Edwards: Author Christopher Kennedy Lawford visits
Vail CO, Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado ” Actor, author, and activist Christopher Kennedy Lawford remembers Feb. 16, 1986 for what didn’t happen. He didn’t commit suicide, a crime, or inflict further damage upon his drug-addicted self. He stopped using drugs and alcohol for good, and to this day, has been sober for 23 years.
This was his moment of clarity, an inexplicable epiphany most addicts come to when they’re at or approaching rock bottom. Lawford, the son of Rat Pack actor Pater Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, President Kennedy’s sister, chronicles the phenomenon in his collection of essays “Moments of Clarity.” He will sign copies of his book and meet patrons at the debut of The Bookworm’s ‘Live at the Library’ series Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Vail Public Library.
1. Vail Daily: Were people receptive when you approached them to participate and contribute in the book?
Christopher Kennedy Lawford: There was a little reticence. I think 80 percent of the people I approached were a ‘yes.’ But I asked Martin Sheen, who I didn’t know that well. I had met him a few times but he wasn’t really a good friend. I sent him a copy of my first book (“Symptoms of Withdrawal”) and he called me almost right away and said he wanted to talk. He said if I could be that honest, he could be that honest. But in general, everyone wanted to make a difference.
2. VD: You seem to make an effort to show that addiction doesn’t discriminate, is that something people still struggle to understand?
CKL: Absolutely. There are 25 million people who suffer and less than 10 percent get any kind of help. Of that 25 million, they run the gamut from rich and famous to poor and homeless. Addiction is an equal opportunity disease. In the recovery process, the people who have less, have less opportunity to get help. Their circumstances make it harder to deal with issues. But for anybody it can become a cycle of despair.
3. VD: How is research changing the route to recovery?
CKL: There are some amazing things we’re learning and finding in researching addiction. We’re learning how and why the brain operates with people in addiction and discovering what steps we can take to prevent it from acting that way. It’s important to understand that this is a brain disorder. We see addicts as morally inferior and think, well, “why can’t you just stop doing that?” But you can’t go to someone with diabetes and tell them “stop having diabetes.” Nobody understands what an addict goes through until you’ve walked in their shoes and see the horror. What I put myself through I would not wish upon anyone. But that clinical information isn’t being disseminated to the general public and lawmakers to help them understand.
4. VD: I read a book by David Carr called ‘Night of the Gun,’ which is about addiction, and Tom Arnold popped up there and seems to be at the forefront of the recovery movement. What about him, besides being candid and articulate, makes him such a powerful presence?
CKL: I’ve known Tom for a longtime and he’s become a good friend through my cousin Maria [Shriver] and Arnold [Schrawzenegger]. I got to know him even better in recovery. He’s a person who talks the talk and walks the walk. He’s grateful to be sober and he’s constantly aware that he’s been given a second chance. He’s actively in service to help others, which is part of recovery. You try to pass it on. He’s just an honest, funny guy who understands that love and service is what recovery is about.
5. VD: Was it your intent from the beginning to focus on the moment of clarity?
CKL: I actually didn’t want to do a book on recovery but I got thinking what could be useful and positive to explore without being salacious. Publicly we always see and hear about the dark side of addiction and people are always baffled by the disease. I wanted to show that this is a chronic disease while exploring the aspects that can utterly change things over night. Anyone who’s experienced it can’t explain, but you just feel a change and you’re transformed forever.
6. VD: You were recently appointed to the Public Health Advisory Board in California. What are your responsibilities there?
CKL: It’s a great honor to be a part of it, but, honestly, I’m a little intimidated by these people with such extensive backgrounds in public health. My expertise is to the very specific fields of addiction and Hepatitis C. But really it’s about looking at and advocating anything that can benefit California.
7. VD: You grew up on both coasts, so are you a Red Sox or Dodgers fan?
CKL: [Laughs] Oh man, great question. I actually like both and I can say that because the Dodgers are in the National League. My first ever game was seeing Sandy Koufax throw a shutout at Dodger Stadium when I was 6. But, at heart, I’m an American League guy. I spent a lot of time in New York City and Boston, so I’m a big Red Sox fan. When they were in the World Series [in 2004] my son and I couldn’t get tickets but we flew to Boston anyway, stood outside Fenway Park, and put our hands on the Green Monster to say we were there. That was special.
Stephen Bedford works at The Bookworm of Edwards.