An Interview with Christopher Kennedy Lawford on Treatment, Care and Recovery

Christopher Kennedy Lawford spent 20 years in the film and television industries as an actor, lawyer, executive, and producer.  He was the author of three New York Times best-selling books, Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption (2005), Moments of Clarity (2009) and Recover to Live (2013).  He also published Healing Hepatitis C (2009) and What Addicts Know (2014). In October 2016 Mr. Lawford released his latest book When Your Partner has an Addiction.

In recovery for more than 30 years, Mr. Lawford campaigned tirelessly on behalf of the recovery community in both the public and private sectors.  In 2009, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Mr. Lawford to the California Public Health Advisory Committee.  In 2011, Mr. Lawford was named Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime to promote activities supporting drug treatment, care, and recovery.

In September 2016, Christopher was the keynote speaker at South Pacific Private’s celebration event marking the completion of our expansion project. South Pacific Private interviewed Christopher and invited him to share some of his insights and lessons learned around treatment, care, recovery and relationships.

Your published books have taken us on a journey from your ‘moment of clarity’ and that moment when you realised profound change was possible, through to your life-affirming messages in your book, ‘Recover to Live.’  As you have moved along the path of your personal journey from addiction to recovery and the beyond as an advocate and author. is there a message that you’d like to share universally about addiction?

Addiction isn’t a death sentence. It’s a treatable opportunity…a gateway into a way of living that can change the world around you and deliver more fun that you ever had high or if you were normal.

Your next book, released later this year, shares insights on ‘How to Love and Addict’. Are you able to share with us any pre-publication tips or guidance in this regard?

The conventional wisdom has been that you can’t be in a relationship with someone who is active. My new book says that not only can u be but that through compassionate partnering you can increase the chances of your loved one getting well exponentially.

I believe that it is possible to compassionately partner someone into recovery and that that should be the goal. When people do this kind of work together recovery happens quicker. If there is a workable partnership (where there is no harm or threat of violence present) then it’s absolutely possible for two people to maintain a healthy relationship. The key is that honesty and awareness are imperative.

What was your motivation and mission behind this latest book? To bring co-dependency back into the conversation for those who suffer with co-dependency as well as most addicts who also have it but rarely treat it. It is my belief that the root cause of addiction is our defective relations with our fellows and co-dependency unexamined is the primary relational defect for most of us.

How do you maintain a healthy relationship with an addict?

Knowing about the disease of addiction is first and foremost the most important thing. Get educated and get informed. If one of you is an addict then it’s almost certain you are enabling the addiction without even realising it.

Everyone benefits from education in this scenario. That’s why South Pacific Private’s family education and support group, family program and of course inpatient program are so valuable. Information can change your life.

The second people start to tell the truth to themselves and to others and call the addiction or the mental health concern for what it is – amazing things start to happen. Denial has to be smashed.

Another critical piece of this puzzle is boundary setting; another core component of South Pacific Private’s program. Whether you are the addict or the partner, the setting of boundaries and the practice of holding boundaries is really important. Setting them and acknowledging them helps to create space for people to breathe in their relationship. It creates honesty, space and allows people to hear each other (sometimes for the first time).

How can we anchor recovery in the real world?

By demonstrating scientific outcome studies that demonstrate that treatment works. By showing the amazing productive lives of folks living in long term recovery. By building a public, attractive, economically sustainable, sexy world of recovery that is available to anyone who wants it.

Is Australia’s problem with alcohol and illicit drug abuse worse than other countries you’ve experienced?

In Australia there is a significant alcohol issue. It’s really acceptable to binge drink socially and culturally. The availability combined with the social acceptance means it’s easy for people’s alcoholism to remain hidden and actually to seem like its ‘normal’ and ok. It’s ok to drink in an alcoholic way.

Combined with this, we know that the more prevalent and available substances are – the more we have problematic use of them. This of course has its caveats but I really believe that the simple fact of easy accessibility creates its own problem.

This is an issue we all face. We have to think about what we can do about it. The more we know and the more we confront it the better the outcomes for all.

Does Seeking Treatment Earlier Lead to Better Outcomes?

There is no question about it. Yes.

The key is that people need to understand their genealogy and their genetic legacy. If cancer runs in your family, you know about it and are likely to be proactive about getting check-ups but also avoiding lifestyle choices that could enhance your chance of getting it. Why isn’t the same thing true of addiction and mental health concerns? Why not have the same kind of alert system for addicts or mental health?

If you have a legacy of addiction in your family you need to be aware and alert and realistic. Get treatment earlier if you believe there is a problem and pay attention to what’s happening in your family.

What’s your Approach to Breaking down Stigma around Mental Health?

You just have to keep talking about it and little by little those barriers come down. Keep talking. Keep confronting it. Everyone is touched by it in their lives whether it’s a friend, workmate, family member or partner.

It’s a social problem. It robs society of so much….it robs us of our young people, of our families, of our husbands and our wives. If we think about it in those terms – it becomes easier to de-stigmatise it as it becomes real and easier to engage with and not about the ‘other’ the addict.

People need to be proud to say I am in recovery. I have worth. There is no shame in being in recovery.

You say that relapse prevention is the key to recovery, what do you see happening at South Pacific Private and their adjacent facility ‘Beachwood’ that prevents relapse?

In life, the lives of addicts as well as everyone else, there come windows of opportunity. These ‘windows’ offer an opportunity for profound change. We’ve all had those moments and anyone can look back and reflect on them and the choices you had in those moments. Recovery is a window of opportunity. It’s really hard to get off the wheel of addiction. You can be killing yourself and wanting it so much (Recovery) but still not get off that wheel. And then a moment will present itself to you and we have a fleeting moment in which change becomes possible or a reality. In that moment you can embrace the possibility of recovery and change. That’s what happened to me.

Treatment at South Pacific Private or the opportunity for ongoing recovery at Beachwood are just such windows. They are windows to a better life, to a life with more awareness and acceptance and a life without addiction or mental health concerns.

As a recovering addict, I know that I never want to go back into that world. If I go back into that world how do I know that it won’t be another 20 years before one of those windows opens up to me again? So my point is, do you want to risk that? That’s the best relapse prevention I have ever known. A continuing program of recovery is essential and that’s what Beachwood and South Pacific Private can offer. You have to be diligent in your recovery and you need a continuing program of recovery.