Tag Archives: Kristen Johnston

The actress who didn’t relapse

HPIM0835A few weeks ago a well-known actress, bestselling author and recovery advocate made a speech about addiction at a recovery event. You would be surprised if you knew just how many celebrities are in recovery from alcoholism and addiction. Unfortunately, not many of them are prepared to stick their necks out and advocate for the recovery community the way this particular actress does. She’s actually become quite known for it and is the ‘go-to-girl’ for many organizations wanting a famous face that can talk about addiction.
Now this actress was seriously ill a little while back and was finally diagnosed with another disease. Having put the disease of addiction into remission, she then had to take on a new one. With treatment she is fortunate that this disease is also in remission, but it means she still has some side effects and must take care of her health.

She recently appeared at a recovery event where she was asked to be the main speaker. After the event, a local newspaper reported that she was behaving badly and was clearly intoxicated, it judged her for ‘relapsing so publicly and causing ’embarrassment.’ The tone of the piece being ‘you’ve let everyone down, your meant to be a recovery advocate, you failed us, what are people going to think?’ After it was published Twitter blew up with concern for her sobriety (which was perfectly solid).
This actress didn’t relapse. What observers thought were signs of relapse were just repercussions of the other disease she has to deal with.

But what if she had relapsed? It happens in all types of diseases after all. But despite the recovery communities insistence that addiction is treated like a disease, they are usually the last people to actually do so.
What if she had diabetes and was speaking at a diabetic conference and suffered a relapse. Do you think she would have been treated with judgment and disdain?
No, I don’t think so either. She would have been treated with love and compassion; she would have been helped and cared for. But most importantly no one would have felt she would have damaged the face of recovery from diabetes by relapsing. That’s because diabetes suffers know relapse can be part of their illness. It’s unfortunate and can be life threatening, but no one is berated for it.

So, why oh why, are people who relapse in addiction treated so badly by their own community?
Why is there so much confusion about this? Yes I know people die, I hate it as much as you do. But shaming and blaming is not going to help the situation.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’m going to come right out and blame this on confusion and misunderstanding of the 11th tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous. The AA program is one method of getting sober, it is not the only way, and it doesn’t ‘own’ the conversation on alcoholism. I’ve written about this in more detail here and here. But suffice to say, this misinterpretation has led to the belief, that when someone publicly speaks about addiction and then relapses, it is damaging the public perception of recovery.
Where as I believe the reverse is true. When the recovery community insists that alcoholism and addiction is a disease, then themselves fail to treat it such, they damage how addiction and alcoholism are viewed. By blaming and shaming they are treating addiction as a moral failure and not a disease, thus perpetuating a faulty belief. It is this particular faulty belief and the mis-guided secrecy that the 11th tradition perpetuates, that keeps the disease of addiction from getting the support and funding it needs.
We need to talk about it publicly, we need to talk about all aspects of it and that means relapse too.
It may also mean that people who speak about it publicly may go on to relapse, just as they do with any other disease. Just as the public understands that recovery from diabetes/cancer/lupus/heart disease etc. is possible despite set backs, they will also understand that recovery is possible from addiction.
If we show them.
Which is why I’ll publically support anyone, famous or not, who is brave enough to stick their heads out and talk honestly about addiction.

Oh, and the actress, best-selling author and recovery advocate? It’s Kristen Johnston who is continuously sober for 8 years and kicking ass.

Toxic people

Kristen Johnston wrote an excellent blog on her attraction to toxic people and the lessons she learnt from having to extract herself from damaging relationships. You can read the post in full here.
I totally related to what she was saying as I did exactly the same thing.
Dealing with toxic people is just one of those things you have to learn to do in recovery. As Kristen points out, slaying the dragons of drugs and drink are relatively easy, compared to the life stuff we have to learn Like: having boundaries; recognizing your feelings; behaving appropriately and all that good crap that comes with being a healthy functioning human being.
But ending relationships with toxic people is a pretty big task for an alcoholic/addict.
We have spent years running from unpleasant feelings and have a particular aversion to any kind of confrontation, we also tend to be chronic people pleasers. It took me a while to learn how to deal with toxic people and I made plenty of mistakes along the way.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I trained to become a therapist and was given all these big words to describe people’s issues, I of course, began to secretly diagnose everyone I met. Let me tell you, this got really fun when I was dating. I would meet a guy and within thirty minutes, sum him up in my head with all these issues, and then dismiss him as possible romantic material.
I was, after all, clean and sober and was finally going to demonstrate healthy choices with healthy people.
Can you guess how many men that left me available to date?
A big fat zero.
In my opinion they all had issues!
I had created this rigid worldview which led me to have ridiculous expectations of people.
It began to dawn on me, that I was excluding the entire human race from my experience. I had swung so far the other way, that I pretty much dismissed everyone as a potential date or friend.
Which is a pretty lonely place to be.
I had to learn that there is a difference between toxic people and people who are just working through their crap. I also realized no one was perfect, including me.

Toxic people tend to be resistant to changing or any kind of self-reflection, they are adamant that others have the problem and need to change instead. They generate drama and misery wherever they go and are incapable of seeing themselves as the cause of it.
In contrast, people who are just working on their crap will sometimes behave badly but with time will realize this, own it, make amends and change.
It’s really kind of simple: Everybody has crap. Some people are working on it, others are not. Pay attention and you will be able to spot the difference.

There is a big difference between being toxic and behaving in a toxic way. As an addict I went from one extreme to the other; I went from surrounding myself with sick and toxic people, to pushing away anyone who I perceived to have a flaw.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kristen, that the healthiest thing to do is to remove toxic people from our lives as soon as possible*. This can be challenging, but with practice, it can get easier. I also think the more we work on ourselves, the less toxic people we attract into our experience, so this also helps. Maybe some of these people will change and we can invite them back into our lives and sometimes they don’t. But when we take responsibility and make this space in our lives, the universe will often bring in someone incredible for us to connect with, someone we never would have met otherwise.
What hit home about Kristen’s piece for me, is that she kept her heart open and was always willing to help and trust. Ok, it got her into to trouble but it also enabled wonderful people to come into her experience. Whereas I did the opposite, I excluded just about everyone and didn’t give anyone a chance.
If you read to the end of her post she includes an extract from psychotherapist Nancy Colier, who emphasizes that we are not obliged to open our hearts to everyone. Even when people hurt us desperately and then apologize, we don’t have to invite them back into our lives.
I completely agree.
I passionately believe that we are responsible for the experience we wish to have, and we have to take responsibility for whom we invite into our experience.
When we can balance that with keeping our hearts open, then we are well on our way to becoming healthy functioning human beings.

*check out Kristen’s check list for spotting a toxic person. Spot on – in my opinion.

The Anonymous People

The Anonymous People

The Anonymous People

I am thrilled to tell you that I am hosting a screening of The Anonymous People in Champaign, Illinois. The Art Movie Theatre has generously agreed to screen the film.
It’s extraordinary to me, that over 23 million Americans are living in long-term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, but we have no visibility at all.
The only stories we get to hear about are the ones where a celebrity publicly hits rock-bottom and is ushered into rehab. We don’t get to hear the other side of the story, where millions of us are going about our lives free of drugs and alcohol. The Anonymous People is a rallying cry for a public recovery movement that educates and informs others suffering from addiction, that recovery is possible!
I’ve interviewed Kristen Johnston, Chris Herren, Joe Schrank (U of I grad!) and the film maker Greg Williams about the movie, all of who are in long term recovery.
If you are in the Champaign area and would like to see this ground-breaking film then tickets are ONLY available through the Gathr website they are not available directly from The Art Theatre.
Hope to see you there.

Guest post by Kristen Johnston

Today’s guest post is by 2 times Emmy award winning actress and recovery advocate Kristen Johnston. It may be useful to read the posts she is responding to before reading her post, here and here.

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

I’ve been a huge fan of this blog for a long time. There are many blogs about addiction & recovery, but I’ve found Veronica’s to be one of the best I’ve ever read, and here’s why: She’s all-inclusive of any and all pathways to recovery, she’s incredibly smart, an excellent writer, and she’s British, which means she’s automatically funny & self-deprecating.
(I aint gonna lie, she also wrote one of the most incisive & bizarrely intuitive reviews of my book ‘Guts’ I’ve ever read.)

However, I take great exception to her most recent blog, ‘Why Elizabeth Vargas has Given Recovery It’s Ellen Moment.’ Now, our mutual respect is such that our relationship can weather a healthy disagreement. I still think she kicks ass, and she has enough self-esteem to allow me to disagree with her publicly & on her own blog!

Before I go into why I take such exception to what she wrote, I want to say that Elizabeth and I have become friends ever since she interviewed me a year ago about my book ‘Guts’ for 20/20. This is one funny, smart lady. As she knows, my respect for what she did by coming forward on GMA (click here for link) with such grace, dignity and honesty knows no bounds.

One of the traditions of AA, written in the late ’30’s says not to mention AA in press, radio or film. (However, due to the epidemic that addiction has become, I feel we can no longer afford to do this).

Therefore, when Elizabeth mentioned that AA meetings are part of her recovery during her amazing interview about her recent struggle with alcohol some knuckleheads took exception to her honesty, I then wrote this on FaceBook:

“Honestly, what was she supposed to say when she was asked what she does now to stay sober? “Ummmm…sorry, it’s a secret”?????!!!
I believe in 12 step meetings. They aren’t for all people, but they sure as HELL saved my ass my 1st few years of recovery.
And the argument I hear all the time “If she relapses, then everyone will think AA doesn’t work” is fucking stupid, I’m sorry.
Many people relapse. It’s a fact of this disease.
To me, that argument is the same as telling someone with breast cancer that they can’t tell people they’re undergoing chemo. Which is why you’ve never heard anyone say “But If the cancer comes back, then people will think chemo doesn’t work!!”
12 step programs work for many. Many find other ways to recovery. And far too many will end up dying from this disease, despite all their exhaustive efforts not to”.

Elizabeth Vargas, by bravely coming forward & sharing her truth did an astonishing thing not just for addicts but for those in our culture who still stigmatize it. And, after all, isn’t the Fifth Tradition to carry AA’s message to the alcoholic who still suffers? It is essential it is that these meetings remain a sacred place anyone can go and feel safe knowing that their story won’t be shared with others. But I strongly believe we as individuals are allowed to share our experiences with whomever we choose.

It’s also worth noting that one of the main reasons I couldn’t BEAR the idea of getting sober was my total misunderstanding & lack of knowledge about AA. Due to it’s secrecy, I thought it was a few scraggly old men huddled in a church basement clutching styrofoam cups of tepid coffee, commiserating about the good ole days when they still had livers.
My terror of AA was so powerful that many times I’d think to myself “Oh dear God, what if I’m one of those people who ends up in a church basement somewhere?” It seemed a fate worse than death.
In fact, my fear & lack of understanding of AA was so great I waited until I came as close to death as humanly possible rather than seek help.
I’ve since discovered I’m FAR from alone. Thousands of others have reached out to me saying they didn’t want to go for the exact same reason.
You see, I had NO clue that these meetings have nothing to do with sorrow or failure…and they everything to do with determination, strength & LIFE. Or, they should.
The days of addicts hiding in shame are gone. I’m deeply honored to call Elizabeth a friend, and a fellow warrior in this complicated & misunderstood disease.”

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, here’s what offends me about Ms. Valli’s blog entry:

Using one single person as a shift in the paradigm of addiction, is, (in my opinion) totally incorrect and incredibly unfair.
To me, it felt as though Veronica was saying “Yeah yeah yeah others have come forward, but it was Elizabeth who changed everything.”

This ain’t about me. Trust me, I get plenty of props. But this brave woman did one fantastic interview. Matthew Perry has spent years and thousands of hours (not to mention his own money) to help Drug Courts, a group that works with the court system so that addicts are sent to rehab instead of prison. Greg Williams has spent every dime he has and the better part of four years creating & tirelessly showing his stunning documentary ‘The Anonymous People,’ which is about the movement taking place in our country where addicts are finally stepping forward to own our disease. Joe Schrank works tirelessly running one of the very few sober living homes in NYC. Not to mention the thousands of people I meet every single day who do anything they can to help addicts & fight the stigma of this disease. People like Veronica Valli, who write brilliant, thought-provoking blogs.
She writes that what Elizabeth did was so exceptional because no one knew about her struggle. But I easily could have kept my disease a secret for the rest of my life, and instead
decided to tell the truth anyway…. despite monumental pressure NOT to do so by a few mortified and deeply angry family members. Sadly, writing ‘Guts’ has forever ruined certain
relationships I once held dear. Despite this, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Many things Veronica wrote I totally agree with. The biggest being that it’s only because of others openness before her that people like Elizabeth can come forward.

Addiction will never be shoved back into it’s world of basements and secrecy and shame.
Not because of one person, but because of many.
As I write at the end of Guts:

“Whether we want to admit it or not, this is our black plague, a terrible scourge that’s just as deadly as cancer or AIDS. It is destroying people by the untold millions. And I believe, without a doubt, that the embarrassment and secrecy that shroud the disease are just as deadly as the disease itself.
In my opinion, the best “slogan” when it comes to addiction isn’t found at a meeting in a church basement, or in some book. It’s a phrase six gay activists from New York City coined in 1987, at the onset of AIDS: “Silence equals death.”
I won’t stay silent any longer.
I hope you won’t either.”

What Elizabeth did made me cry tears of pride. She did so much to eradicate the terrible judgement addicts face every single day.
As have so many of us.

Which is why I say we’ve ALL given addiction it’s ‘Ellen’ moment.

Kristen Johnston

How laughing will save your life

This weeks post is probably one of the most important subjects I’ve ever written about.
It’s about laughter and the amazing, powerful, rejuvenating effects it can have on us.
Laughter is literally life saving.

When we laugh, we boost our immune system and trigger endorphins which are the bodies ‘feel good chemicals’.
If you are an addict or alcoholic, then I know you’re gonna be all about those feel good chemicals.

That’s exactly what addicts are chasing, an artificial way to make themselves feel good.
In recovery we have to learn other ways to make our selves feel good. And laughter is one of the easiest and most effective ways of doing it.
When I was in early recovery I truly didn’t believe I would ever laugh again. I was certain I was never going to have fun and my life would be boring and glum, but at least I would be sober and not causing damage to myself or others.
Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth!
I can actually remember the first time I really laughed in recovery. You know that helpless, belly laugh kind? Where the laugh just takes over you and you surrender yourself to the pure enjoyment of it.
I was shocked to discover how amazing it felt.
I had laughed plenty of times when I was high or drunk, but I realized there was a significant difference between laughing organically and laughing through chemical intervention.

So if you are in early recovery I urge you to take every opportunity you can to laugh.
Which is why you should really check out Kristen Johnston’s sitcom The Exes, which is back on TV on December 11th.

I’ve been immensely grateful for the support Kristen has given my work. She has tweeted and Facebooked my blog and even let people know she bought my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop.’ Kristen has a big following so this has made a tremendous difference in getting my work out there.

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

In return, I wanted to check out the work she has done. I read ‘Guts’ which is excellent, but I really hadn’t seen any of her shows. I’m British so I never really saw ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’, I do remember her cameo in Sex and the City but I’ve not seen her in much else.
So I was keen, but slightly nervous to watch The Exes.
I’ll be honest with you, I usually prefer British comedy. I like my comedy dark, edgy, a little bit rude and preferably with lots of swearing. I also just don’t get all the humor in American sitcoms. I never really got ‘Seinfeld,’ (I know shoot me), Louis CK just doesn’t do it for me, Friends was just too obvious, so I did wonder if I would even like The Exes.

Well big relief, it’s actually very, very good. The Exes is actually cleverly disguised as just another situation comedy when actually it is edgy and deliciously rude in just the way I like my sitcoms.
There is one scene in particular that makes me laugh helplessly every time I see it. It involves Kristen’s character and a cucumber…(please scroll down to the bottom where the is a clip of it, I dare you not to snort with laughter).

The Exes is shown on TVLand on Wednesday December 11th at 10.30p/9.30C. I can promise you if you check it out just to support Kristen’s work, you’ll end up staying because it hits all the right spots of funny.

So in order to aid you in the life saving task of laughing, I put together some of my absolute favorite clips from British comedy shows and a hysterical scene from The Exes. Take a couple of minutes to set off some endorphins to boost your immune system, because laughing is one of the best things about recovery.
Please let me know which one’s you like.

Gavin and Stacey was a huge hit in the UK. It was a story that centered about a young couple who meet fall in love and get married. The humor is in their relationships and interactions with their eccentric family and friends. The clip below is from their Christmas special, and as we are into December I wanted to include it. It manages to celebrate the friendship between two best friends in a way that is both heart warming and hysterical. It’s just so very, very British.

The Thick Of It is a documentary style political satire that pushed the boundaries so far you literally gasped at their audaciousness. This clip is actually from the movie ‘In the Loop’ that spun out of the show. The main character Malcolm Tucker is a work of such comic genus that I don’t think anyone will ever match his brilliance. Tucker is a ‘spin doctor’ (media communicator) with the British government. He is in Washington to do damage control at a UN convention. The brilliance of Tucker is how he is able to insult people with almost Shakespearian eloquence. I have to warn you, there is a lot of swearing in this show and if you are easily offended this probably won’t be your thing…

Alan Partridge is my secret crush. Created by the brilliant Steve Coogan he is a legendary figure in the UK. Partridge is a middle aged, crap radio and TV presenter who has no self awareness. Every time he opens his mouth he offends someone. He is also based in Norfolk which is where I’m from, so I have a particular soft spot. This clip is actually the trailer from the movie ‘Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa’ that was released last year. It tells you everything you need to know about Alan…

Some mothers do ‘ave ’em is a TV show from my youth. In my opinion the brilliance of Frank Spencer is without parallel. I don’t really know how to describe him. He is basically incompetent at everything and always getting himself into pickles. He is also extremely lovable. This show has always been able to reduce me to a helpless mess of laughter.

The Exes is about three divorced guys who share an apartment across the hall from their divorce lawyer Holly (played by Kristen Johnston). The show follows their careers and dating disasters. The clip below evolves Kristen’s character being instructed on how to wash a cucumber….It’s the facial expressions that kill me.

The Anonymous People

Silent no more.
Shame no more.
Hidden no more.
Scared no more.

There is a movie called ‘The Anonymous People’ that is out now on limited release. It is a documentary on alcoholism and addiction and it proposes that the secrecy around the disease of addiction has prevented people from seeking help for too long.
There has been a grave misconception that addicts and alcoholics need to hide away in secret.
We don’t.
By enabling this culture of secrecy we have prevented the wider public truly understanding addiction and how sufferers need treatment, not judgement or incarceration.

Alcoholism and addiction is still seen by many people as a moral problem. That addicts lack moral fibre and are making bad choices and choose to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Notice my words there; ‘choose to abuse.’
For sure, addicts and alcoholics choose to use alcohol and drugs when they first try them. No one held a gun to my head at any point.
But very quickly they stopped being a choice, they became a necessity and not because I was physically addicted, but because I was emotionally and spiritually dependent.
In fact, I’ve never had to detox from anything except caffeine.

I was born with a spiritual and emotional malfunction, which means my emotional experience was always one of pain and uncomfortableness. I had no control over my emotions, that despite my best efforts would always veer towards despondency, depression and suicide.

I picked up alcohol because that’s how my culture told me I could have fun and belong. I continued using them because they were the first things I had ever discovered that ‘fixed’ the internal condition I have just described.
They were actually medicine.
If I stopped using them my internal condition got worse.

‘Just saying No’ was not an option for me.

Could you say ‘No’ to the medicine you take?

The Anonymous People is part of a wider movement in the recovery community, people who will not stay silent anymore. People who are proud of who they are and what they have overcome.

This is a movement whose time has come.
Watch the trailer and let me know what you think.

Why we need Sober High Schools

I started getting into bars and drinking at 14. By 15 I was smoking pot, at 16 I had left home and was dropping acid. At 17 I snorted speed and coke and by the time I was 18 I was having 20 panic attacks and extreme anxiety every day.
I just about made it through school, my grades were in the toilet. I couldn’t wait to leave and get a job because I wanted to make money so I could party even more.
This was a long time ago (OK, back in the 80’s, you do the math) and I had never heard of sobriety let alone rehab or a sober high school. I can’t imagine what a difference they would have made to my life.
I remember being 17 years old and suicidal. I would stand at the side of the road and look at the bus coming towards me and try to rustle up the courage to step in front of it. I knew something was very, very wrong with me.
I really didn’t want to die, I just didn’t know how live and I had no idea where to get help.

After 12 years of hell I finally got sober. It was a close thing, I nearly died either by putting myself in dangerous situations or because I was often suicidal. I have no idea why I’m not dead or wasn’t raped or attacked. I thought I’d permanently impaired my mental health but I managed to escape that hole as well.
I was one of the lucky ones but so many are not.

I’ve spent a lot of my professional life working with teenagers and they really are the most incredible group to work with. With the right help they still have a real shot at turning their lives around and overcoming their problems to lead happy and successful lives.
I know, I’ve seen it.
We have to invest in our children.
Sober High Schools can make that difference, they can take a life destined for destruction and put it back on track.
Addiction isn’t a behavioural problem or even a choice. It’s a response to an internal condition.
It’s a cry for help.
And we MUST respond to it.

Kristen Johnston - SLAM NYC

Kristen Johnston – SLAM NYC

Which is why I want to support Kristen Johnston’s efforts in bringing a sober high school to New York City. Instead of explaining why this is so important, I’m going to ask you to watch this brief video. And then if you want to help by owning a very cool ‘Gut’s T-shirt (and who wouldn’t want a stoned Kristen Johnston across their chest) to support SLAM (Sober Learning and Motivation). You can buy one here. Today there are 30 Sober High Schools flourishing across the United States and yet not one of them is in New York City. After Kristen gets her way (and she will) and starts one in New York, I’m going to ask her to campaign for one in London. In the UK the last rehab dedicated for teenagers closed a few years ago. It really doesn’t matter where these kids are, they need our help. If you have been touched by addiction, please think about what you can do to support them.

Book Review: ‘Guts the Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster’ by Kristen Johnston

A while ago someone pressed a copy of ‘Guts’ into my hands, with the admonishment that I ‘had to read this immediately.’
So I promptly put it on my shelf and forgot about it.
Having recently had a baby, the only books I was interested in were; ‘How the f**k do I get this kid to sleep’ variety.

But after meeting the author on Twitter (where else) I decided to pick it up.
You’ll know Kristen Johnston from her hit shows ‘3rd Rock from the Sun’ and ‘The Exes.’ British readers will remember her as ‘Ivana Humpalot’ in the Austin Powers movies and for a hysterical cameo in ‘Sex and the City.’

Me reading 'GUTS.' Ask KJo about the finger.

Me reading ‘GUTS.’ Ask KJo about the finger.

As this book is written by a comic actress you would rightly expect it to be very funny. It is a funny book, however I actually found the jokes to be a distraction in the first few pages.
I felt like Kristen Johnston was giving the reader the version of herself she thought they expected, and she didn’t want to let them down.
I wondered if this is how Johnston is when you first meet her in person. That she uses humor as her armor, creating an illusion of openness and intimacy, which actually deflected you from seeing who she really was or what was really going on.

If you are looking for a ‘celebrity memoir,’ with funny anecdotes about famous people, you are going to be disappointed.
Johnston barely touches on her upbringing, rise to fame or acclaimed career as an actress. They are mentioned in passing; instead the book is an invitation into the soul of an addict as they battle their fear and denial.

There were two parts of the book in particular that made me shudder with recognition.
The first is where she describes witnessing her brothers bullying.
With no means of voicing her feelings, she violently lashes out at one of his tormentors.
Describing this as one of her many ‘ill advised decisions.’ I felt it was actually a truthful reaction to extraordinary pain. She had no other way to express how she felt except violence.
Her feelings were demanding a release.
This type of irrational, compulsive behavior is ‘normal’ in someone who has learnt to protect their inner world, by building a wall around themselves.
It should therefor come as no surprise, that this little girl grew up to become addicted to ‘pain pills’ as an adult. It was inevitable that she was going to have to find a way, to numb the pain of feelings she could never dare express.

The second incident that touched me, is when the first crack in her wall first begins to show. Johnston has been admitted to a hospital in England for life saving surgery, when her intestines literally burst from all the drugs she had been taking. Because she is in so much pain and can barely move, she has to ask a nurse to help her wash her hair.
As an adult, she realizes this is the first time she has ever asked anyone for help.
By this point in the book, her loneliness and isolation are palpable, and the simple act, of another human being tenderly washing her, is almost heart breaking.
It’s clear that Johnston has never let anyone in and the sheer thought of it terrifies her.

The reason this book should be compelling reading for any addict or alcoholic, is just how much Johnston reveals of the inner life of an addict.
She rightfully claims to being completely unoriginal in her feelings and behavior, her experience of addiction is just like anyone else’s.
Addicts will do anything to prevent anyone seeing who they really are, they will fight tooth and nail to defend the wall they have built around themselves. Johnston is certainly no different.

Like many addicts Johnston paints a picture of determined self-reliance.
Believing she can just power through anything with her grit and determination. Unwilling and unable to face up to her reality, I believe it was no coincidence that her body finally forces her to see what her mind refuses to.
Thousands of miles away from home, friends and family; unable to work, she could do nothing but stare at the ceiling and contemplate how things have ended up this way.
Too weak to fight and with no distractions, the wall she had built around herself slowly begins to crack.

“I suppose I was also grieving for the loss of the unfeeling, jokey, impenetrable me.”

Inevitably when that wall cracks; grief, loss and loneliness flood in. Johnston shares all of this with the reader. Then, for someone who has determinedly hidden her true self from the world, she begins to discover who she really is, for the very first time. Vulnerable, scared and very lost she begins the journey back to herself.
The miracle of recovery is, that despite everything we have believed about ourselves, who we really are is glorious. We don’t need to hide or be alone anymore because who we really are is just fine. This book convinces you that if Kristen Johnston can discover this, then so can you.

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

Because of her stature, Johnston has often been referred to as ‘Amazonian.’ The description fits her not because of her height, but because she is a warrior.
Guts is the account of a lone warrior battling to stay in denial before finally waging the courageous battle of sobriety.
It is a privileged glimpse into her inner world and I hope very much that this warrior has finally found her tribe.

Recovery Rocks – Kristen Johnston

Recovery Rocks is thrilled to welcome two-time Emmy award winner Kristen Johnston.

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

In the 90’s Kristen starred as Sally Solomon in the hit show ‘3rd Rock from the Sun.’ But despite a long and acclaimed career as an actress on stage and screen, Kristen was battling a life threatening addiction to pain pills and alcohol. Now six and a half years sober, she recently wrote a book called ‘Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny triumphs of a Giant Disaster’ chronicling her illness, rock bottom and journey into sobriety.

Despite what some people tried to tell her, Kristen’s career has flourished since she got clean and sober. She is currently starring in the hit TV show ‘The Exes’ on TVLand.
Since getting sober Kristen has founded and is the Executive Director of SLAM (Sobriety, Learning And Motivation).
SLAM’s goal is to see that NYC build’s it’s first, and desperately needed, sober high school. There are over 25 such schools flourishing across the US—FOUR in the Boston area ALONE.
Kristen is determined to start a school in New York, If you want to learn more about SLAM, you can do so here. More importantly if you want to support SLAM, click here.
I will be writing more about SLAM in a later post, sign up for notifications if you want to learn more about sober high schools..

Sobriety is Kristen’s passion, sick of the shame and secrecy that surrounds addiction and alcoholism, she has consiously decided to speak out about her experiences in order to help others do the same.
Which is also why she took part ‘The Anonymous People’ Greg Williams stunning documentary about addiction.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
Hmmm…well, since my entire book ‘Guts’ is about that, I won’t go into too much detail. Let’s just say that due to a prolonged love affair with Vicodin & red wine, unbeknownst to me I had developed a gastric ulcer. I was doing ‘Love Song’ with Cillian Murphy on the West End in London and all through rehearsals I felt (and looked) just awful. Puffy and miserable with a vicious case of heartburn.

After opening night, my guts ripped open & I became septic. Meaning my guts were leaking stuff out into my body. It sucked, badly. I was in the hospital (or as you Brits like to say “in ‘ospital”) for two months. Chelsea Westminster, for those who care.

Why don’t I just let GUTS: 
(This is after a night of absolute horror and indescribable agony in my Flat near Kings’ Road. I finally got to ‘ospital and after about thirty or forty shots of morphine, I finally felt some relief. )

“I don’t know how long I snuggled into my downey-soft morphine duvet, but suddenly the mood in the ward shifted. “Something’s happening” I thought to myself just as a team of about 10 impossibly serious looking people rounded the corner. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that they were coming towards me. Which was baffling, until I realized that the hospital must have finally realized that ‘Ivana Humpalot’ was in their very hospital, and that they had quickly assembled an impressive-looking welcoming committee to apologize for their previous unpleasantness. I smiled forgivingly.

The group took formation around my bed, a well-practiced ballet designed to impress. A few of them looked like they had just started grade school. Not one of them looked older than 23. That is, with the very notable exception of their leader. As he walked towards me, I have this fuzzy and hopefully untrue memory of my jaw dropping open. (Oh dear God, please tell me I shut it at some point.) He reach out his gorgeous hand to shake my and introduced himself. This man was so elegant, darkly stunning, and breathtakingly handsome, I instantly thought of one of those impossibly perfect heroes found only in one of those Danielle Steele novels my sister used to beg me to read aloud. “His icy eyes focused on her pillowy lips and suddenly she knew she was his, forever….” We could easily spend an entire Saturday afternoon doing this, laughing until our faces hurt.

Not sure how long I was lost in this memory, but I slowly realized his pillowy lips were moving. Whoopsies, he’s talking and seeing as I was committed to making our relationship work, I decided to listen to his soft yet commanding voice. I missed the beginning, and most of it was medical lingo that flew over my addled mind, but I’ll give you the gist….
“…….ulcer for quite a long time. I’m surprised you haven’t experienced more discomfort before this. Regardless, this has caused an erosion of the gastrointestinal wall, which has led to your intestinal content spilling into your abdominal cavity. We call this ACUTE PERITONITIS, which is the reason for the sudden onset of your intense abdominal pain. To be blunt, Ms. Johnston, you could die at any moment.”
My smile faltered. This wasn’t at all what I expected. And where’s the cheese plate?

“We must perform a very risky surgery, called a GASTRECTOMY, to fix this. We are rushing you ahead of
all other patients. We will try to fix this problem with ARTHROSCOPIC SURGERY, meaning, through 5 incisions around your stomach. However, there is a very good chance this won’t work and then we’ll have to cut you open with a rather large incision across your stomach. Clearly, we’d like to avoid that if we can, for obvious reasons.”

Obviously. I nodded in total agreement. He then looked around at his minions who immediately murmured words of agreement.

“Ms. Johnston, I suggest you let your loved ones know.” 
I smiled dreamily at him.
He leaned forward and looked at me seriously. “Do you have any questions?” “Ummmm…Yep, no, I’m good”
This seemed to disappoint him. He held forward something to sign and I eagerly scribbled the signature of a drunken toddler. His face remained blank.
“Yes. Well, Ms. Johnston. See you very soon.”
“Ok, Bye Bye.” I’m pretty sure I waved. I hope to God I didn’t wink. And with a whoosh, they were gone.
I sighed, in love. I wondered If I looked hot. I’m pretty sure not, because when I coyly reached up to fluff my hair, I found it to be rock-hard with the remnants of last evening’s detritus.
Aww, puke-mousse. Bummer. “
And you thought the name of my book referred to what a badass I am.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
I spent them in a rehab, and I walked in a terrified, angry, lying, self-despising mess and I left a terrified, open, hopeful, weepy human being. It was, without question, the best decision I ever made. I really do consider it my birth–I was a 38 year-old baby. 
Now, what few people tell you is that staying sober in rehab is easy.

It’s staying sober in the world that is so, so difficult. 
People read GUTS and write me all the time, hundreds of thousands of people, hoping I can give them that one trick, one idea, one way of staying sober. And I can’t. There is no one way. For some, meetings save their lives. For others, yoga. Or therapy. Or service. Or religion. Or on & on.

I can say, the road is not easy. 
But I love myself now, which is a pretty profound thing for any addict in recovery to say. Early in my recovery, someone once said to me “In a few months, you’ll be able to say that your worst day sober is better than your best day using.”
I wanted to punch her. What a fucking dumb thing to say. 
But you know what? She was right.
 So who’s the dummy now?

4) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/ sober?
I’ve been in recovery for 6 1/2 years, and shallowly, I look much better. Plus I have a hit TV
show over here called ‘The Exes,’ which is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
I wrote a book. By myself, with no help.
I’ve become an advocate for addiction reform. (If you told me I’d be an advocate for ANYTHING 6 years ago I would’ve laughed in your face).

I created and am executive director of a foundation, SLAM (Sobriety, Learning And Motivation), www.slamnyc.org. Our sole purpose is to see that NYC finally creates it’s first and desperately needed sober high school.

(There are over 25 such schools throughout the US. The Boston area alone has 4. Teens are being decimated by addiction, the CDC recently said 1 in 5 US teens meets the medical criteria to be an addict. If they’re lucky enough to go to rehab & then are sent to any school, the relapse rate is 90%. If a teen goes to a sober high school, 70% graduate drug & alcohol free.)
Last, and most importantly…I have my self-esteem back.

Kristen Johnston - SLAM NYC

Kristen Johnston – SLAM NYC

5) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
That’s a very tricky question, because while I certainly regret things that I did as an addict, It’s taken me years to let go of the terrible shame. 
I wouldn’t change a thing, because it brought me here today–and without all that pain, would I be the same person?
However, I speak to many addicts all the time, and what I probably tell them most often is:

It’s not your fault. I know it feels like your fault. I know everyone else tells you it’s your fault. I know everyone’s hurt & angry with you. I know you’ve done bad things. But the only thing within your control is seeking help to stop.

6) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I’m much stronger than I pretended to be. 
That to live an honest life is possible. Difficult, but possible. All those years I thought I
excelled at bullshit? They can’t compare to how good I am at telling the truth.

I’m deeply flawed, and make so many mistakes. But I’m able to admit them and try to grow from them.
I love people. For the first time in 20 years, I like talking & interacting with people.

I still like toxic people, and I’m working so hard on this. 
I can write. 
I’m a good person

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
I hate all Recovery slogans. Ugh. I find them all so cliché. 
I feel like slogans can detract from the actual idea behind the slogan…many of which are true. So I make up my own version, just for me.
 Like I say in GUTS:
“Now, if you’re in a play and all you care about is where you’re getting loaded afterwards, that’s slightly worrisome. But if you can’t fucking wait for the fucking audience get over it and stop giving you a standing ovation already, because you’re dying to get to the bar? Well, then – that’s just a whole other kettle o’ crazy.
But it was all I knew, really. Plays were simply a conduit, an appetizer to the most important event of the entire day: getting hammered.
Nowadays when I’m in a play, the very first thing I do when we move into the theater is to grab a dark red lipstick (frosty pink just doesn’t have the same panache), and scrawl in my dressing room mirror my new mantra:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Shakespeare, ‘tis not. But that’s not the point. You see, it means something to me.
Besides, “One Day At A Time”, while an excellent motto, doesn’t really work for me. You’re more than welcome to borrow my mantra, but to be fair I must warn you about a very scary potential mind fuck – which really only applies if you’re a gay male and over forty.

Whatever you do, please try not to think of the poster for the film ‘The Main Event,‘ which showcases an tightly permed Barbra Streisand in one of the most nauseating costumes in all of celluloid history: boxing shorts over thick nude pantyhose.
Or, if you are a gay man over 40, perhaps that would help? Wait. Hold up. Am I a Gay man over 40?
Regardless, I make sure to write “THIS IS THE MAIN EVENT” as big as I can, so that as I get ready to go onstage, I will never again forget how lucky I am to be alive and able to do something I love with all my heart.”

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Well, since you already know of my aversion to slogans, I will say that I deeply respect your point: Life doesn’t end when you get sober.
In fact, it’s just the beginning. 
How much more time do you want to waste worried about how to get a refill, or what you said to your boss on the phone last night, or why your life is so miserable?

Here’s a clue: It ain’t where you live, what you do, who you hang out with, your mate or your family. IT’S YOUR ADDICTION. 
And the solution is as both easy and difficult as this: get help.