‘How Long Gone’ Co-Host Chris Black on Sobriety and Fitness
LATELY, CHRIS BLACK and Jason Stewart, co-hosts of the hit podcast Since when, have made a habit of asking their celebrity guests a recurring question: rate and rank your three favorite prescription pills. Comedian Joe Mande included Vicodin and an over-the-counter endorsement from Imodium. Rapper Fivio Foreign took advantage of the prompt to show off his love for Percocet. But for Black, there would probably be no need for a top three. Oxycontin would wipe out everything else.
The 39-year-old is now five years sober from Oxy after battling an addiction that drove him to self-harm. He replaced taking pills with an intense workout regimen, which he says helped him navigate his own recovery. But his fascination with drug use never waned, and Since when, the two-year-old show that he claims gets 500,000 monthly downloads, this topic is a regular one. Whether he’s talking to artist Snail Mail about his decision to smoke weed after coming out of rehab or learning about the therapeutic benefits of ketamine from musician Alex Cameron.
“We approach it in a pretty light-hearted way, but if you want to be serious, I can be serious too,” Black tells me from a Mediterranean cafe in New York’s East Village. It’s not about vilifying the drugs or the people who use them. It’s an attempt at radical transparency, their way of normalizing our conversations around substances that alter your mind, mood, or even your digestive tract. “Because that’s the thing, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Before launching Since when, which takes its name from the Brooks & Dunn song, the longtime friends had already achieved relative fame. Black, as a creative consultant behind brands like Thom Browne, Stussy and some scorching pop cultural takes to his more than 41,000 Twitter followers. And Stewart, as a prominent DJ in the nostalgic new era of indie sleaze, performing under the moniker Them Jeans. Their show was originally conceived as a place where these two hipster brothers come together and discuss their often dichotomous and heavily sardonic opinions on everything from Emily in Paris on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album. But their friendship runs deeper than that, and in turn, so does the podcast.
Although Stewart himself isn’t sober — his proclivity for recording the podcast while high on edibles is another one of their recurring items — he’s been central to Black’s recovery. Take her on long hikes through Griffith Park; rib gently to no longer be fun. (Roasting is their love language.) “He’s my man. He’s been there all this time. That’s why we can joke about it,” says Black.
Although humor is often their entry point into conversation, the responsibility Black feels to share her story is no joke. “Our listeners, a lot of them are pretty young guys who have money and could easily be in the same position or close to being in the same position [as I was]. I can therefore be the example, even the sounding board. And for Stewart, their comedic approach isn’t just a means to an end. This is the point itself. “There are a lot of people who have used comedy to talk about serious issues, so we’re trying to find a way to make that emotionally powerful and deliver results,” Stewart said.
Perhaps Black’s ease with the subject can be attributed to the fact that his own relationship with drugs and alcohol spanned such a wide spectrum. It started as a complete avoidance during his straight edge days in suburban Atlanta. As a teenager in the 90s, Black anchored himself in the hardcore punk scene. While music was his initiation – bands like The Smiths and Oasis – he remained true to the movement’s liberal ideology. The focus on anti-religion and animal rights inspired him to renounce meat and substances.
“Being vegan in 90s Atlanta is crazy,” says Black, who now identifies as a pescetarian. “I was pretty overweight back then. I wore a lot of pearl necklaces, shorts, Vans or Wallabees. Let me put it this way, it was a see.”
But his early sobriety didn’t stop Black from poaching. He developed a “fuck the man” attitude, dropped out of high school, and moved in with a band of musicians. At 19, his resolve waned, with Black consuming his first line of cocaine before taking a drink. “That’s why everyone uses drugs. It’s like, ‘Oh wait, can you stay out late, there are women, and can you have sex? It’s on,” he said with his signature chuckle. Alcohol soon followed, along with a stint managing the pop punk band Cartel. Throughout Black’s twenties, his cocaine use was always of this social variety: something he did three or four nights a week, always with the intention of partying.
By his early thirties, however, Black’s drug use had made him relatively reclusive. Graduated from coke to Oxy—along with Xanax, muscle relaxants, and other forms of painkillers—Black participated in the nightlife, but spent his days hiding his habit. He had met a dealer who allegedly sent him around 100 FedEx vacuum-sealed Oxys between MAD magazine, and Black would haunt the Tribeca apartment he shared with his then-wife, browsing his supply.
“I probably spent $100,000 on OxyContin in a few years,” Black says with the same captivating candor for which he became known as Since whenis the most imposing co-host.
But just as he fascinates me, the pendulum swings toward Black’s more serious approach to discussing addiction. “It’s complete denial for so long and then you overdose,” he says, recalling one incident. “It was around ten in the morning and I woke up in the hospital and I had no idea what had happened. My ex-wife is like, ‘I thought you were dead. Like 10 firefighters had to go up.’ “He recovered just enough to prove he hadn’t learned from the experience. “Then you overdose again,” he says.
When Black finally quit — after multiple overdoses and a split from his ex-wife — he went cold turkey. Forgoing a 12-step program or rehab, physical fitness became his salvation. He secured himself a membership in the Lower East Side YMCA where he is “fuckin’ crazy,” allowing the blood, sweat, and endorphins of exercise to take the form of his higher power. Now spending the majority of his time in Los Angeles, Black trains with famed trainer Hunter Seagroves.
“I was throwing crazy bullshit at him that most people would feel stupid to do, but he never backed down or blinked. He was right there,” Seagroves says of the mobility and movement-based work they do together, which includes headstand and head-down. “Chris isn’t afraid to be bad at anything. [He has this] Coastal elite facade, but ultimately Chris is real. He is transparent, he does not mince his words about his shortcomings and he is involved in his process.
Now, Black approaches his life with the mentality of an athlete. And with the success of Since when– which he considers a tennis match – Black sees the results. His intense focus also means he’s committed to not taking time off to train. “I traveled through Germany on foot. I will go to the end of the world to find a place wherever I am,” he says.
Still, Stewart is always there when needed, offering advice, including the suggestion that Black continue to move a little more flexibly. “Now that he’s progressing in life, career, and relationships, learn to have some type of back-up plan or control when your routine changes. [is important]”, says Stewart. “He takes great pride in his routine. Every day he drinks a gallon of water and goes to the gym, but life doesn’t always go that way.
Black says he’s still working to identify other ways to calm down. Socialization is one; owning the fact that it is still a work in progress is quite another. Paying it forward through the podcast is also becoming essential. “When you know you could have died and you know the shit was kinda gnarly, most people in my position are happy to help,” he says. “It’s the good, the bad and the ugly, baby!”
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