After struggling with substance abuse for more than twenty years, AJ McLean has opened up about alcohol and drug addiction and how his 3-year-old daughter inspired him to seek help.
Speaking to PEOPLE, the 42-year-old Backstreet Boys singer said he has been sober for ten months now, but it wasn't easy getting there. AJ described himself as a "late bloomer" when it comes to substance abuse. He hated cigarettes, tattoos, drinking, and drugs until he hit 25. He hung out with the wrong people, and to be accepted, he had to "party."
How It All Started
His first taste of drugs started while shooting the video for their song "The Call," but it was not until 18 months later that his bandmates, family, and friends knew about his addiction. He then entered rehab, and the Backstreet Boys had to pause their tour in 2001. But it turned out to be just the start of his struggle with substance abuse as he would re-enter rehab two more times and have multiple relapses.
McLean said he eventually developed low self-esteem and entered that world of seeking external validation. "Looking up from six feet under," he said, " seemed like a good idea," regardless if it's done intentionally or not. It got to the point that he thought that nothing was worth living for.
His daughter made him realize, "That was it for me."
Ten months ago, he went to Vegas to see Shania Twain. He said he got everything mapped out even before he even got on the plane. He knew where he would go and get his drugs and where to get drunk.
He got it all figured out, he said. He thought that as long as he doesn't go past a specific time and doesn't smell like it, he can come back home. "My wife won't know," he thought then. Yet, it didn't work out the way he expected it. Instead, he never slept, and he even missed his first two flights back home. And worst of all, he reeked alcohol, which according to his agreement with his wife Rochelle, would mean he won't be allowed to play with his daughters Ava, 6, and Lyric, 3.
More than the thought of not being allowed to hang around with the kids, what hit him was when he heard his Lyric say, "You don't smell like my daddy." McLean said that he had hit many rock bottoms during his struggle to become sober, but that moment made him realize that enough is enough. It was his "moment of surrender," and it brought him to his knees and acknowledged that he couldn't do it without God's help.
The very next day, he went to a sober living house, still hungover. He said his sponsor then looked at him and said, "I see the final desperation in his eyes." And so, that started his journey to sobriety, which to him is the hardest he has ever had to work. He still attends 12-step daily meetings online and checks in with his sponsor six times daily.
It is the clearest his state of mind has ever been, he said. He credits God, his family, and recovery for saving his life. Yet, despite the struggles, he said he has no regrets and that he is beyond lucky. McLean currently competes on "Dancing with the Stars" with partners Cheryl Burke.
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