Why I Quit Drinking
Liquor clouded my music career and nearly ended my life, but now I have a second chance
By Royce 5'9
All the memories of my career are really fuzzy. It’s like I drank away the memories. I will be four years sober this September.
I had my first drink at 21. I remember it was Jack Daniels. I went and hung out at a college with my friends and they finally got me to drink. People had been trying to get me to drink for years, since I was in my late teens. I just never did it, I was never really into it. I didn’t start drinking heavily until my mid-to-late 20s.
When I started drinking I immediately found a little groove with it. My first drink of choice was Bacardi Limón. I found something that was sort of working for me — like a drink that I could stand the taste. I had a few experiences that were like “I had fun last night, we were fucked up!” I just kept going. The way that it works with me — or anyone else that is wired like an addict — is that you do things in binges. Not just drinking, anything that you like.
For example, there’s this restaurant called J. Alexander that we used to go to in Michigan, by my house. They’ve got this carrot cake that is crazy. I think I ate that carrot cake every day for a month straight. I just kept going back for the carrot cake. And this is since I’ve been sober. That’s just to give you an example of how I am.
Alcohol was the main thing — a drug — that took off with me. I tried other things, I used to do ecstasy, but that was just something that I did while I was drinking. It just so happened that I was always drinking every day, so I wanted to do ecstasy too. But I couldn’t do ecstasy without liquor. I’d see people popping pills and they were feeling good, but it was impossible for me to pop a pill without drinking. I needed to do both together.
Alcohol led to most of my bad decisions. I’m not even blaming everything on it. I chose to be under the influence so much, for such a big part of the day, that I was pretty much drinking from sun up to sun down. As soon as I would wake up, I would brush my teeth, take a shower and look for a drink. The first thing I would do was hit the liquor store, whether I had eaten or not.
Alcohol made it easier to work into my life the newfound fame and notoriety as a rap artist. I had the kind of career where you feel like you can drink and still get your job done and have more fun doing it. Alcohol got rid of the nervousness, the anxiety and all of the things that come with being an artist. It was like I skipped right over that part of it.
I thought it made me more creative at the time. In retrospect, I would say that it didn’t. I would say that I used it when I was being creative and the more I used it, the more my brain started to look for it. It was like training a dog so every time he hears the bell, it’s like a trigger for whatever you are training him to do. Basically that is what you do to your brain with alcohol. Like if I was on my way to the studio, I’d automatically start craving that trigger, like it was a part of it.
You don’t realize it until you stop drinking and then everything you try to do feels weird. Public appearances, shows, everything you thought you didn’t need to drink for, but now you are doing those things and you feel like you should be drinking.
When I first got sober, I would go to do shows and it would be on my mind and I would just have to fight through it. I’d have to tell myself “I have to get through this without it.” The very first show I lost my voice immediately, as soon as I touched the mic. My first thought was that if I had a drink to loosen up, then maybe my voice would return. But I knew that was the addiction talking. After that, all of the shows went well. The more I performed, the more I got accustomed to doing them without liquor. Now it’s like second nature. Same with recording.
Some years ago, my little brother was staying with a girl, kind of close to my house. I had been drinking and I had been up for about two days straight. I had a just purchased a brand new Lexus. It was one of the first cars I bought when I started making money in music. I went over to his house — and I remember going over there, there were a couple of girls over there, and I remember just cussing everybody out. I cussed one of the girls out because one of them said something to me that I didn’t like.
I was like super drunk, not even in control of what I was saying. My little brother and his friends were cracking up laughing. I stormed out of his house and got into my car and drove off. It was late at night and I was the only one on the road, thank God, and I just blacked out behind the wheel…
One minute I was driving and the next thing I know, I was coming to with my car smashed against a light pole. I passed out and my car coasted into it. Apparently my foot was on the gas, but it wasn’t pressing it. My head still hit the windshield. Pieces of thread from my fitted cap were in the cracks of the windshield of my car. The windshield was smashed outward, where my head had hit it. By the time I was coming to, I had flashing lights in my face. “Sir, you okay? Sir, are you okay?” It was the police.
I was like “Yeah, I’m fine.” They asked me if I needed to go to the hospital and I replied, “Nah, fuck that, I don’t want to go to the hospital.” Needless to say, they ended up arresting me for drunk driving. They made me do all of the sobriety tests. They told me say the ABC’s, which I remember trying to sing. It was completely a total drunk story.
Whenever you get a DUI, you’ve got to spend the night in jail until you detox. In the morning, you go before a judge, you post bond, somebody comes and bails you out, and then you go back to court with an attorney. This is a very expensive process, especially when you keep racking them up like I did. I racked up a total of three before the judge finally sent me to jail for a year. Here I am in jail when my first ever magazine cover is released.
After I was released and some time later, I decided to stop drinking because I felt like I was at rock bottom. I wasn’t at financial rock bottom, I was actually at my financial peak, which is scary. I was drinking every day, all the time. I would be drunk during all of my major appearances: the GRAMMYS, BET Awards, red carpets. Even when presenting awards I would be completely wasted. I was reaching a point, where I would have all of these messed up, bad choice of character people around me.
One thing about making money and the perception of you making money, when people start counting what they think you might be making, it brings out their true colors. And if you don’t have all of your wits about you to be able to see that, you can be taken advantage of very easily. When you are making a cool amount of money, people are like, ‘Hey, do you think maybe I could have some of that money?’ Then you start making a little bit more money and they are like ‘Man, I sure would like it if you would give me some of that money.’ When you start making what they perceive as a lot of money, it becomes ‘Give us that goddamn money! Now!’
I felt like I was either going to end up back in jail or even worse somebody was going to kill me. I felt like a warrior Indian chief trying to protect his tribe. I was literally spending people off. Every time I turned around somebody had their hand out and it wasn’t pleasant. When you’re drunk, people can guilt trip you into thinking that you’re changing or you’re being a bad person. It’s like, if you don’t want to wire them $50,000, then you’re changing.
This was right after I did the Bad Meets Evil album with Eminem. “Lighters” was a big track at the time and it was selling millions of singles. It was probably getting more radio spins than any other record at that time. It was the biggest record in the country and I was literally hanging out in the hood. A former friend of mine owned a bar and I used to go to that bar every day. I started getting into fights up there. See when I am sober I know how to defuse these situations, because I’m a pretty reasonable guy and I can turn the other cheek a little easier. But when I’m drinking, I am not as reasonable. If a person is drunk and I’m sober, I can look past their behavior. But If I’m drinking, you can’t say anything to me, I’m just going to go upside your head.
Long story short, I was making an imbecile of myself. With the way that the Internet is, everything that I was doing, stepping out on my wife and doing shit with other women, she just kept catching me. I was just sloppy with everything and I didn’t want to be that guy. On top of that, my son was getting a little bit older and starting to see things. One day I just woke up and started thinking about everything. I was thinking about how terrible my relationship was with my wife, my family, and my friends — or at least those that I thought were my friends. I didn’t like the direction it looked like it was going and I was just tired of it.
I also felt like I had a second chance with my career, in which I wasn’t just an underground artist making underground shit every year. I was reaching a level where I could make some real noise. I knew in order to turn this corner in my career, something had to change. There was no way I was going to reach this plateau drunk all of the time, arguing with my girl every day over text, and on top of that I’ve got a side chick and I’m arguing with her at the same time. It was just too much, so I just let it all go. I cut off all of the fat.
Eminem helped me all the way through. He was one of the first people I called. I let him know I needed help. I came back to Detroit and he, Tracy McNew and Paul Rosenberg at Shady Records checked me into this hospital and I went and saw Em’s doctor. It was an inpatient thing, where they monitored me while I slept, with IV’s in me to make sure I didn’t succumb to alcohol withdrawal symptoms and that I could sleep right. I stayed in there for a few days and when I got out, I immediately started seeing my therapist, who I still see to this day.
I was really scared at first, literally afraid of many things. Would I still be able to rhyme? How are people going to react? Should I keep it a secret? I didn’t know how to handle it. It was a slow process and I had to figure out how to maneuver my way through it. I eventually got used to it and started to get comfortable with it. It took me a few years to be able to record, but with time comes everything.
If you’ve got a year or two to spend working on yourself, I would say that it is really worth it. It’s time you are going to spend making better decisions and keeping mistakes to a minimum. It paid off. The way things are moving and happening for me now, it’s outweighing those two years that the fans didn’t see me. I wasn’t active on any forum. I didn’t even tweet. I didn’t have anything to say, because I did that drunk too.
Now it’s been four years, I don’t even think about drinking, even when I am doing press and am talking about it in every interview. I walk by liquor stores and think, “Man, I can’t believe this was me all of those years.” You feel like you just dumbed yourself down for a period of time — even the quality of people I was around. How much good could really come out of that, when you are surrounding yourself with all of these menial people that aren’t really about shit except sitting around drinking and talking shit? You’re going to fall into those same waves of behavior.
The first step is when you are finally able to admit that you’ve got a problem. When you are at the point when you are finally looking at yourself, that’s a strength more than it is a weakness. You are at your strongest point when are thinking about stopping, so the next step is just to admit to yourself you are powerless over it and you need help. Get that help, it will be the best thing for you. Whatever your career path is, once you clean that up, it’s like clearing the runway and putting all of the rubbish behind you.
There is no way that my life hasn’t improved since I became sober. Physically I’m in better shape. I have better relationships across the board in the music business and better relationships in my personal life. I’m actually having fun doing my job, I’m remembering everything I’m doing, I’m able to talk about it, I’m sharp. My relationship with my children is better, my daughters hang all over me, they think I am the greatest thing in the world. They have no memories of me being an alcoholic, it’s just better. It’s like I dodged a bullet.
It’s never too late, I’m 38 years old. People make comments to me and tell me that I sound like a whole new man. I wake up every day and tell myself I am not going to drink and I am going to be about my business. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
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