Patrick Kennedy 'Breaks The Silence' On Family’s History Of Addiction

By May Wilkerson 10/06/15

The youngest child of Ted Kennedy revealed his family's secrets while out promoting his new memoir.

Patrick Kennedy
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Patrick Kennedy has broken the Kennedy family’s long “code of silence” by speaking out about his recovery from alcoholism and his family’s history of addiction and mental illness.

"I am an addict. I'll always be an addict," said the former congressman during his appearance on CBS’s 60 Minutes this week. "But I'm an addict in recovery. I count my days. It's one day at a time."

Patrick, 48, tackles these subjects in his new memoir, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction, released this week. The book, he said, is part of his mission to fight the stigma and secrecy that surround mental illness and addiction. He wants to show that mental illness is not a moral issue and keeping addiction a secret can be as harmful as the addiction itself.

In the book, Patrick traces his family’s history of addiction to the assassinations of his uncles, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy and former Senator Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, which were devastating to his father.

"My father went on in silent desperation for much of his life, self-medicating and unwittingly passing his unprocessed trauma onto my sister, brother and me," Kennedy wrote in his memoir. "My dad never got to grieve. He had to be there for the country. He had to be there for my family."

In the early ‘90s, Ted Kennedy’s alcohol abuse got so severe that his family staged an intervention, Patrick told 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl.

Patrick says he turned to alcohol at the age of 13, and later struggled with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. This “unprocessed trauma” continued to plague him as he began his political career after being elected to Congress in 1994.

"I put vodka in Poland Spring water bottles and I put Oxycontin in Bayer aspirin bottles," he told Stahl.

The congressman says breaking the silence about the Kennedys’ mental health issues hasn’t been easy, since the family has long adhered to a strict “family code” of secrecy.

"I am now outside the family line," he told Stahl. "I was hostage to the family code that no, don't say anything about it. Anything you say, it's disloyal. It's against the family code."

His older brother, Ted Kennedy Jr., reportedly criticized the memoir, calling it an "inaccurate and unfair portrayal of our family," according to The Boston Globe. But Patrick responded that he was "writing very truthfully."

After his father’s death in 2009, Patrick retired from Congress, got married and began his own journey to recovery. To stay sober, he now takes medication for his bipolar disorder, swims every day, and attends 12-step meetings. He plans to celebrate five years of sobriety on February 22, his father’s birthday.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.