Dancer Corey O’Brien opens up about alcohol addiction and sobriety

Corey O'Brien in his new film about sobriety, Freedom
Corey O’Brien in his new film, Freedom (Photo: Vimeo)

Dancer and choreographer Corey O’Brien has created a short film reflecting upon his alcoholism and path to sobriety.

O’Brien, 30, is known to many as the partner of former NFL player Ryan Russell, 29. The couple met two years ago. They share a YouTube channel and Russell often features on O’Brien’s TikTok videos.

While on TikTok the pair are usually cute and funny, O’Brien’s latest project sees him getting more serious. He teamed up with  the non-profit Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (LA CADA), to make a short, artistic film that finds him reflecting on the period of his life when he turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

Related: 7 signs your drinking may have gotten out of control in the pandemic

In a comment that many LGBTQ may relate to, he says in the film, entitled Freedom, “Being lost felt like home and running from my issues became a daily ritual”. Eventually, O’Brien managed to find sobriety, and realized that liberation didn’t come from alcohol: the path to freedom is “Loving yourself.”

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O’Brien told Queerty a little more about his story via a Zoom call. He grew up in a town called Chester Springs, outside Philadelphia. After High School, he relocated to New York and began dancing professionally, which saw him travel extensively for the next 2-3 years.

He moved to Los Angeles six years ago, but his work has often involved periods in NYC and Las Vegas.

Related: Ryan Russell’s latest beach photo and love poem has us swooning


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O’Brien spent a year in rehab when he was 21.

He says he had a bad relationship with alcohol from the first time he drank. The heavy drinking began in his late teens.

“The first time I drank I felt this feeling of euphoria, and I also just liked who I was, which was a feeling that was so foreign to me because being a gay man growing up in a small town I was always kind of taught that there was something wrong with me,” he explains.

“I didn’t know self-love, so with alcohol, it was like this sick potion: It made me love myself, but really, it just brought a lot of hatred into my life.

“It started becoming a problem in my late teens. I was a destructive drinker. I remember when I was living in New York, I was 18, and I woke up after a long night and I just thought to myself, this can go either way. I can either stop drinking right now and things will be good, or I know this is going to end really badly.

“I was succeeding in my career as a dancer, I would get the job, but then I would always get fired from it. I had a little bit of confidence, but it always shattered because I was my own worst enemy.”


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Eventually, it was his family who helped him realize things had to change.

“I went to rehab at 21. That was my second time going to rehab. I didn’t want to stop drinking. My family—in fact, everyone around me—told me I needed to go. I was getting fired from every dance job. I was getting sent home from tours, and I was ruining relationships and opportunities around me.

Corey O’Brien in his short film, Freedom (Photo: Vimeo)

“I finally sat down with my family and they told me that really, I had nowhere else to go. They were kind of fed up and they knew they needed to get me into treatment. I agreed to go for 30 days, but 30 days turned into a whole year in rehab.”

Related: Newly out NFL player Ryan Russell posts love poem to boyfriend and… wow

October 1, 2021, will mark nine years of sobriety for O’Brien. It’s something he’s monitors daily but is thankfully not the challenge it once was.

“It’s definitely something I think about every single day. I will say it’s now just a part of who I am, so it’s not that I’m fighting every day, or struggling, but I am always aware because, without sobriety, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be in the relationship I’m in. I wouldn’t have all the things or the career that I do.

“So, for me, what I’m doing is just staying humble and staying grateful for all that I have. I never get too proud, because that’s when I begin to feel like I know it all, so I definitely focus on taking care of myself and doing the right things in my recovery.”

Corey O’Brien (Photo: Supplied)

That may be part of the reason he’s teamed up with LA CADA. The video is being released to coincide with National Recovery Month.

“What we are doing is just bringing awareness to the disease of addiction, but in a way that’s also celebrating Recovery Month … we’re showing that recovery is possible for all. And I wanted to do something really close to my heart. I was able to share my story, how alcohol, which once brought me what I thought was freedom, but in the end, loving myself was what really gave me true freedom.

“Working with this organization has been amazing, because I’m actually going in and speaking to a bunch of their clients this month as well, and what they’re doing in the recovery space is something I’m so grateful to be a part of. It’s bringing a lot of people together and sharing a message of hope and recovery.”

O’Brien hopes to continue this work, touching upon recovery and many other issues, when he relaunches his podcast, Life According to Corey, next month. You can follow more of his life on his TikTok (@corey_obrien)