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Matt Pinfield Talks Relapsing During Coronavirus Quarantine and His Road to Recovery

Beloved MTV VJ and podcast host opens up about his addiction issues and the GoFundMe campaign that helped cushion his recent treatment stay

Beloved DJ and MTV VJ Matt Pinfield relapsed during the coronavirus and tells us about his road to recovery and why he remains optimistic.

Courtesy of Matt Pinfield

For many dealing with drug and alcohol addictions, the coronavirus quarantine has had a crippling effect on the community and routines they have cultivated, from the shutdown of in-person 12-step programs to the inability to secure medications to the overall mental strain of isolation.

Longtime DJ, MTV VJ and In a Lonely Place podcast host Matt Pinfield, who has admittedly “struggled with alcoholism and addiction on-and-off for most of my adult life,” also experienced firsthand how the virus has impacted the recovery of so many. “I was reading about the uncounted casualties of COVID, and a lot of that was referencing how if you were in recovery, like myself – I’m doing well. I’m sober. I’m going to recovery meetings,” Pinfield tells Rolling Stone, “and it’s all taken away.”

Reeling from the deaths of friends from complications related to COVID-19, suddenly severed from his network of associates, and unable to attend the physical therapy he requires after being hit by a car in December 2018 — a near-fatal accident that left him unable to walk for months — he relapsed. Thankfully, friends soon recognized Pinfield once again needed help in his fight for sobriety.

With insurance only covering a fraction of what was needed for Pinfield’s monthlong treatment in northern California, his friends banded together to launch a GoFundMe page for the beloved veejay, with a $50,000 goal; by the time Pinfield left the facility, the campaign cleared its objective and then some, thanks to fans, friends, work colleagues and musicians like Perry Farrell, Goo Goo Dolls’ Johnny Rzeznik and Shinedown’s Brent Smith, to name just a few.

Speaking to Rolling Stone a week after leaving treatment, Pinfield shared his own account about how coronavirus reopened his addiction issues, his road to recovery, and what the GoFundMe meant to him.

When we were driving up to the treatment center and my friends said, “You know, we’re going to do this GoFundMe campaign,” I was horrified, for a couple reasons: You would say, “Well, there’s a pandemic,” so you feel a little guilt, of course. Everybody’s having a rough time. And then you also think to yourself, “What if nobody donates?” But truthfully, my concern was getting well. The important thing was that I had to improve my physical health, like my leg was swollen [from the car accident]. Now, I feel incredible. It was a great experience. The therapists were like Stanford-level. I loved the fact that it was intellectual. So it was challenging in the sense that it was great that I was really learning stuff about [treatment].

But I was absolutely blown away [by the GoFundMe]. And I really did not pay attention to the campaign while I was in treatment. I stayed off social media for about five, six weeks; we made a decision that it was best for me to not concentrate on those things because I really wanted to concentrate on my recovery. It was so important to me.

I was blown away by the people who donated: The musicians that I’ve known over the years, friends, people I’ve worked with at MTV and VH1, and people who were just fans. Two days before I got out of treatment, they printed out the GoFundMe comments, and I swear, I was nearly in tears. I got so moved because, I mean, it’s incredible that so many people cared. So the fact that it cleared is something that I’ll never forget it. And I’m accountable to those people as well. I am accountable to everyone to stay well and stay the course and do everything I need to do to stay in a good place, sober and in recovery. I am accountable to every one of those people who donated the money that they earned, because these are uncertain times in a pandemic. It didn’t matter whether somebody donated five dollars or five grand. I literally got choked up. I really was pretty knocked out by it, just to see that people really care. I was truly humbled by it.

It was a great experience for me. I’ll tell you the truth, I’ve had my issues and I’ve struggled. I’ve gotten along with years of sobriety, but I have struggled with alcoholism and addiction on-and-off for most of my adult life. I started out DJing in nightclubs, where booze was free and drugs were offered to you. When I started spinning in the 1980s, a lot of people didn’t think cocaine was addictive, only to find out that it is. So I DJed for 13 years and then I did radio, and then you got to figure that with a lot of the guys from the different bands in the Nineties — without naming names — I got to party pretty hard. I’m grateful because most of the guys that I’m very close to, if they went that hard, they either got sober or they’re no longer with us. All the friends that lost lives, whether it’s to overdoses or suicide, have been really heartbreaking for me.

I was reading about the uncounted casualties of COVID, and a lot of that was referencing how if you were in recovery, like myself – I’m doing well. I’m sober. I’m going to recovery meetings. In Los Angeles, I have the most unbelievable support system of musicians and friends who I spend so much time with – and it’s all taken away.

I’ve always come from a very positive place, but the coronavirus certainly affected me. I was doing pretty well, but the isolation was something that was a shock to my system and to my mental health. Not only that but I also have to exercise; it’s very important in my life. When I got hit by the car, my leg was broken in half. My head was torn wide open. I worked so hard at physical therapy to be able to walk again that exercise became an important part of my physical and mental health. I would go to the gym every single morning. So all of a sudden, all the gyms are closed. I’m isolated. And I’m a very social person as well; before this hit I was out seeing artists six nights a week; and I was always out doing recovery meetings. So to go from all that to Zoom meetings was a complete culture shock, and something that affects a lot of people emotionally. It hit me very, very hard.

I should also mention that I lost four friends to COVID during this whole period, too, which was also extremely hard. One of them was one of my old recovery sponsors on the East Coast. Then another friend of mine from New York who I just spent time with. And of course, Adam Schlesinger, from Fountains of Wayne. And I was with him six weeks before he passed away. All those guys in a row, four friends. No mercy, this virus. It’s a horrible thing.

At some point, I felt so boxed in that I picked up the bottle again. Like anything else, it’s a very cunning situation, and it creeps up on you. I know for a fact that I can’t drink. I’m an alcoholic. They say you’re born with that gene, it’s a disease; it’s not about willpower. People may try to tell you that; obviously they don’t have the same chemical makeup if you know what I mean. But it was a very difficult time, so I started drinking again.

Eventually, my friends could tell something was up. Your friends know you better than anyone. My friends kind of rallied around, “We’ve got to make sure Matt gets help.” And I was completely open to that. I was very happy where things were going until COVID stopped this. SXSW got canceled; I had three appearances there. I was going to film a TV show in Atlanta. I was going to go see my mother. I was going to bring my kids out here; they’re both on the East Coast. So, yeah, just everything came to a halt.

I realize there are a lot of other people going through the same thing that I am. What I take from this is a couple different things: I am an alcoholic and an addict. You are one all your life, but you don’t have to be active as one. You stay away from it [and] do that by working your program. But being an addict doesn’t define me, and I have no shame, because the shame is if you don’t go and get some help and do something about it.

I have two goals: First, continue to do what I love to do, and that’s to educate and entertain people about music. Do interviews and do the things that I’ve always loved to do. My syndicated radio shows [are] still going. And secondly, to help other alcoholics and addicts who need help. That’s my goal, is to be of service and let people know they are not alone. Like when you hear Bowie at the end of Ziggy Stardust, “You’re not alone!” I just want to say that you’re not alone. Other people out there are going through a similar thing.

There’s definitely help and there’s certainly hope, but you’ve got to have faith and you’ve got to work hard. I feel phenomenal right now. I just knew that if I could give treatment my all [and] stay focused, I could come out like a prize fighter. It was an opportunity to reboot. I just want to let people know that all the people from the musicians and the fans and people that have known me over the years, how grateful I am. I’m going to stay the course. I’m going to stay well.  One day at a time, but I’m going to do it.