My Recovery Buddy, Courtney Love

By Joe Schrank 05/04/15

The truth is, Courtney might be the best recovery advocate I know.

Courtney Love
Photo provided by author

My 10-year-old son doesn't think it's remotely cool that I am friends with Courtney Love. As a sober guy I am very conscious of generational boundaries, especially with rehabs full of kids stating "my mom is my best friend" so I'm not entirely opposed to Paolo not noticing my cred. "Someday, grunge will have a revival and you'll tell your friends in your dorm, 'my dad is friends with Courtney Love' and they will all call 'bullshit', then you'll see how cool I really am." This is all meaningless to him; maybe I'm lucky and he won't be fascinated by drugs and self-destruction and he can quietly dismiss Courtney Love as one of the many people he encounters as the result of his dad having an unusual job. What of the rest of us? What does Courtney Love and her torrid rock and roll life inform us about the worlds of addiction and recovery? Maybe more than we realize or care to consider: it's easier to banish her to the land of "no example." Is it all that easy? Courtney admits to being an addict, she married one and had a child with him and became a widow after Kurt lost his battle with the bipolar/depression/anxiety/addiction knot of fishing line that couldn't be disentangled. Her story is steeped in knowing addicts, being an addict, and loving them and yet we dismiss her as a punchline. One of the things I hope I am less of as a sober man is judgmental (this has varying degrees of success) but like Pope Francis "who am I to judge?"

I know Courtney Love In a way that is wholly separate from her public self. Make no mistake, her antics in the media are part of her complex self and not untrue, but there is more. I know her to be thoughtful, intelligent, incredibly creative and talented, teetering on being consumed by the fray but still she survives. Courtney often holds salon in her living room and she delivers remarkable insight and honesty about the human condition and addiction. "Addiction is part of us, I don't know why we pretend it's not" she has said. In my experience, that is true. We posture with prevention campaigns that proclaim we can somehow minimize the human experience and have a "drug free America" but the truth is, we never will. It was through Courtney that I learned and internalized that recovery is a spectrum, it's not a light switch decision, it's a batting average and nobody will ever bat 1000. If the only metric for recovery is a clean drug test—a binary statement of "yes/no"—then we marginalize too many people who may never get to total abstinence. Maybe that isn't even the best option for them but it's what makes those around them most comfortable. The assumption that everyone impaired by substance use must be totally abstinent is based in Victorian ethic, certainly not compassion and certainly not science.

Through my years as an interventionist and therapist, I have known many powerful people, people with wealth or celebrity who could help shift the perception of addiction with public advocacy. Few do. It could be argued that it isn't their responsibility to carry that burden but it is curious that people who survive addiction are reticent to advocate for others still in the mire. It's much more commonplace for other diseases. We all know someone who has survived cancer and is now involved with a walk or bike ride to raise money for research. Not so with addiction. Courtney lives in honesty, warts and all, and shows us not only that recovery works but that it's frail and wrought with pitfalls and setbacks. A celebrity with cancer is heralded as "courageous" while telling their story and then the media is flooded with compassion if their disease is no longer in remission. With addiction, we laugh at people when they are down, none more so then the First Lady of grunge rock cum punch line, Ms. Courtney Love. The truth is, Courtney might be the best recovery advocate I know; she lets the world watch her struggle which gives misfits permission to keep trying or accept their plateau. I have seen her hug lonely disenfranchised youth who romanticize poet laureate of the rehab kids, Kurt Cobain, and tell them drugs are a bad road to head down and encourage them to ask for help. One of the unyielding values of recovery is service. I have personally witnessed the quiet service of Courtney Love. She has supported people, sending them to treatment and giving them a chance at recovery. Through the years, she has placed two of her band members in my recovery residence, Loft 107, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Courtney Love and Micko Larkin

These days she seems to be in Los Angeles more than NYC and our interactions are minimal. I'm in frequent contact with one of her band members who is a great young guy, sober, happy, living in London and about to go on tour with Courtney this summer. His leg up was fueled by her belief in him and her willingness to help. If ever there were a recovery value operationalized into action, it's helping a young person on their feet and giving them support and with it, a chance. As a board member of the first recovery program in a NYC public school, I have asked her for help and her response has always been "whatever I can do."

On May 4, HBO will premiere Montage of Heck, a documentary about Kurt Cobain. Most of what is written about Kurt doesn't treat Courtney kindly. The allegations have ranged from "enabler" to "murderer." The Courtney I know would have done the best she could with what she had at the time. What I love about my drug/recovery buddy is her willingness to let people see her imperfect life and her imperfect recovery, reflective of the vast majority of us. We all love that triumphant narrative where the addict slays the beast of addiction, never to use again, and goes on to tell cautionary tales in church basements while sipping lousy coffee. Who among us can make the claim of perfection? What kind of infantile fantasy are we living with our expectations of people in recovery? If I have learned anything about addiction, it's that recovery is successful to the degree that we can be honest about it. My buddy brings honesty, and with it, discomfort, but maybe that is what we need.

Joe Schrank is a writer and social worker in NYC. He was one of the founders of The Fix and is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Gawker, Salon, and Fox News. Intoxicant-free for 18 years, Joe remains a depressed disgruntled alcoholic.

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Joe Schrank is a writer and social worker in NYC. He was one of the founders of TheFix and is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Gawker, Salon, and Fox News. Intoxicant-free for 18 years, Joe remains a depressed disgruntled alcoholic. You can find Joe on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.