I will admit that until now I've only been peripherally aware of Justin Bieber. But after reading the new Vogue cover story about Justin and Hailey Baldwin Bieber, I'm impressed by the incredible amount of self awareness possessed by a couple who are only 25 and 22, respectively. Justin's comments about celibacy and sobriety are particularly interesting, and not far off from what's recommended in many recovery circles.
If you're in recovery, or familiar with recovery, you might know about the "one-year rule," which basically asks those new to recovery to abstain from sex and intimate relationships for one year, according to Recovery.org. However, how long an individual abstains from sex in recovery is a personal choice, and many people are in relationships when they enter recovery and must make the decision that's best for them. "Some people I talked with only needed five months of celibacy to get clear about what they wanted, and others I talked with needed five years," Jennifer Matesa, author of The Recovering Body, told Helaina Hovitz for Recovery.org. Justin told Rob Haskell for Vogue that for him, sex and drugs were deeply intertwined, which is why he was celibate for more than a year before marrying Hailey.
"I found myself doing things that I was so ashamed of, being super-promiscuous and stuff, and I think I used Xanax because I was so ashamed. My mom always said to treat women with respect. For me that was always in my head while I was doing it, so I could never enjoy it. Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing. It got pretty dark," Justin told Haskell.
Justin's story is hardly new — a young talented musician becomes a pop star, is catapulted to incomparable fame, loses their identity, and all control over their life, and is promptly torn apart and spit out by the media. It's a tale as old as celebrity itself. What is unique is the fact that Justin, who became famous when he was just 13 — a crucial point of adolescent development — stopped buying into his own hype and saw what was really happening.
Bieber explained that in order for him to work toward healing, he needed to remove all forms of escape from his life and instead focus on why he was engaging in certain behaviors. "I think sex can cause a lot of pain. Sometimes people have sex because they don’t feel good enough. Because they lack self-worth," Justin said. "Women do that, and guys do that. I wanted to rededicate myself to God [he says he is spiritual versus religious] in that way because I really felt it was better for the condition of my soul."
Justin also told Haskell that he stopped using drugs when he briefly moved in with Hillsong church (of which he and Hailey are members) pastor Carl Lentz in 2014 for an informal detox. While Justin said he still drinks alcohol in a social context, he has not used drugs since. Hailey praised her husband for his dedication without the help of a formal recovery program.
"I just wanted him to be happy and be good and be safe and feel joy. But I’m really proud of him. To do it without a program, and to stick with it without a sober coach or AA or classes — I think it’s extraordinary. He is, in ways, a walking miracle," she told Haskell.
For some people, managing sobriety without the support of therapy or AA might seem problematic. That being said, there is no one path to sobriety. Personally, as someone who comes from a family of people who have dealt with substance use (some of whom are in recovery) and who, at times, has also excessively used drugs and alcohol but doesn't identify as an addict, I think it can be dangerous to claim there's only one path to healing. For example, some traditional programs frown on mental health medication that is crucial to recovery for some people. I know people who have failed in traditional 12-step programs and have maintained their sobriety in other ways, such as the Racing for Recovery program, meditation, church, therapy, and others.
Every person in recovery is taking it day by day, and what keeps each person on the path to healing is different.
According to the website Dual Diagnosis, the difference between drug use and drug addiction is outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as published by the American Psychiatric Association. People who use drugs but do not develop substance use disorder may be self-medicating for an underlying physical or emotional problem. When the root cause of the behavior is addressed, the excessive use may stop. However, Dual Diagnosis cautioned that prolonged use of drugs can lead to dependency, and people who use substances in this way can develop a use disorder.
From what Bieber told Vogue, it seems he is taking steps in therapy, both individual and with Hailey, to address the reasons he turned to sex and drugs in the first place. Every person in recovery is taking it day by day, and what keeps each person on the path to healing is different. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, what works to keep you healthy might not work for someone else, and that's OK.
"I’ve been successful since I was 13, so I didn’t really have a chance to find who I was apart from what I did," Bieber said. "I just needed some time to evaluate myself: who I am, what I want out of my life, my relationships, who I want to be — stuff that when you’re so immersed in the music business you kind of lose sight of."