One day in 1986, after years of addiction, Christopher Kennedy Lawson reached a turning point.
At 31, he could look back on a decade of addiction, hospital emergency room visits and the heartbreak he was causing to the people who loved him.
At Georgetown University aged 21, his problems began. “I went there to study Jefferson and ended up moving in next door to a frat house full of heroin addicts," he says. "That was my introduction to police stations and emergency rooms.”
In his 2005 New York Times bestseller, “Symptoms of Withdrawal,” he vividly outlined his descent into near fatal drug and alcohol dependency.
And in “Moments of Clarity,” Kennedy Lawford’s new book about overcoming addiction, he talks to 43 people – most of them famous – about their own struggles with addiction.
In each case they write riveting accounts of their flirtation with complete disaster and they share what helped them to overcome their addictions.
They also share how much better their lives become when they save themselves, a bright change in fortune that Kennedy Lawford shares.
In the book he argues that an individual has to hit rock bottom and achieve what he calls “surrender” before he or she can see a way toward healing. “That’s a spiritual thing and a mental thing and it’s not something you can plan for – it just happens. You can’t heal yourself until you do.”
“Ultimately all addicts and alcoholics are either trying to escape their lives or fill a hole in their souls,” Kennedy Lawford explains. “I think that ultimately that’s what we’re dealing with. In my own case it was a spiritual malady – whether that was created by the circumstances of my life, or whether I was born with it is not really germane. I just know I have it.”
Kennedy Lawford points out that by the age of 13, two of his uncles had been murdered, and that he was the product of a divorce. But he rejects the suggestion that growing up in Irish-America’s most elite family may have contributed to his descent into addiction.
“We know today that by age 13 if you suffered some kind of major trauma you’re at a much higher risk of going down a dark road,” he says. “Those were my circumstances but plenty of people have similar circumstances and stayed straight. It contributed, but I was blessed with the life I was given. It was not burdensome at all.”
When Kennedy Lawford’s own moment of clarity arrived, he says he was aged 31 and realized he “had missed the last 17 years” of his life.
“So I was finally in a position to do what I wanted for the first time. In a moment of complete insanity I became an actor, right after when my first child was born and most people are getting real jobs. Because of my elongated youth that was my path.”
“I saw where alcoholism would take you, left untreated. My dad (Peter Kennedy Lawford) tried to get sober for a long time but nothing ever worked. Seeing how alcoholism could take someone who virtually had everything and just reduce them to nothing, dying a pretty horrible death that was a huge pat of me being able to get sober finally. I saw where I would go. My dad died in 1985 and I got sober in 1986.”
His path to recovery included studying for a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Harvard University. “The only thing I really knew was addiction and how to overcome it so I decided to put my own life experience to work. I can now work in the field I was ostensibly a part of.”
The Irish, and in particular the Irish male, has an often remarked-upon tendency toward stoicism and insularity. Even today a lot of Irish people still have a horror of psychiatry and what they see as touchy-feely quack psychology.
“I think the Irish live with their hearts. That’s why alcohol is important to them. It allows them to unlock the doors to who they really are. But I think the trick really is you have to learn to do everything sober that used to do drunk.”
“Moments of Clarity,” by Christopher Kennedy Lawson, William Morrow $25.99.