Lena Dunham Talks About Shame After Rehab

By Kelly Burch 11/01/19

“When I was dropped at rehab, I thought it was the end of my life,” Dunham said.

Lena Dunham
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Actress Lena Dunham, who celebrated one year of sobriety in April, spoke candidly this week about her time in treatment and how she experienced shame even after she got sober. 

I Thought It Was The End Of My Life

Dunham was speaking at a fundraiser for Friendly House, which provides treatment to women. 

“I’m here because getting sober changed my life and I’m really, really passionate about recovery and sober living being available for everyone no matter their income bracket, especially for women who are so often put in danger when they are new to sobriety,” Dunham said, according to People

At the event, Dunham gave a speech about her recovery experiences.

“When I was dropped at rehab, I thought it was the end of my life,” Dunham said. “Seemingly overnight I had lost almost all of what I held dear. My relationships, my body and my career were in relative shambles from decisions I had made and things that had happened. Well, I was under the influence of pills that I thought dulled my pain, but actually created it. I kept repeating the phrase, 'I just don’t see a place for myself in the world anymore.' And that wasn’t suicidal ideation. Exactly. I had simply edged myself out of the picture. Like I was a Polaroid that wouldn’t develop.”

She said that she could feel the pain from all the other patients, and that made her willing to open up about her own suffering.  

“I was such an open nerve that on my first day of group therapy when I was asked to share a little bit about why I was there, I told my seemingly endless tale of woe,” she said. “You know, the one, just the one that justified and necessitated being numbed by medication. The patients and the therapist simply looked at me and said, ‘shit.’”

Her connections with that group eventually helped her get and stay sober. 

“I allowed myself to be loved by a group of people in recovery who showed me that I was worth saving and worth loving no matter what metaphorical and, like, sometimes literal alleys I had wandered down,” she said. 

Facing Addiction Stigma

Still, Dunham said that she worried about being labeled after rehab, and dealt with a lot of shame. 

“...not just the shame of facing decisions I didn’t like in my recent past, but the shame of this new title drug addict, couldn’t you call me something cooler? Like, like I dunno like Oxycontin expert? That’s close to being a doctor. But even as a chronic oversharer I lived in fear of anyone finding out this fact of my life. I went everywhere under a false name. I registered everywhere, not as myself. Were people still going to work with me, kiss me, hang out with me after midnight just shooting the shit and sometimes smoking a cigarette? Would everything I’ve ever done you’ve viewed through the lens of addiction?”

Now, she says, she has learned to be herself in a happier and healthier way.  

“I realized being me has hurt and sometimes it’s hurt so much that I couldn’t bear it. But being me is also a super power.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.