Symptoms of Withdrawal

So this blog is more or less going to be a glorified book report on the relatively dense bio I’m muddling through, and I say “muddling” in the most positive sense of the word. Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s Symptoms of Withdrawal is the polar opposite of many pulpy, gossipy celebrity bios, namely because he’s not an outright celebrity himself. The son of movie star Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy (one of JFK’s sisters), Lawford grew up with everything money and power could buy. I’m only a third of the way through the book–as it’s one of those that’s hard to pick up where you left off–not to mention that Lawford’s blatant honesty is grim at times. For instance, he makes no bones about the fact that his parents were hardly ever around for most of his childhood, what with all their jetsetting, party-hosting, and hobnobbing. To be perfectly honest, it’s made me thankful whilst reading his account to realize I grew up with perfectly normal, very hands-on parents. The Lawford children (he is the oldest of four and the only boy) were practically raised by their nanny, and also the housekeeper their father kept employed after Patricia and Peter divorced.

That actually wasn’t much of a book report, but it covers the basics of what I’ve gleaned from the book thus far. Lawford’s premise in sharing his life story (the book was published five years ago) is essentially to show how he overcame his parents’ shadows and the addictions that went with that. One can imagine what it was like to be a Kennedy grandchild, but Lawford goes to great pains to detail the hierarchy which even the grandchildren knew existed in the family. (JFK was referred to by the kids as “the man,” for instance.) All the order, of course, was shattered not once, not twice, not even three or four times…I’m only a third the way through the book and JFK, RFK, and both Joe Kennedys (the grandfather and his first son) have already died. It’s harrowing to read about the assassinations of his uncles through the eyes of a child; Christopher Lawford didn’t go to his Uncle Jack’s funeral because he’d already planned a sleepover with his best friend, for instance. He also reprints the wording of the telegram inviting him to RFK’s funeral five years later, when he was still just a teenager; it’s all very bizarre, and even Lawford admits this in the book! (He had to show the telegram to get into the funeral and then onto the funeral train from NYC to DC, it turns out.)

As one can see, I’ve picked up many of the little details and anecdotes from the book more easily than the overall message, which is to stay sober no matter what. This is partly because I’ve not gotten to the parts of the book where he talks about his hardcore drug and alcohol abuse yet; I think the only thing I’ve read about him experimenting with thus far is LSD as a teenager. Regardless, I’ve also inserted my own ongoing journey back to sobriety into the narrative, which I know has made it harder to read the book subjectively. The main reason I bought the book was the mention of Peter Lawford in the bio of Elizabeth Taylor I read last month. Peter showed up at Betty Ford a week after La Liz was the first celebrity admitted in 1983. Claiming he wanted to support her as well as get help for himself (his fourth wife tricked him into going, it turns out), Lawford used to sneak out of the clinic to buy cocaine, which he put on his AmEx card since he was in such debt. He and Elizabeth refused to do many of the rehab-required activities, such as water aerobics (her, because of her bad back, and him, because he was probably so coked out). Once out of Betty Ford, Peter Lawford spent most of the last year of his life, per his last wife, obsessively vacuuming their house between snorts of cocaine and chronic boozing. Just a very sad way to end his life, though that goes without saying. What’s even weirder is that he was almost the first to marry Elizabeth, after they co-starred in a film when she was just 16. (The studio put a halt to their romance, but they remained lifelong friends.)

But back to the author, Christopher Lawford…it’s absolutely no wonder that he got into the mess of addictions that plagued several of his other cousins as well (especially the male ones). He writes the following in the introduction to the book:

When I think about my own life and how my experience causes me to view the world, it compels me to share it with others. I need to tell this story. I need to tell you what I have learned at great cost. My purpose in revealing my awkward humanness is to free myself to find myself. I grew up in public; it seems that my emancipation much also be public. My hope, too, is that the relating of my experience may help others facing similar challenges. My experience as an addict in recovery has taught me that one human being sharing their experience, strength, and hope with another is among the most powerful engines for change on the planet.

In other words, his book was not meant to be a fluffy read on the beach; it’s filled with pain, mistakes, forgiveness, and healing. I think that’s the journey of any recovering addict, myself included. But if anyone else is helped from seeing/hearing/being affected by what we’ve gone through, then in a twisted way it was worth it to at least some very small degree. I’ll have been sober for two months this coming Monday, and I cannot wait to be able to say that and know in my heart that I’ve stood by my word to myself and to so many around me for 60 days. (These last two months have seemed like 10 months!) On that note, I’ll end here, and I’ll blog again once I’m done with Mr. Lawford’s book, as I’m sure they’ll be many more quotables I’ll want to share from it.

A blessed Good Friday and a Happy Easter to everyone!


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