On Fridays, I help facilitate a large (think 30+ clients) group of addicted men in music therapy. It’s one of the most popular groups at my internship and we generally get a lot of participation from the clients. Recently, we’ve had an influx of younger clients (think under 30) who have been extremely invested in the songs we choose for this group. There’s been a small battle between them and me and my co-facilitator to get Eminem in regular rotation on our playlists. Every week they request a new song and up until last week, we were pretty averse to putting him on the docket.
We tell the guys we won’t play anything that’s overly violent or we feel may be counter-therapeutic. Eminem walks that line with his music. He’s violent, says pretty horrible things about women, and just generally professes a negative worldview. However, Eminem has also spoken in depth about his life struggles and his difficulty with prescription medication addiction. The end result is that he’s a guy most of these men can relate to on several levels.
I wanted to understand a little more about my clients’ obsession with Eminem and his music, so I started digging. While I am not crazy about a lot of the things he says about women, I also can’t help but understand why his story and his music resonates with the people I work with. The guy has lived a rough life and gone through a majority of the personal struggles my clients are dealing with. Also, I can’t knock Eminem because he speaks his mind and openly airs those dark things that go on inside his head. He chooses to speak about his demons through his music instead of (or in addition to, I’m not sure) talking to a mental health therapist. I never said psychotherapy was the only way…
As always, I’ll spare you the extraneous details and I’ll focus on what I know that is relevant to this Case File.
Eminem (Marshall Bruce Mathers III) was born in Missouri. He grew up in a single-parent home, after his father left his mother when Eminem was 18 months old. He spent a good portion of his youth bouncing around the Missouri, living in various cities until his mother finally settled in Michigan. As most of you know, Eminem considers himself a native of Detroit.
I have to give Eminem credit where credit is due. I found little information about his upbringing in articles or interviews, but I found plenty of information about how he views his upbringing in his lyrics. A few samples from “Cleaning Out My Closet”.
So before they thrown me inside my coffin and close it
I’m a expose it; I’ll take you back to ’73
Before I ever had a multi-platinum sellin CD
I was a baby, maybe I was just a couple of months
My faggot father must have had his panties up in a bunch
Cause he split, I wonder if he even kissed me goodbye
No I don’t on second thought I just fuckin wished he would die
Now I would never diss my own momma just to get recognition
Take a second to listen for who you think this record is dissin
But put yourself in my position; just try to envision
Witnessin your momma poppin prescription pills in the kitchen
Bitchin that someone’s always goin throuh her purse and shit’s missin
Goin through public housin systems, victim of Munchausen’s Syndrome
My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn’t
‘Til I grew up, now I blew up, it makes you sick to ya stomach
Doesn’t it? Wasn’t it the reason you made that CD for me Ma?
So you could try to justify the way you treated me Ma?
But guess what? You’re gettin older now and it’s cold when your lonely
And Nathan’s growin up so quick he’s gonna know that your phony
And Hailie’s gettin so big now; you should see her, she’s beautiful
But you’ll never see her – she won’t even be at your funeral!
See what hurts me the most is you won’t admit you was wrong
Bitch do your song – keep tellin yourself that you was a mom!
But how dare you try to take what you didn’t help me to get
You selfish bitch; I hope you fuckin burn in hell for this shit
Remember when Ronnie died and you said you wished it was me?
Well guess what, I AM dead – dead to you as can be!
Eminem’s mother attempted to sue him for $10 million in 1999 for slander – she got $1,600.
Just the fact that Eminem’s mother attempted to sue him for $10 million dollars speaks volumes. It’s clear his life was unstable and his mother was a poor provider. I understand her life was difficult, but as parents, we expect there will be guilt or understanding of wrongdoing when there is a failure to raise our children in a loving way. My heart aches for the pain Eminem probably goes through knowing his father couldn’t stay for him and his mother was likely not fit to be a mother. That type of upbringing is consistent with an intense self-loathing in most of the clients I have seen. When you grow up with the understanding that you were a burden instead of a desired blessing, you begin to feel you have no worth in the world.
Eminem’s relationship with Kim Scott, his now ex-wife and mother of his daughter, Hailie, was pretty high profile back in the 90s when Eminem first gained popularity. This storyline closely parallels those of my clients. Most of them are in longterm relationships, riddled by infidelity, mutual drug use, illegitimate children, violence, and discord.
Kim and her sister moved in with Eminem when he was 15. The girls had runaway from their home and this was the beginning of a relationship spanning over a decade. Being a runaway, I can only guess at what Kim was running from, but the two married in 1999 and divorced in 2000 after Kim’s second drunk driving conviction. At that point, Eminem had already performed openly about his struggles with alcohol and drugs and it was clear Kim was also struggling, while they were both attempting to raise Hailie. They remarried in 2006, divorcing that same year and agreeing to share custody of Hailie.
To make a guess based on what I know about Eminem and what I know about his state-of-mind, Kim was likely the only family he ever felt he had. She was likely there through the toughest times (Eminem attempted suicide in 1996) and the best. Based on their multiple marriages, it’s obvious there is a lot of passion there. I’m sure they had a very intense relationship and likely feel no one will ever know them the way they know each other – it’s called codependency. They were each others worlds for the majority of their adolescence and early adulthood. They also both likely felt extremely isolated because they had Hailie and felt they could only trust a select few, based on what their upbringings were like. I doubt I’d trust anyone if I had grown up in a situation similar to Eminem’s. Relationships can be just as addictive as drugs.
C’mon Hai-Hai, we goin to the beach
Grab a couple of toys and let da-da strap you in the car seat
Oh where’s mama? She’s takin a little nap in the trunk
Oh that smell (whew!) da-da musta runned over a skunk
Now I know what you’re thinkin – it’s kind of late to go swimmin
But you know your mama, she’s one of those type of women
that do crazy things, and if she don’t get her way, she’ll throw a fit
Don’t play with da-da’s toy knife, honey, let go of it (no!)
And don’t look so upset, why you actin bashful?
Don’t you wanna help da-da build a sand castle? (yeah!)
And mama said she wants to show how far she can float
And don’t worry about that little boo-boo on her throat
It’s just a little scratch – it don’t hurt, her was eatin
dinner while you were sweepin and spilled ketchup on her shirt
Mama’s messy isn’t she? We’ll let her wash off in the water
and me and you can pway by ourselves, can’t we? — ’97 Bonnie and Clyde’
Don’t make me wake this baby
She don’t need to see what I’m about to do
Quit crying bitch, why do you always make me shout at you?
How could you?
Just leave me and love him out the blue
Oh, what’s a matter Kim?
Am I too loud for you?
Too bad bitch, your gonna finally hear me out this time
At first, I’m like all right
You wanna throw me out? That’s fine!
But not for him to take my place, are you out you’re mind?
This couch, this TV, this whole house is mine!
How could you let him sleep in our bed?
Look at Kim
Look at your husband now! — ‘Kim’
Eminem has also said “Love the Way You Lie” was inspired by his relationship with Kim. There’s usually a flipside to all that passion when someone’s self-worth is based on the relationship they have with another person.
I wasn’t ever a big Eminem fan. I didn’t listen to his music because of my own reasons – mainly my strong aversion to anger based on my own stuff. I can’t say that I am so different from the guy though, because we all have stuff in our past and we choose to express in one extreme emotion or another. I chose sadness and listened to sad music, Eminem chose anger and wrote angry music.
Both of those emotions if held in for too long turn toxic. As we all know based on even the littlest knowledge of Eminem’s music, this guy is angry and he has a history of violence. When tosic stuff like that builds up, it manifests in different ways. I have become a bigger fan of Eminem (as the person, not so much the artist), because he talked openly about his experience with drugs and alcohol, even his time in rehab for prescription medication addiction.
I take a couple uppers
I down a couple downers
But nothing compares
To these blue and yellow purple pills
I been to mushroom mountain
Once or twice but who’s countin’
But nothing compares
To these blue and yellow purple pills — ‘Purple Pills’, D12
He’s titled both of his last albums after terms used commonly in the addictions treatment field – Relapse & Recovery. He’s been successful since his time in treatment and it seems that based on his success in his music and his lack of desire to stir up controversy in the press, this guy is beginning to get a grip on his life.
And I just can’t keep living this way
So starting today, I’m breaking out of this cage
I’m standing up, I’ma face my demons
I’m manning up, I’ma hold my ground
I’ve had enough, now I’m so fed up
Time to put my life back together right now! (now)
It was my decision to get clean, I did it for me
Admittedly, I probably did it subliminally
For you, so I could come back a brand new me you helped see me through
And don’t even realize what you did, believe me you
I been through the ringer, but they could do little to the middle finger
I think I got a tear in my eye, I feel like the king of
My world, haters can make like bees with no stingers
And drop dead, no more beef flingers
No more drama from now on, I promise
To focus solely on handling my responsibilities as a father
So I solemnly swear to always treat this roof, like my daughters
And raise it, you couldn’t lift a single shingle on it!
Cause the way I feel, I’m strong enough to go to the club
Or the corner pub, and lift the whole liquor counter up
Cause I’m raising the bar
I’d shoot for the moon but I’m too busy gazing at stars — ‘Not Afraid’
The Case File
You got to admire a man who has been through as much as Eminem has and still has the resilience to face his demons and work through his issues. Even more, this guy faced his demons with the scrutiny of millions of people reflecting back on him and still managed to figure out a way to his own truth.
On Friday when we finally played Eminem’s “Not Afraid” in music therapy, the guys sang along. Some of them got pretty emotional. It was weird for me at first to see so many people connect emotionally with this guy’s music because I had only ever seen him through my own eyes as this angry guy who loved shocking people and liked rapping about violence against women. I feel fortunate that I saw him through other’s eyes, because it was a renewed opportunity for open-mindedness and empathy.
He has adopted two other young girls, taking on the role of father for Kim’s sister’s daughter and Kim’s daughter from a previous relationship. He is also the legal guardian for his half-brother, Nathan. What a guy.
So yeah, his music isn’t sunshine and unicorns. Neither was his life. The takeaway here is that he’s incredibly resilient and in spite of all his attempts to self-destruct, he still had that tiny voice we all have that said, “Don’t give up on yourself.”
P.S. ACA Post for this week: Self-Love as Relapse Prevention