The Kennedy Clan Combats Addiction

The Kennedy Clan Combats Addiction - Page 2

By Susan Cheever 01/09/13

When Christopher Kennedy Lawford and cousin Patrick Kennedy, two ex-addicts from America's most famous family, sit down to discuss Lawford's exhaustive new book about addiction, they aren't afraid to make it personal.

Christopher Kennedy Lawford photo via

(page 2)

Kennedy: Yes. And I had the genetics. In 1969, when I began my drug use, it was an entirely different culture. We didn’t know then what we know today. As a matter of fact, my parents did not have the ability or the information to really intervene in a meaningful way in my using. Things have evolved. Not so long ago, one of my kids presented with an anxiety disorder. Now I know, from this book, that as many as 70% of all people who present with an addiction also have a co-occurring mental illness. To complicate that—and this is where this book is different and new—not only do they present with a co-occurring mental disorder, but they often present with more than one! If you are an alcoholic and you show up at a treatment center, chances are that you might have a food disorder. You might smoke, have a sexual compulsivity or a gambling problem.

Lawford: You asked me why I did this book. There are lots of people in this world who believe in powerlessness and that people cannot really do anything about addiction, whether they are in a 12-step fellowship or not. The truth is that you do manage addiction. If you are in a 12-step fellowship you manage addiction with a 12-step program. That is a management program. I have gotten lots of blowback on this—usually from people who haven’t read the book. Or they’re in the treatment business. Treatment is expensive no matter where you go. It is expensive whether it is inpatient or outpatient.

Except for 12-step groups.

Lawford: I have seven tools, and the second tool is to go to a 12-step program. This book is really about empowering people to look at this thing in a way that is not so scary. I tried for ten years to stop using drugs and alcohol. I tried everything humanly possible, and nothing worked. I didn’t know about mindfulness techniques. I used to lock myself in a room for a week at a time so that I would not use drugs. When I came out, I would see the guys on the corner and that craving would return. I didn’t know there were techniques that might minimize that craving. We have tools now.

Right. The book’s view of 12-step programs is controversial. If you are in a 12-step program, you are told that this is the only thing that works. You are saying yes, it works, but many other things also work.

Lawford: Absolutely. I want to offer an alternative to that dogmatic approach–and the idea that the harm reduction people are fighting with the abstinence people who are fighting with the legalization people. This is meant to be a big tent. Everybody is welcome. Moderation management is in here. It is not up to me to determine what you should do.

You are a recovery activist. Who are your peers?

My dad lived with the trauma of seeing his family members die so violently. That played havoc on his life.

Lawford: Patrick is. Drew Pinsky, on some level. There are lots of people who come at this from different directions. We need all of them. Kevin Sabet, who worked at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, is working on anti-legalization.

Kennedy: Faces and Voices of Recovery is an example of a group that believes its obligation is not just to spread the word but to be good citizens, meaning to make sure that we communicate to our state representatives, our governors and our senators that we are in recovery and we vote. That means we want treatment dollars. We want training. We want screening tools and the mental-health things on the national agenda right now in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings.

I thought you were going to say something wild about anonymity.

Kennedy: I will say something wild about anonymity.

Both of you, together, in unison!

Kennedy: I did not have a choice about it. I was public. I feel like advocacy is part of what I need to do to spread the word. I also talk about my own continued relapsing. I am in the longest period of sobriety I have had in my life. Because I hang around with someone with real long-term sobriety, my cousin Chris, I have a better chance. The key to recovery is how to live life in a new way so that you do not pick up again.

Lawford: Let me say something about advocacy. Bill Wilson testified in front of a Senate subcommittee that AA members should come out and talk about recovery, because they know about recovery. They should not talk about their association with Alcoholics Anonymous, they should talk about recovery. The truth is that getting up and talking about being in recovery is not inconsistent with the traditions of AA.

I would go further.

Lawford: In 1935, when AA was started, there was a lot of stigma. There was a reason to keep AA out of the conversation.

Now there is a public education crisis.

Kennedy: I would honor somebody if they said they did not want to talk about their recovery on a public level because it will interfere with their ability to do that kind of work. I have felt it myself. The guide of the American Psychiatric Association has said that Alcoholics Anonymous is the most significant social invention since Christ. I would not disagree with them in terms of what it has done in the world. I do not want to mess with that at all. But I do not think they are inconsistent.

Chris, another really moving part of book is that picture of your mother. You are dying, at your bottom, and you called your mother, and she goes to you.

Lawford: She did.