The Backstreet Boys star talks to PEOPLE about his decades-long addiction and touring with a new perspective: "I'm in the best shape of my life"
AJ McLean is opening up about his ongoing recovery after struggling with addiction for more than 20 years.
As the Backstreet Boys singer looks forward to marking two years of sobriety on Sept. 26, “I’m trying to keep my feet firmly planted in the program,” McLean, who hosts 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at his home, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I’ve battled self-esteem issues my entire life, and I’ve learned a lot. My sobriety is the most solid it’s ever been."
He adds, "I'm in the best shape of my life, both mentally, physically, spiritually. I'm actually really happy and I love it, and I don't want to lose it. I want to continue to keep growing, growing with my wife and my kids and myself."
The singer, 45, says being a rockstar on the road has been "different" this time. Usually plagued by paranoia and hard-partying nights, "when I was out and I was being cuckoo," he says. "I'm in my room all day, I'm not enjoying it. I've been to a lot of these places before on tour, but not sober and not seen them through sober eyes."
"So, going back to these places and getting out of my room and going and trying local cuisine, doing fun things," McLean tells PEOPLE. "This last leg, going to places we've never been, Egypt, Iceland, Africa, Bahrain, and parts of Saudi Arabia, was beautiful," he says, noting he can enjoy the experience and "take it all in. So, all I know is today's a good day. Today is a damn good day."
With his beloved Backstreet Boys crew — McLean is joining Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell — at the Moon Palace in Cancún, Mexico to perform at an all-inclusive concert vacation from April 18-21, 2024. There, he'll attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings "whenever I have a break," he says. "It just takes two for a meeting."
"So, I've got three of my buddies coming out with their wives," he says of the concert. "Some of them are already going to be there and others are going to come out and actually check out the actual event. So, I'm like, 'Hey, we're there. Let's sit down. Let's have a little chat.'"
"I talk to my [Alcoholics Anonymous] sponsor every single day, multiple times a day," he adds. "He's my best friend, so I'm surrounded with it. I even got people that are on my crew that are in programs, so it's always around me."
McLean acknowledges his substance abuse and fame put a strain on his personal life at times. In March his wife Rochelle, 41 — with whom he shares daughters Lyric, 6, and Elliot, 10 — revealed they had separated. Now the star (born Alexander James McLean) is focusing on his family amid his health journey.
“AJ’s a persona,” he tells PEOPLE. “Alex is who I really am. I need to know that when I’m done with AJ’s stuff, I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a friend. If I know how to turn that off, that’s a healthy way of living.”
For more from AJ McLean, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
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