Growing up privileged doesn't guarantee smooth sailing. Best-selling author and son of Patricia Kennedy and Peter Lawford, Christopher Kennedy Lawford struggled with the demons of addiction. He started drinking when he was 12. He's now 26 years sober, and his latest book, "Recover to Live, Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction," goes beyond the scope of drugs and alcohol into gambling, hoarding, sex, smoking and eating disorders.
He will make two public appearances here on Wednesday. He will speak at a breakfast at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association in Oakland, sponsored by CLEAR, a local alcohol/drug coalition, and Caron, a treatment center for addiction near Reading. Breakfast begins at 8 a.m., and he will speak from 9 to 10. Tickets are $35; for details call 412-281-8362.
Mr. Lawford also will appear at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the Waterfront at 7 that night for a free book signing.
So is addiction basically a hurtful habit gone rogue?
with Christopher Kennedy Lawford.
See the "Breakfast With ..." archive.
[laughing] That's a great way to put it. Actually, I wouldn't even call it hurtful a lot of times. I mean folks can engage in these behaviors, and they can enrich their lives to whatever degree with excitement, meeting people, you know experiences. I have no opinion about how people use these behaviors or these substances. To me it's not a moral issue. I'm a guy who is like whatever you want to do as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else or yourself. Go for it. From a public policy standpoint we have to be considerate of availability and what we do as a culture to promote this stuff. We know that the more we promote alcohol or marijuana the more use we are going to have, and that is not a good thing necessarily. More people will get in trouble and are gambling [with potential addiction].
And you do not think legalizing marijuana is a good idea.
I don't think it's a good idea. I don't think incarcerating people for use of marijuana is a good idea either. I do know the two most costly substances on the planet are both legal, tobacco and alcohol. We don't need another legal one. Mostly I'm concerned about young people. There is this perception that marijuana is benign. We know it is not benign when it comes to young people's minds. [Their brains] are not fully developed until they are 25. Things can go wrong. One in six teenagers smoke chronically. It obliterates ambition. Not a good thing. [There is] increased evidence of psychosis, mental illness, those kinds of things. Not a good risk. So this book "Recover to Live" is for people who think they might have a problem and want to change their life in whatever way they want to change it -- through abstaining or managing or controlling or whatever. I wanted to give people the best information on the planet today about what these illnesses are and what they are not. There are too many charlatans out there making a buck off of people's misery.
For people who can't afford therapy or don't want to walk into a free 12-step program, you designed the book as a self-help way out of addiction?
It's a beginning. There are seven essential tools of what I cobble together from the scientific evidence out there. These are the things that make a difference in people's ability to transcend some of this stuff. One of those tools is going to a 12-step program. I got sober in 12 steps. Nothing else worked for me. It took a long time, but it worked. So you're right. This is a very tricky illness. It is a very difficult illness. You have to treat all aspects of your life. There is no easy fix here.
You write in the book that addiction should be viewed and treated as a family disease.
Right, right. Especially for folks who are enmeshed in their families whether it is economics, geography or age. It says somewhere in the 12-step program that the root cause of alcoholism are defective relations with others. So it is a relational issue for most alcoholics. They can't really connect with other people really well, and they can't get what they need from other people to help them deal with life. I interviewed Dr. Allan Schore from UCLA. He does research on the relational part of the brain, which is wholly formed by the time you are 3. His theory is if you don't bond with a caregiver by the time you are 3 years old ... you will have relational trauma for the rest of your life, and you will need to medicate that somehow. I don't know if that is necessarily true or not, but it is definitely a component. I know from my own experience, I remember the first woman who came into my life who was really meaningful. I don't remember my mother before the age of 2 1/2, but I remember this woman who came in to take care of us. She did bond with me. My mother, God bless her, didn't really know how to do that.
You had the double whammy of genetics on both sides of your family.
Yes, that is the thing. This is an issue that is complicated. You have a complex interplay between biology and environment, and you can't ignore either one.
In the book you talk about how changing behavior will change your thinking.
I learned that in recovery. This is a mental illness. This is a disease that will tell you you don't have a disease. So there is a perception issue here for people who have this disease. Often they sit on the bar stool and at the casino and say, "Well, I am going to do this, that and the other thing and my life will change." They never do it. So the critical thing is to realize that your thinking isn't going to change your life. Your actions are going to change your life, and slowly that will change your thinking. You can't think your way into right action. You have to act your way into right thinking. t
So do you create new rewards for yourself in order to subvert the cravings?
Rewards and the potential of rewards are not enough to subvert cravings. Mindfulness and sort of hanging on -- the knowledge that this too shall pass -- is a big deal in terms of early recovery. The cravings do go away. That is a biological thing. They do go away. That doesn't mean you won't have triggers. What I got early on was somebody looked at me about 30 days sober and said, "You are going to have a life beyond your wildest dreams." No one had ever said that to me before. Recovery is way more interesting than using. Addicts need to know that. You may think you are living a big, fancy, sexy life, but let me just tell you something. You are lying on a couch and you can barely get up to take the dog out. That is the truth. They need to hear the truth. People dance around this illness all the time. I don't dance around it. If you don't want this more than you want anything in your life, lose my number. I don't have time for you.
What was interesting in the book was when you talk about finding your authentic self. People who don't have an addiction have trouble with that one.
That is why the next book I am doing is called "What Addicts Know: Ten Lessons in Recovery to Benefit Everyone." The first lesson is finding your authentic self. If you can do that, you have done a lot and you will have a rich rewarding life. You will do the things that are important to you, not things you are driven to do by society or need or the perception of need. Now there are lots of folks who don't have time to find their authentic self because they are too busy trying to survive. I get that. This is, to some degree, a luxury. Maybe it is time to look at this as individuals and say, "OK, can I carve some time out to go on an exploration of who I really am and what I really want."
Did you find you became more spiritual in these last 26 years of being sober?
I do not know if I became more spiritual or not. I had a spiritual awakening as a result of my recovery. I believe what they talk about in 12-step programs that this is not only a physical illness and a mental illness but also a spiritual illness. A spiritual connection is not religious; a spiritual connection can be anything. It could be your appreciation of nature. It doesn't matter what it is. In 12-step programs they talk about a God of your own understanding. Whatever it is for you that is outside the realm of this world is enormously useful and enormously beneficial, not only to recovery but to life.
Patricia Sheridan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2613 or follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pasheridan.