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Justin Bieber is confronting his struggles with fame in real time

Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin attend a show during New York Fashion Week in September 2018. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for NYFW: The Shows)

Justin Bieber said in a candid Instagram post Sunday that he isolated himself and turned to “heavy drugs” at 19 while struggling to cope with his rapid rise to fame.

The 25-year-old pop star has become increasingly open about his personal life in recent years as he has rebounded from a string of missteps — including a 2014 DUI arrest — that led to concerns about his career. Last year, he shocked fans (and pop culture writers) when he took to Instagram to confirm his engagement to model Hailey Baldwin, whom he married two months later. On Sunday, Bieber referenced their marriage as “the best season of my life.”

He put their union in stark contrast to the relationships he “abused” as he grappled with the dark side of fame. “I Became resentful, disrespectful to women, and angry,” he wrote. “I became distant to everyone who loved me, and i was hiding behind, a shell of a person that I had become.”

Bieber skyrocketed to fame at 13 when a little-known talent manager named Scooter Braun stumbled across YouTube videos of the baby-faced Ontario native crooning R&B hits. He certainly isn’t the first child star to struggle with fame or sudden wealth — a theme to which Bieber alluded in his post. “Have u noticed the statistics of child stars and the outcome of their life?” he asked. “There is an insane amount of pressure and responsibility put on a child who’s brain, emotions, frontal lobes (decision making) aren’t developed yet.”

Still, Bieber faced a unique hurdle as part of an early generation of celebrities who grew up in the social media era. That has made the singer and his peers (including his famous, social-media-wary ex, Selena Gomez) more accessible to fans — and criticism.

But social media has also allowed celebrities to confront everything from rumors to harsh truths on their own terms. Bieber’s post prompted messages of support from several fellow celebrities, including singer Sean Kingston, actor-model Patrick Schwarzenegger, reality star Khloe Kardashian and Braun, who simply wrote: “Proud of you.”

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Liam Payne, who rose to fame in the British boy band One Direction, seemed particularly moved by Bieber’s forthrightness, and disappointed that many headlines focused on the singer’s admitted drug use. “I think what you did yesterday was incredibly brave and you deserve a little more respect,” Payne tweeted, using Bieber’s handle.

Bieber’s reference to “heavy drugs” was jarring, but it’s not the first time the singer has broached the subject. He told Vogue earlier this year that he used Xanax to mask his shame during his lowest points. “Drugs put a screen between me and what I was doing. It got pretty dark,” he told the magazine. “I think there were times when my security was coming in late at night to check my pulse and see if I was still breathing.”

In addition to his marriage, Bieber has cast his Christian faith as a pivotal aspect of his healing. It’s something he and Baldwin share: The couple, who dated briefly in 2015, reunited last year after running into each other at a Miami conference hosted by Kardashian-favorite pastor Rich Wilkerson Jr.

“Jesus loves you,” Bieber wrote near the end of his lengthy post, which he summarized as a reminder to “keep fighting” even when “the odds are against you.”

Bieber’s frank discussions about fame and mental-health struggles are particularly notable because they seem to be unfolding in real time.

Last week, People reported that he cried while singing Marvin Sapp’s chart-topping gospel song “Never Would Have Made It” at Churchome Beverly Hills. Bieber, whose song “I Don’t Care” with collaborator Ed Sheeran sits in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100, later documented the emotional performance on Instagram.

“God is pulling me through a hard season,” he wrote.

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