While on holiday to London to visit with family, Jay Shetty made a phone call to Darren Prince that stopped him in his tracks. As Prince shared insights from his life journey, it spoke right to Jay Shetty’s heart. He realized their call was a divine encounter. He knew Prince needed to be a guest of ON Purpose to share his story.
Darren Prince is the successful CEO of Prince Marketing Group, a sports and celebrity management agency he created. He has worked with big names such as Magic Johnson, Hulk Hogan, Joe Frazier, and Muhammad Ali, just to name a few. But none of his professional achievements or superstar connections make him as proud as his recovery from an addiction that had gripped his life since the age of 14.
Prince outlines his journey from being a special needs child crippled by anxiety and obsessed with baseball cards to creating the owner of a multi-million dollar company in his book, Aiming High: How a Prominent Sports and Celebrity Agent Hit Bottom at the Top.
The book details how he was lifted out of the depths of substance abuse and given a second chance at life when everything was careening out of control. In this article, Prince and Jay Shetty join together to talk about that second chance and how he has turned his pain into purpose to serve others who struggle with addiction.
Darren Prince grew up in New Jersey with his parents, sister, and lots of friends. From the outside, it looked like he had a storybook life. On the inside, however, he was riddled with anxiety, insecurity, and no self-worth.
Prince tells Jay Shetty that he was placed in small classrooms for the learning disabled, where he was told he was dumb. Lacking the confidence to speak out about his insecurities or the inadequacies he felt left Prince feeling that he never fit anywhere.
“If I could go back in a time machine, I would address certain people that could have helped me,” explains Prince to Jay Shetty. “I’d had imposter syndrome since the time I was in special education class. I never really could put my pulse on why. It was just the way it was. I never spoke up. I kept it all inside.”
As Prince’s career exploded into greatness, the imposter syndrome he was experiencing increased as well. His desire for validation was overwhelming. He believed all he needed was for people to think he was no longer that scared special needs boy in the back of the room with no self-worth. He wanted everyone to think he had arrived and was the most successful person in the school.
“I was doing unbelievable,” Prince shares with Jay Shetty. “I was on private jets, at Super Bowls, and backstage for the biggest concerts and award shows. I needed all of it because that gave me the validation that I was missing as a child.”
Jay Shetty adds that validation is a part of everyone’s story, but the difference is that Prince was at the top and still seeking that validation from the people who were already looking at him in awe.
According to Jay Shetty, there is not one person in this world who is free from some sort of addiction. Perhaps it is sweets or TV. Maybe it is your cell phone, alcohol, or exercise. Whatever it is, it’s present in our lives, and Darren Prince was no different.
Prince attended a sleepaway camp in Massachusetts at the age of 14. One night, he had terrible stomach pains, and the counselor took him to the nurse. There he received a small clear cup with green liquid that tasted horrible. Within five minutes, the pain subsided, so did the insecurity, the inadequacies, and the anxiety.
Suddenly, Prince felt like the cool kid. He was filled with courage he had never felt and started to flirt with the girls in the bunk next door.
The next day, he participated in the activities that were taking place at camp, not giving a second thought to the liquid courage he had the night before. But as he lay in his bunk that night staring at the ceiling, he recalled the fantastic feeling that green liquid gave him, and at that moment, he decided he needed more. He doubled over in pain and explained that it was his stomach again. So began the daily lie, and a visit to the nurse for another dose of the green medicine.
When his parents came to visit after his three-week-long daily nurse visits, he discovered that he had been taking liquid Demerol. After returning home from camp, Prince had a dental procedure done that required pain medication. When mom gave him the two white pills from the dentist, Prince explained to Jay Shetty that he felt like he was flying.
“Two days later, the pills were gone, and I was freakin devastated,” Prince tells Jay Shetty. “I had no idea how I was going to get more of these beautiful white pills. I did the same thing I did at camp. I went downstairs to put the crocodile tears on. I told mom, my tooth was killing me, and we had to go back to the dentist. I said I had a horrible infection. As a loving mother who doesn’t want to see her child suffer, she took the bait and took me back to the dentist the next day. Crocodile tears got me three more days of the pills. Later I found out they were extra-strength Vicodin.”
Jay Shetty was shocked to hear of the availability of opioids to children in the 80s. Awareness and education were not readily available at that time because the opioid epidemic was not what it is today.
All it took for Prince to become addicted was the feeling of confidence one shot of liquid Demerol provided. He would spend the next 24 years chasing that feeling with handfuls of pills and alcohol.
For the first five or six years, he was a rockstar. He built his business and moved up in circles that would lead to the top, all while juggling his addiction. He was living a double life. The pinnacle of Prince’s career came in 2002 when Muhammad Ali’s agent called him to arrange a dinner for Ali and Joe Frazier, a client of Prince’s.
“I was losing my mind,” Prince shares with Jay Shetty. “Anybody would have done just about anything to be part of this historical opportunity, the behind-closed-doors meeting where they finally make peace with each other and hug and embrace as world leaders.”
But an hour before the meeting, Prince was snorting Percocet and Oxycontin in his hotel room to feed the monster of the ten-year-old kid with a learning disability who said he didn’t deserve to be there for such a moment. The drugs robbed Prince of being fully present to appreciate the historic meeting.
“The fact that Joe and Muhammad loved and respected me more than I respected myself made me realize that my addiction was really bad,” Prince shares. “I didn’t know how much longer I could keep it up.”
Jay Shetty questions Prince on what he feels is the biggest challenge kids face today.
Prince believes that it goes deeper than substance abuse for kids today. He thinks it is the absence of self-worth.
“Everybody with social media is comparing who's better looking, who's more athletic, what family has more money, who has bigger better opportunities,” Prince tells Jay Shetty. “You fail that test one day, as I used to every other week, and you go home with broken self esteem. You feel frickin’ worthless.”
What is the key to creating self-worth in kids? Prince believes a course in school is a start. A place where all kids can come together with a teacher and have a safe space to speak up would help. Private sessions with a guidance counselor would help too.
Prince has a passion for helping teens take their greatest pains and challenges and turn those into purpose.
“You have to use the same thing that broke you to help others have breakthrough success and to help others have that moment,” explains Prince to Jay Shetty.
Drugs can give you false confidence in yourself. You feel like you’re on top of the world, and nothing can stop you, but the false confidence drugs create doesn’t last forever.
Eventually, you are going to crash or hit rock bottom.
For Prince, rock bottom came when he was at the top of the industry. He had the money and notoriety. He was living the high life on the outside. On the inside, he tells Jay Shetty he was a broken man, tired of living a double life and on the verge of suicide.
A shell of a man, he consulted an addiction psychiatrist and told him what was going on. The psychiatrist put him on Suboxone, which is an opiate blocker, but Prince lied to him too.
“I was snorting Ambien before I went to bed at night,” admitted Prince to Jay Shetty. “I was drinking a couple of days a week, and I was on a mood stabilizer, antidepressant, and anxiety pills.”
Finally, a surprise visit from an uncle and his girlfriend on July 1, 2008, crumbled the walls that surrounded Prince’s addiction. When they walked in and asked if he was okay, Prince said no. It was the accountability that he needed, and for the first time, Prince broke down and spilled everything out.
His uncle’s girlfriend looked at him and said, “You do you realize you're an addict? You are powerless over this. It’s a disease. Do you realize that it doesn't matter if you're from Park Avenue or a park bench, from Yale or jail, the disease of addiction does not discriminate?”
That question broke Prince’s soul, and he knew he needed to change. The next day at 7:00 pm, he went on a 36-hour detox.
“I came back from the gym. I was married at the time. I'm shaking when I got back to my apartment and vomiting,” Prince explains to Jay Shetty. “I had all the wonderful detox feelings that come along with that nightmare. I called my uncle up and I said, ‘I can't freakin’ do this. I'm calling the doctor to get what I really need,’ and they said ‘It's the damn disease. Darren, put your ego aside. You have to go online and find yourself a 12-step meeting.’”
Prince had done the meetings before with no success and didn’t think it would help. He ran to the bathroom to find some pills to numb the sickness he was feeling from the withdrawal. Clutching two Vicodin with his hysterical wife banging on the door begging for him to come out, a miracle happened.
“On my knees, I shouted out to God like I never did before in my life,” Prince shares with Jay Shetty. “I said, ‘God, I can't do this. I’m begging you to take the chains off me. Whatever it takes, take the money, take the notoriety because I can't do this without you.’ I was broken on the floor, crying, shaking, trembling. He heard me because I had this amazing sensation, this burning feeling over the shoulder. In my good ear, you know I’m deaf in my left, I heard, ‘I've got you when you're ready.’ I had a white light moment because I sat up and I flushed the pills. I went into the living room, found a 12-step meeting, got a taxi cab, and for the first time in my life, I wanted to stay sober more than I wanted to get high.”
Those meetings were where Prince learned how to apply the words action, attitude adjustment, accountability, and acceptance to his life.
“I put them into my heart and my soul, and one day. I started becoming whole,” Prince shares.
The Road to Recovery
The hardest part of recovery is learning to slow the brain in situations where you drink or take a drug. Prince tells Jay Shetty he learned from his spiritual family that if you can do anything for ninety days, it will reprogram your brain and spiritual core, so he attended meetings for ninety days. He relied on his obsessive drive to get sober, putting all the lessons he learned into his spiritual bank, knowing there would come a day he would need to draw on them.
“It took me a good six months for the physical cravings to stop, for my brain to somewhat start working and to start sleeping again,” Prince tells Jay Shetty. “I took every call from my sponsor, I went to my meetings, I listened, I kept my mouth shut, and I started implementing the 12 steps.”
After a year, Prince started to open up on social media. Sobriety doesn’t mean a perfect life, but his perspective changed. If things worked out in business, great. If not, great. He wears life like a loose garment, and the most significant thing for Prince is being in service to others.
Jay Shetty says the opposite of addiction is connection. When you're there in a moment making a connection with someone, just be there without looking for a payoff. Be there to be a good, kind, caring human being. You will help that other individual 100% because they're gonna feel that energy.
No one wants addiction to affect them or their loved ones, but the reality is that it does happen. It is a disease that doesn’t choose, but you can choose to rise above it. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, don’t face it alone. Reach out and get help. If you feel moved by Darren Prince’s story, grab a copy of his book, Aiming High: How a Prominent Sports and Celebrity Agent Hit Bottom at the Top, for yourself or to share with a friend.
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode with Darren Prince on “Imposter Syndrome & Alcohol Abuse” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.