When I took my first Vicodin, it was like this feeling of ‘Ahh.’ Like everything was not only mellow, but [I] didn’t feel any pain, I don’t know at what point exactly it started to be a problem. I just remember liking it more and more. People tried to tell me that I had a problem. I would say ‘Get that fucking person outta here. I can’t believe they said that shit to me. I’m not out there shooting heroin. I’m not fucking out there putting coke up my nose. I’m not smoking crack.Marshall Mathers
Before going any further I would like to congratulate Marshall Mathers on eleven years of sobriety. The above Eminem quote came from the documentary “How To Make Money Selling Drugs,” and it illustrates a familiar story. Em’s been a hero of mine for some time now and when his sober anniversary recently passed I decided I had to write this article.
Please share this on social media if you enjoy it. It would be a dream come true if Marshall somehow came across this post and read it. Parts of this piece are educated speculation from his music, parts are referenced from Wikipedia (among other sources), and parts are based on a personal history with addiction. I was unable to find a chronology of Eminem’s history with drug abuse encompassing his victory over addiction. So I went out and created one.
Early Years & Slim Shady
Eminem was born Marshall Bruce Mathers III on October 17, 1972, in Missouri. During the birth his mother, Debbie, spent 73 hours in labor nearly dying as a result. His homelife was chaotic, as most people know from his music, and Em didn’t know his father growing up. Marshall and Debbie moved frequently during the early years, usually between Michigan and Missouri. Growing up Marshall was a bit of a loner who dreamed of becoming a comic book artist before finding rap. In 1988 Eminem met Deshaun Holton (Proof). Meeting while skipping school to put up flyers for their respective upcoming rap shows. The two quickly became best friends, with Proof often acting as a hype man at Eminem’s concerts, and both were founding members of the rap group D12.
In 1997, after being evicted from his home, Em went to the Rap Olympics in Los Angeles where he placed second and caught the attention of Dr. Dre. Shortly after the famous yellow jumpsuit moment happened and Marshall was on his way to worldwide success. The Slim Shady LP dropped in February of 1999 and was certified triple platinum by the end of that year. By then Eminem was a star. When Forgot About Dre came out in 2000 we begun to truly see one of the most meteoric rises in the history of music.
The Start of Use
In the Rolling Stone article Eminem: On the Road Back from Hell Em gave this response when asked when the drug use started:
It didn’t really start until my career took off. I was probably in my early 20s before I even kicked back my first beer. But the bigger the shows got, the bigger the after-parties; drugs were always around. In the beginning it was recreational. I could come off tour and be able to shut it off. I’d spend time with the kids, and I’d be OK. It probably started to become a problem around the 8 Mile movie.Eminem courtesy of Rolling Stone Magazine
8 Mile & The Eminem Show (2002-2005)
With the release of The Eminem Show and his 8 Mile movie, 2002 was a busy year for Slim Shady. There are conflicting reports on Marshall’s drug use that year. On the one hand, Proof went on record saying he cleaned up his act, mostly as the result of probation. That probation ended in June 2002 (According to the internet). Interestingly, it was that year his drug use really took off. Em developed insomnia from working 16 hour days while producing 8 Mile. At some point someone tossed him an Ambien, which knocked him out, so he got a prescription for the drug.
By the time Encore came out in 2004 he would go into the studio with a pocket full of pills to get through the session. Around this time is when Eminem begun taking drugs to feel normal. Taking anywhere from 40 to 60 Valium and 30 Vicodin a day. An insane amount of drugs to anyone who hasn’t been a drug addict. In August of 2005 Marshall was hospitalized for sleep medication dependency. His spokesperson made the announcement two days after Eminem cancelled a European tour.
Proof’s Passing & Slim Shady’s Hiatus (2006-2008)
On April 11, 2006, Proof Eminem’s best friend, was fatally shot over a fight which broke out over a game of pool. He died in Detroit that night. Losing his best friend was a massive blow for Marshall and it would be over three years before he’d release another album. We hardly saw or heard anything of him during this period, and when we did it wasn’t good.
This bit is speculation, when you’re taking drugs to feel normal and you’re hit with a devastating loss it’s incredibly easy for addiction to take hold. You lose interest in everything, all that you feel is pain, and the only means you have to escape the pain is getting high. But you’re not getting high anymore, you’re simply trying to maintain your existence. The drugs numb you just enough you’re not suicidal, but they don’t get you high. I imagine that’s what life was like for Marshall from 2006 till 2008.
In December 2007 Eminem was rushed to the hospital in critical condition from a methadone overdose. At the time of the overdose he had ballooned to almost 230 pounds. According to doctors he’d consumed what was equal to four bags of heroin and was near death. Marshall missed Christmas with his children that year. He checked himself out of the hospital, without detoxing completely, to return home where he relapsed and suffered a seizure.
Had I got to the hospital about two hours later, I would have died. My organs were shutting down. My liver, kidneys, everything, They were gonna have to put me on dialysis. They didn’t think I was gonna make it. My bottom was gonna be death.Marshall Mathers
Relapse, Recovery, & Present Day (2009-2019)
Shortly after the overdose Marshall attended a drug rehabilitation program at Brighton Center for Recovery. The very same facility I attended in July 2012. The experience didn’t go well for him, he felt like “Bugs Bunny” at the facility. Within a month of being released Em relapsed. At this time he was convinced his addiction would kill him. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. Marshall did something that’s common among addicts, he replaced one addiction for another. He begun running like a madman, “seventeen miles a day,” then an unusual friendship formed. Elton John became a sort of sponsor for Marshall. The two now speak weekly about sobriety and life.
Marshall Mathers achieved sobriety on (ironically) April 20, 2008. He came back reinvested, releasing Relapse in May 2009 and Recovery in June 2010 (personally my two favorite Em albums). I would argue the past eleven years have been the greatest of Eminem’s career. Thank you Marshall Mathers for being an inspiration to me and so many others who have struggled. You’re the GOAT, keep putting out fire.