Juice WRLD's Mother Carmela Wallace on The Stigma of Addiction: 'People May See It as a Weakness'
Carmella Wallace has learned a thing or two about resilience since she lost her son Juice WRLD to a drug overdose two years and two months ago. Wallace now leads the nonprofit Live Free 999, dedicated to raising awareness around addiction and mental health in an attempt to carry on Juice WRLD's legacy.
Juice WRLD (real name Jarad Higgins) was just 21 when he died of an fatal seizure, but he had already had a huge impact on his fans. From 2018's Goodbye & Good Riddance to 2019's Death Race For Love, his music explored themes of drug addiction, mental health issues, and relationship breakdowns.
His relatability made him adored by teens. However, inside, he was battling demons amd fighting for his soul. Wallace didn't realize he was struggling until she heard his music, which completely caught her off guard. Looking back, it makes sense.
“He started in high school, and I know when his behavior started to change,” she explains to HipHopDX in a recent interview. “Now that you look back in hindsight, I can pinpoint when the differences started in his behavior. I would think something was different with him, but I couldn’t quite put my hand on it.
It wasn’t the weed, it wasn’t the smell. That makes that one even more challenging, because a kid could pop a pill, parents won’t even know. But it’s just the little things in the personality. When you think about it, that tells the story. But when I started hearing him sing about it, oh it was scary. It was frightening.”
A single mother who always had a close relationship with her son asked, “Is that true?” And while he was always honest with her, his addiction would tell him certain dosages were OK to take.
“It was true,” she says. “So when I dealt with him, I confronted him based on what he said [in his music]. I was pretty direct with him. He did share it with me, but it was just getting the help part. He thought he had it. He thought he could control to the point where he would tell me, ‘This amount of dosage is fine,’ and we would have this debate. ‘You’re not a doctor. You’re medicating yourself.’ I didn’t even know when he was getting the information from, to say that this amount was OK. That’s scary, too.”
The goal of Live Free 999 is to educate on mental health issues and hopefully destigmatize addiction. Its website explains that the organization's mission is to "bolster organizations that provide positive mental health treatments and alternatives to drug use." But she understands there’s a long way to go.
“I think it shows a weakness,” she says of the ongoing stigma. “People may see it that way. Something that you’re not in control of, something that … and you have to humble yourself to ask for help, as well. I think it just depends on the situation. Some people, it may be a trust issue. Some people, they’re not comfortable sharing like that. So I think it’s a myriad of issues, why that stigma is attached to it. But I think if you could do it where you don’t have to identify yourself, I think that just makes it a lot easier for somebody to come forward.”
Mental Health Awareness month kicks off in May, and Live Free 999 is working on an initiative to raise awareness. Even though Wallace couldn't say too much about it, she revealed that it will revolve around "normalizing the conversation around mental health" and people telling their personal stories. This alone is harder than it seems. Addicts often find it difficult to open up and ask for help, something Juice WRLD did not find easy.
“A lot of people think that they’re the only ones going through what they’re going through and we know that’s not the case,” she says. “So it’s just a way that somebody could you even look at someone’s story that they shared, and it might be similar, they could relate to it and see that, ‘Hey, if they overcame it, I could overcome it. I’m not alone.’ And I think that’s a trick of the enemy to have people feel like they’re the only ones going through, nobody understands, and it causes them to go within themselves instead of sharing that they need help.”