Mary J. Blige Discusses Battling Depression, Addiction

By David Konow 08/01/17

“People from the outside looking in would think that everything was great, but I was in hell. I was spiraling down."

Mary J. Blige

Mary J. Blige has been dubbed the “Queen of Hip Hop Soul,” and on the 25th anniversary of her multi-platinum debut, What’s the 411?, she says she's grateful she made it this far.

In an interview with MAKERS, Blige said that her singing talent is what she used to mentally and emotionally escape her difficult childhood in the Bronx. “I felt like I had wings,” she said, “Like I could fly and get away from any situation, like I was alive.”

Success finally came, with the help of Sean “Puffy” Combs. Blige was still living in the Bronx when What’s the 411? took off.

“People want to buy your records, they want to see you,” she said. “But, people in the neighborhood want to kill you for it. So you plucked this girl from the hood and throw her in all of this stuff and so, she’s going to survive the only way she knows how. I was resorting to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain.”

As with a lot of celebrities, Blige says, “People from the outside looking in would think everything was great, but I was in hell. I was spiraling down. I didn't think I was going to make it. It was like, 'Whoa, okay now what?' Sing for your life. Literally, sing for your life.”

As it turns out, Blige’s depression and subsequent addiction didn’t come from her newfound fame, but from abuse she suffered as a child. She told Los Angeles Confidential, “It only happened once, but after that there was so much else in my childhood that happened. So many dark moments—which all added up and that’s what sprung on the drug addiction, trying to numb it all with the drugs.”

During one of the most important times of her life, winning her first Grammy in 1995, Blige says she was "drinking like a crazy person" and "sniffing cocaine."

Next came the confessional second album, My Life, where she was pleading for help through her music. “I didn’t think anybody would pay attention to my call for help, but my fanbase did. They all came out and bought my record… so I took all this depression and all this oppression I was dealing with and just put it in my music. I made the choice, I chose life.”

The death of Whitney Houston was a big wake-up call for Blige as well. She skipped rehab, turning to her religious faith instead. “I didn't want to go to rehab...I decided to pray and to seek God on my own. I just stayed in The Word. And it worked.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.