Cheryl Burke, professional dancer and choreographer, and AJ McLean, singer in the Backstreet Boys, became friends over the summer of 2020 on Zoom. But by sheer luck, they were paired up as partners for this season of Dancing With The Stars! They discovered that they both have struggled with addiction, so they decided to start this podcast, Pretty Messed Up. Along with AJ’s friend Rene Elizondo, Jr., who is also sober, they’ll be talking about their old party days, the rehab and the relapses, and the powerful lessons they’ve learned along the way. Plus, they dish about what’s going on behind the scenes of DWTS! On the first episode, they share their first steps into sobriety, ponder what Carole Baskin will be like on the show, laugh about how weird it is to perform without an audience, and so much more.
Cheryl says that though she’d never “call myself ‘Ms. Positivity’ or anything,” she has appreciated that the pandemic gave her an opportunity to look inward and do some real work on herself. AJ agrees: Because he hasn’t been on tour, surrounded by temptations, he’s been able to stay clean for nine months. Before this, his longest stretch at being sober only lasted four months. One of his biggest challenges was his codependency; he would do anything to make people like him. But when he got sober, most people stopped calling him because he wasn’t partying anymore. The same was true for Cheryl and Rene, as well. “And what a gift, to know who your true friends are,” Rene says. “Because with so many the bond is the drink or the drug.”
AJ is just glad his wife has stuck by him for eleven years through all of it, joking that who he was before was “the temporary model that we had on the showroom floor. This is the husband you really ordered.” Rene says overcoming addiction doesn’t happen overnight. He remembers asking author Maya Angelou once if she ever got writer’s block. “She said, ‘It’s like knitting a blanket. You can’t knit it all at once. You start with one little corner.’” AJ loves that advice, adding: “It’s progress, not perfection.” They also get into the dances coming up that AJ has to learn, how the show is “bringing joy to people’s homes” in a very difficult time, and AJ reveals that he is terrified of spiders: “I will literally black out!” he swears. Hear the whole raw, real, and refreshing conversation on this episode of Pretty Messed Up.
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