When it comes to his struggle with addiction, AJ McLean has always been upfront and honest.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the Backstreet Boys star opens up about his sobriety and how becoming a dad has helped him stay on track.
“You know, it’s interesting about sobriety with family and with kids — you still have to put yourself first, and that’s been a real big struggle for me,” McLean, 40, admits. “Look, I have no shame in saying, I’ve relapsed over the past year. It’s no secret that this is a disease, and that it’s a daily struggle.”
“Are my kids and my wife a huge support, and a huge inspiration? Yes, a hundred percent,” McLean, who shares daughters Ava Jaymes, 6, and Lyric, 20 months, with wife Rochelle, adds. “But, at the same time the biggest problem I deal with, with them, is putting myself first, and not my family first. Because in my mind, that’s what you should do, you should put family first. You should put your kids first. But because I’m still very codependent, I’m Mr. People Pleaser — and I think a lot of that comes from being a performer, and wanting to see the crowd happy, and seeing everybody around you, and loving the attention — I want to make sure everyone’s cool.”
However, “If you do that too often, then you forget about taking care of yourself, and you do tend to get lost in the sauce. And that’s happened to me numerous times,” McLean confesses.
Throughout his career, the musician, who entered rehab in 2001, 2002 and 2011 for depression and excessive alcohol consumption, has used his voice to not only help himself, but to help others who are struggling with addiction.
“One of the best things I was told, from my sponsor, from my friends, is the only way around is through,” he tells PEOPLE. “And sometimes, you’re just going to have the worst days possible. But if you surround yourself with a good support group, if you go to meetings, if you talk to other addicts … you have to make it a lifestyle, you truly do.”
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, and can’t be yourself. But if you want to stay alive, there is no true … For me, you don’t beat it. It’s not like, okay, I’m sober, it’s done. I’ll never drink again. No. You have to work at it daily. Or I will creep up. And it’s a mother, and it will win if you don’t take care of yourself.”
As he continues to fight, he’s found solace and healing in the arms of his daughters and wife.
“Before I was a dad, I never really understood why Brian, and Kevin, and these guys wanted to rush back home after a tour was done,” McLean says about his BSB bandmates. “Me, I’m like, ‘Let’s just stay out here and have some fun.’ But now, I’m on that first 6:00 a.m. flight back to L.A., because I can’t wait to get back home, and stay home, and not do anything. Let my kids just jump on me!”
Now, as McLean and the Backstreet Boys begin to prepare for their upcoming world tour and a new wave of fame, the star says he’s never felt more content with his life.
“I have no regrets,” he admits. “I think I did everything the way I was supposed to, I guess. Maybe I did it right, maybe I did it wrong, but no one’s perfect. And I’m still sitting here today. So obviously, thank God, someone’s watching me upstairs, and I’m doing something right.”
For more on the Backstreet Boys and their families, as well as their upcoming album and tour, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.