 17 miles per day, alternating with various workout programs like P90x and Body Beast, dropping more than 80 pounds.
“One addiction for another but one that's good for them. I got an addict's brain, and when it came to running, I think I got a little carried away. I became a fucking hamster. Seventeen miles a day on a treadmill. I would get up in the morning, and before I went to the studio, I would run eight and a half miles in about an hour. Then I'd come home and run another eight and a half. I started getting OCD about the calories, making sure I burned 2,000 every day.”
Eminem even received help from a fellow colleague in recovery, Sir Elton John. The two first united for a performance at the Grammy awards when Eminem sought to apologize for homophobic lyrics in his music. When Eminem left rehab for the second time, the first person he called was Elton because of his own struggles with addiction. Eminem recognized that Elton also understood the pressures of success and celebrity. Through the support of Elton and other close friends, Eminem was able to continue his process of recovery.
The process, like anyone’s addiction recovery, was not easy. Initially, Eminem had to work to regain his control over the English language and syntax, practicing for hours per day with wordplay and rhyming. Two months after leaving rehab for the second time, Eminem joined his longtime collaborator Dr. Dre in the studio and began work on his next project. The world was waiting for Eminem to come back, and they would not be disappointed.
I wanted to make an overall statement — I’m back. It was a slow process. You gotta remember I hadn’t recorded a song sober in seven years. So it took me a while to even feel like I could record a song sober … I don’t know the last time I shot a video sober, without drinking or taking anything. It’s been years.
In 2009, Eminem released Relapse, his first studio album in 5 years. The album detailed his struggles with painkillers and his subsequent decision to get sober. The following year he released Recovery, a similarly themed album about the struggles of staying sober and doing right by his children, ex-wife, and mother. Since 2008, Eminem has remained drug and alcohol-free, pouring himself into his work and physical fitness. His work has inspired countless others to overcome their own addictions and limitations to be the best person they can be.
“Rap was my drug It used to get me high and then it stopped getting me high. Then I had to resort to other things to make me feel that. Now rap’s getting me high again.”
“So I would say to anybody, it does get better, you know. It just does.”
Eminem’s struggles with addiction and subsequent success show that anyone can go through the darkest dredges of substance abuse and through hard work and support come out on the other side. He turned his darkest impulses into a healthy obsession with rap and fitness, turning him into one of the greatest rappers of all time and a healthy artist capable of completing world tours. Today, he celebrates a decade of sobriety and success. It’s never too late to get the help of a certified drug and alcohol rehab center to stop the progression of addiction. Trained counselors and certified medical staff will help you to get sober and learn how to stay that way. Visit Landmark Recovery to learn about more tools and resources for overcoming addiction.