The Sober Life
Christopher Kennedy Lawford brings his story of recovery and redemption to Pasadena
By Carl Kozlowski 01/23/2013
Growing up in a world of showbiz and political privilege as the son of movie star Peter Lawford and the nephew of President John F. Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy Lawford couldn’t have imagined that alcohol and drug addiction would eventually cost him his share of the family fortune and very nearly his life.
But when he bottomed out at age 30 after a decade of wild living, he found the strength to regain his sobriety, maintain it for 26 years and even help countless others around the globe with both his own story and by collecting and sharing the addiction struggles and victories of others.
Lawford has recently released the third in a series of books he has written on the topics of recovery and sobriety, “Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction,” and will be discussing it at 6 p.m. Monday at the Pasadena Recovery Center. With a panel of prominent guests, including Dr. Drew Pinsky, Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich and LA County Sheriff Lee Baca scheduled to attend, the event is just one example of how far Lawford has come — a fact that should inspire anyone involved with such battles.
“This is not an illness that affects a certain segment of the population, because 10 percent of the population has it, and that makes it a disease that crosses all demographics,” says Lawford. “It’s often activated during one’s teenage years because teens experiment, but there’s a genetic predisposition to it, and traumatic events in adolescence set it off.”
Lawford’s own childhood traumas were on an epic scale, as he suffered through the assassinations of his beloved uncles John and Robert Kennedy. But in a recent phone interview, he was remarkably mild-mannered about his storied lineage. He noted that two-thirds of Americans will be touched at one level or another by traumatic events in their lifetimes.
While Lawford achieved sobriety in 1986, he only turned to writing publicly about it with his 2005 New York Times bestselling memoir “Symptoms of Withdrawal.” The book chronicled his descent into near-fatal drug and alcohol addiction and the battle back to sobriety.
“I wasn’t intending on becoming a poster boy for addiction, but Norman Mailer said I was the only one in the family who could write, so I decided to tell my story to establish a writing career,” recalls Lawford. “I tried to write a novel right after my memoir, but because it’s such a prominent disease that no one wants to talk about, there was a lot of pressure on me to continue in this arena, and I really couldn’t turn my back on that.”
Indeed, Lawford next turned to writing the book “Moments of Clarity: Voices from the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery,” which collected 44 personal stories of awakening that illuminated the spiritual epiphanies people reach on the journey from addiction to recovery. Along the way, he shared both his own hard-won wisdom and those of the experts he interviewed in the process of writing.
He notes that the key to understanding addiction is to realize that it is a brain disease, and that it is possible to do something about it. He also believes that “getting honest with yourself is the first thing to do,” as many addicts suffer from denial and don’t believe they have a problem.
“What’s really exciting is that as scientists and doctors realize that addiction is a real brain disease, they’re able to research the problem through neuroscience, which could ultimately cure it,” says Lawford. “Experts believe we’re just beginning to understand the brain, so our optimism is huge.”
Despite his focus on addiction and those who have learned lessons from overcoming it, Lawford says that his new book isn’t only for addicts. In fact, he believes that the best audiences for it are people who are at a stage where they have bad habits but haven’t yet become fully hooked on a destructive behavior.
“This book should guide people in how to deal with their problems in a non-expensive and practical way,” says Lawford. “Just find a community of people that supports you. It helps to have expanded consciousness, whether it’s spiritual or anything else that elevates your attitude and mind. Take one day at a time, all the classic ideas are classic because they’re true.
“Most people think giving up an addiction or bad habit is also the end of their life and having fun with it, but they’re not seeing how good life can really be,” he concludes. “So if it’s not working for you, this book can change your life.”
Christopher Lawford will discuss his life and book “Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction” at 6 p.m. Monday at the Pasadena Recovery Center, 1811 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Admission is free. Call (626) 345-9992 or visit pasadenarecoverycenter.com.