Symptoms of Withdrawal, Part II

Miss Taylor and the author, both high as kites at Disneyland in the mid-70s

True to my word, I wanted to finish my thoughts on Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s book Symptoms of Withdrawal. I finally finished it last night after many starts and stops; it was a dense, sometimes painful biography to read, and understandably so. One of the most poignant stories–at least to me–that he shared later in the book was that his Aunt Joan (Kennedy) was actually the first one to take him to an AA meeting in the early 80s. He single-handedly credits her with saving his life, because she could relate to what he was going through, having battled alcoholism for years. I was nearly moved to tears because it’s no secret that Joan Kennedy still battles her demons to this day; her children have a conservatorship of her assets, in fact. Lawford also makes no bones that he and Joan aren’t all that close besides this common thread of addiction they share. He actually explains in the book how she was viewed as somewhat of an outcast of the family once she divorced Ted; her alcoholism made her a weak link, even though most everyone else in the Kennedy family drank heavily. Fast forward to Joan and Ted’s son Patrick admitting to his addictions and struggles with depression in the last few years, and I think the social climate has changed for the better, both in their family and in our world as a whole.

I wanted to share a few quotes directly from the book, and then I’ll end my discussion on it. This book so moved me and helped me along in my journey that I purchased Lawford’s follow-up book, Moments of Clarity, as soon as finished Symptoms of Withdrawal last night. MoC is actually a series of interviews he did with about 15 other celebrities on their journeys to overcome their own addictions, so it’s less a sequel and more of an outgrowth of his first book. Anyway, here are a few quotes from the end of SoW that really hit home to me:

Anyone who knows anything about addiction will tell you that when the addict starts using, emotional and psychological growth stops. Addiction is like driving through life in a giant station wagon at a hundred miles an hour and every time something fundamental and emotional comes up, you just heave it in the back of the wagon and forget about it. When you get sober the wagon comes to a screeching halt and all the stuff you threw in the back lands in your lap.

My heart was broken all over again when I read the above quote, because I realize that’s what I spent all of fall semester doing. Instead of dealing with the stress of work and the pressure of school and my internship head-on, I drank to “kill the pain” and “ease the tension.” What I lost in the process was a sense of a job well done (on all three accounts: work/school/internship). I find myself wondering sometimes if I even really graduated. And I don’t say that in a maudlin way; I think I cheated myself out of much of the emotional  and mental victory of finishing college  after 12.5 years because I had numbed away all sense of reality. At the time, I felt like drinking was the only thing in my life I had complete control over, when in fact I was completely out of control.

The point is I am responsible for my life. I do not regret the past, nor do I wish to shut the door on it. I see today how my experience can benefit others. The lessons of my life have been profound and ordinary. It took a while for me to see them; now that I have, I can move on. […] Learn to listen to what is inside you. There is nothing more vital to human existence than honoring one’s authentic self.

And finally, I’ll end with this one, which is eerily self-explanatory.

When an addict reveals their story publicly there is always the risk that they may drink or use drugs again and open themselves up to enormous attention and ridicule. Addiction is not like other chronic diseases either in the way it is perceived or treated. If a diabetic goes public and is spotted binging at Dunkin’ Donuts nobody would think twice, but if I were to show up somewhere wasted on crack or booze–watch out. So, if an addict decides to put pen to paper or get up on a soapbox they should understand the responsibility associated with such an undertaking. I can no longer pretend that my recovery is personal. From the day I decided to go public it was a whole new ballgame.

Thanks for sharing of yourself and your memories, Mr. Lawford. Your parents, whom you’ve said never admitted to their own addictions, would be proud of you for admitting to yours and helping so many others in the process.


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