The spirit-crushing anguish of addiction and the daunting path to recovery are the soul-searching topics of a new book, Moments of Clarity: Voices From the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery, by Christopher Kennedy Lawford.
In the work, the son of actor Peter Lawford and member of the Kennedy clan relates compelling stories of how he and others — 43 people in all — many with equally famous and easily-recognizable names, including Richard Dreyfuss, Richard Lewis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elaine Stritch and Alec Baldwin — reached moments of clarity that made life-altering differences in their always debilitating battles with illicit drug and alcohol addictions.
"I didn't want to do a recovery book but I couldn't avoid it because my first book, Symptoms of Withdrawal, resonated so much with people that they just expected me to do another book.
"With 26 million addicts in the U.S. and 100 million people in all directly affected by the disease of addiction in this country, there is a huge need here for information about it. So, this second book just wouldn't go away.
"It's absolutely about redemption; all of the people in it have been redeemed and transformed. And it's absolutely about forgiveness by whomever was affected, because addiction makes people incredibly angry and resentful," explains Lawford, who was addicted to alcohol and drugs, and whose moment of clarity came in 1986.
He said he realized his addiction had reached the point of complete hopelessness, and that he had to change or die. In the book's introduction, he writes, "The morning of Feb. 17, I woke up, as usual, with that weight in the pit of my stomach, knowing that all I had in front of me was another day of dancing with the 800-pound gorilla of addiction."
He elaborates: "I thought, this is bad. This is as bad as it can get. What I felt was just a little bit darker than what I'd felt the day before, but that little bit was enough to finally put me over the edge. I knew I could not exist anymore in that state. I had to either die or change."
With help that day from a cousin and his mother, Lawford says he surrendered to the need for change. He has been clean and sober since then, he acknowledges.
Richard Dreyfuss' moment of clarity came from a vision that scared him into his journey to recovery.
On the last day of a 10-day party binge of drugs and women that came on the heels of a very serious car accident, his hospitalization, and arrest for DUI and possession, the full impact of how he was living dawned on Dreyfuss.
He relates that he was at the party, looking at one of the women, "I looked at that girl at the orgy, and all of a sudden I just left. I was filled with such self-loathing and such revulsion for myself that I walked out the door, to the driveway, where my driver was standing.
"As I got into the backseat of the car, I knew that little girl very simply was either the little girl I didn't kill that night I completely lost control of my car, or she was the girl, the daughter I hadn't had yet. …
"I went home that night and ritualistically poured everything out, and I went the next night to my first serious recovery meeting," discloses the actor, who confesses he hadn't been without drugs since he was 16.
For Larry Bergman, a clinical therapist at Harvard Medical School, an addiction to alcohol was his demon, one he met and faced over time with his wife, Janet Surrey, a clinical therapist at the same school and a recovering alcoholic herself.
" Jews aren't alcoholics; you know that, right?" Bergman told Lawford in a research interview for the book. "Only in looking back do I realize how many times I should have been dead, through various accidents or that I didn't realize I was living such a risky life.
"I just thought it was kind of normal, you know, after I started drinking," admits Bergman, who talks about clarity coming in stages, not in a sudden burst of brilliance.
An excerpt from "Bill W. and Dr. Bob," a play Bergman and Surrey wrote about the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, that Lawford includes in the book, states, "Maybe this thing can't rely on blinding flashes of light. It's like the body, human nature, like the rest of medicine. Step by step, you put the pieces of the puzzle together until finally the picture is clear before your eyes."
That is what happened to him, Bergman remarks.
Comedian and actor Richard Lewis, noted for his stand-up routines that focus on Jewish angst, testifies, "I knew I was a drunk, but I couldn't imagine not drinking. My therapist — I was a therapist junkie for almost three decades — told me later, she knew I was a drunk, but she also knew I had to realize that myself."
"I was born a Jew, so I went to Hebrew school and I remember one line, 'God is everywhere.' … I sense that God has touched everything in some way," states Lewis.