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Learning from Eminem

December 3, 2013

I’m a huge fan of Eminem.  I blasted his most recent album so much that I blew out my speakers in my car.

This post is going to be a little bit harder to explain than my last one so bear with me.  Now the same facets are there, honesty, self assessment, decision making, as well hitting it from a different angle.  However, before you make a strawman out of me, let me explain that I’m not trying to be Eminem, I’m not making him the standard for my life. However, I will admit that I have learned a lot from him and I think a lot of other people can too.  Given that you can bear listening to his music.

It starts with the things I identify with.  But what does it mean to identify with anything?  Nobody wants to admit their pain, everyone wants to be the strong person.  The person that isn’t affected by other people’s garbage.  We think than when we refuse that we are making ourselves feel better, but we’re actually lying to ourselves and in the end, we alienate our own relationships.  Everyone is experiencing some kind of pain, everyone is going through at least something.  It takes some courage to confess your problems, but if I am going through something and I see someone else experiencing anything like mine, a bridge is built there.  Then it becomes just a little bit easier by identifying that common ground.  Once it’s built, that’s when  you begin to work through it and chew on it.  When I see someone going through something I’m going through I make sure to tell them something like this,

I feel you man, I know what you’re going through.

I am going through something kind of like it.

And just like that, a community is created that extrapolates strength.  The load suddenly becomes lighter.  However, when there’s no one around you and you have no one to connect to, a song on your mp3 player is the next best thing, but that’s not trying to sound like it isn’t meaningful.  It’s extremely meaningful as well as helpful.  It brings all of the various emotions that I feel and cant articulate and it makes them tangible, it makes them concrete.

♫ I can’t tell you what it really is
I can only tell you what it feels like
And right now it’s a steel knife in my windpipe
I can’t breathe but I still fight while I can fight♫
(Love the Way You Lie)

Love.  Love can be an excruciating venom when it turns sour.  Someone you’ve fallen in love with has been abducted and replaced with a monster.  In a way, it feels as if you’re being skinned alive  emotionally.  Alfred Lord Tennyson couldn’t be more wrong when he coined the phrase, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.’  And when it comes to songs about love, Eminem has plenty, Kim, So Much Better, Love the Way You Lie, Puke, Crazy In Love, and so many more.  In a way, his heartbreak has defined him as a person so you’ll hear these references to it peppered throughout his entire discography.  I can relate to that, but honestly, I hate admitting it.  It feels as if the duct tape has been ripped off and  my own feelings were finally given a voice. I’ve said before that music is emotion in aural form, and even in the grittiest of songs, I may not follow the wave to the extent that Eminem does, but I’m still sitting in the same ballpark.

♫ Cause you told me, you love me, forever, bitch, that was a lie
Now I never, wanted someone, to die, so bad in my fucking life
But fuck it, there’s other fish in the sea♫
(So Much Better)

There are some awful things that Eminem had to go through that I’ve never had to experience, and for that I am truly grateful.

♫  I’ll take you back to ’73
Before I ever had a multi-platinum selling 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 fucking wished he would die ♫

Cleanin’ Out My Closet is so unbelievably raw, you can feel the pain and anger attached to every word.  It is impossible  for me to listen to it without getting goosebumps.  But in contrast to what you may think, it doesn’t make me angry, it fills me with sorrow.  He walks through his life and how his father abandoned him as an infant.  Then he alleges that his mother was causing him Münchausen syndrome by proxy as well as so many other difficult things occurring.  I am overwhelmed that he and plenty of other people ever have to go through an ordeal such as that.  There are also times he uses his own father as motivation to become a better one for his own children.  Enduring a painful marriage for the sake of the greater good, his children.

♫ I look at Hailie, and I couldn’t picture leaving her side
Even if I hated Kim, I grit my teeth and I’d try
To make it work with her at least for Hailie’s sake
I maybe made some mistakes
But I’m only human, but I’m man enough to face them today ♫

In Going Through Changes, he speaks about struggle with drugs, relapsing, cancelling shows, all while trying to take care of his child.

♫ And it hurt sore, fast forward, sleepin’ pills’ll make me feel alright.
And if I’m still awake in the middle of the night,
I just take a couple more, yeah you’re motherfuckin’ right, ♫

I have no idea what any of that is like, but he does eventually make a recovery.

♫  Wake up in the hospital, full of tubes, plus somehow I’m pullin’ through.
Swear when I come back I’ma be bulletproof. ♫

I can’t relate to that. I was blessed to have a faithful and loving mother and father. My family experienced financial difficulty when I was a child, but it was nothing like the chronic poverty so many are buried in today or what Eminem had to go through.  I’ve never dealt with any substance addiction and in that moment of listening, a sudden overwhelming feeling of gratefulness comes over me.  I feel convicted that I never appreciated the things I have and also the not ever had to experience such awful things.  I get reminded of the times where someone was going through something I never experienced and I couldn’t even see where they were coming from.

When I was younger, I scoffed at the idea of depression. Yeah, really.  Cheer up dude, its not that hard.  I cringe at my own ignorance.  To be honest, I thought it was someone just looking for attention, but once I found myself laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, refusing to leave all day, questioning my worth in everything and how many people would come to my funeral if I was found dead in a puddle of blood in my bathroom, I started to understand that this is something much different.

♫ I’m just so fuckin’ depressed, I just can’t seem to get out this slump
If I could just get over this hump
But I need something to pull me out this dump, ♫

Personally, I’ve been completely disconnected from some things some people go through and I never ever properly understood things from their point of view.

♫It’s like the boy in the bubble, who never could adapt, i’m trapped
If I could go back, I never woulda rapped
I sold my soul to the devil, i’ll never get it back
I just wanna leave this game with level head intact. ♫

The harsh things that contrast my experiences allow me to gain empathy for others and I can feel a desire to be more compassionate.  Being fortunate has, in a way, handicapped my ability to easily relate to a suffering person in need.  I’m reminded of myself talking to someone about heroin, at the time I just couldn’t wrap my head around it, who on earth would consciously do that to themselves?  As a guy who hates needles, it was even that much further off from what I considered any realistic decision in any situation.  So my sensitivity and sympathy to those sitting in an addiction was minimal if anything at all.

In a way, Eminem helps me understand.  I learn from Eminem.  I start to see where his point of view is and I can, in some ways, relate to what’s going on not just with him, but with others in my life.  I guess one would suggest that listening to his music is like him forcing you to walk a mile in his shoes. It allows me to be more gracious to those different than me.  Forces me to rethink everything.

♫  But now the medications taken over and your mental state’s
Deteriorating slow and I’m way too old to cry, that shit’s painful though
But Ma, I forgive you, so does Nathan, yo
All you did, all you said, you did your best to raise us both
Foster care, that cross you bear, few may be as heavy as yours
But I love you Debbie Mathers, oh what a tangled web we have cause ♫

Now looking back and taking heroin back into account, I’m reminded of a firsthand account of  a recovering heroin addict that I recently read on Reddit.

Many people try heroin, just like anything else, and do NOT get addicted. Those who do get addicted tend to get addicted because they’re in intolerable pain for one reason or another.  Heroin is a superlative pain killer. It doesn’t just kill physical pain like ibuprofen, it also kills psychological pain, emotional pain and the pain caused by social phobias.  When a person who is suffering without any idea how to stop suffering meets heroin, something amazing happens. Suddenly, and for no good reason, the suffering is gone! Where did it go? Heroin killed it! Who would’ve thought anything at all could kill so much agony!

When I first tasted heroin, the first words out of my mouth were these: “So this is how normal people feel!”

Anyone overhearing this might’ve correctly predicted that a long and intimate relationship was about to begin between a sorely crippled and lonely person and a molecule able to quash all pain.  It’s important to note that when I tried heroin, so did many of my acquaintences – mostly all college students. Of all of them, only myself and the person who was to become my SO became addicts (for the usual reasons – see above). The others played around with it just like they played with cocaine and marijuana but only those in terrible pain without solutions became addicts.

If you want to understand addiction, go to the source. Look up the Rat Park experiment and the findings of Bruce Alexander. Read, cover to cover, Alexander’s latest book: The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit.  No substance can get someone addicted. Substances don’t sneak into people’s lives and hook them while they sleep or other propagandist rubbish to that effect.

Addiction is hard work and requires persistence, a willingness to spend endless hours pursuing the goal, putting up with nausea and sickness in order to develop a tolerance and so on. It doesn’t “just happen”.  In spite of my immediate delight with heroin and vow to use it as much as possible, it took over 6 months, and really closer to a year, of consistent use before the body became physiologically addicted. That said, addiction is rarely only physiological in nature. More often than not, it is caused by social factors.

Read Alexander’s book if you want the whole story. It’s amazingly insightful about the lives of average human beings all over the world who are replacing a true sense of belonging and participating in a social context with an addiction to work or to exercise, or to money or to sex or to gambling or to shopping…. the list is endless and the point to come away with is this:

Addiction is a symptom. A symptom of a big fat problem. Addiction is NEVER the source of the problem – only an inept attempt at a solution. It is very sad.


Instead of standing in my corner of scoffing judgementalism that I used to, I find myself much more empathetic and I attempt to understand other’s problems just a little bit more.  That has made me(at least I think) much more capable in consoling and helping those who are in some type of pain.  I may not be able to identify with all that Eminem says, but sometimes I wonder if what really makes us different is not our personalities, but our histories and circumstances.  If I was in a drastic and painful enough situation, I would probably find myself wrapping a belt around my arm in desperation to find a vein.

I appreciate Eminem’s honesty and from that I can say that I have learned to offer a little bit more grace to others.