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About Matthew Perry and addiction

Photo credit: Thomas Atilla Lewis

Last week I did something I rarely do anymore—I bought a People Magazine.

I used to buy one faithfully, every week, pouring over it to see what was going on with the rich and beautiful who seemed to have much more interesting lives than the one I was living at the time. Even today, whenever I travel, I always allow myself to buy a People Magazine and devour it from top to bottom. Along with luscious dark chocolate, this is one of my guilty little pleasures that I don’t indulge in very often anymore.

But last week Matthew Perry was on the cover, and the story was about his recovery from drug addiction. As an Addictions Therapist and a recovering addict with almost 26 years of sobriety, how could I resist?

I’ve always enjoyed Matthew Perry as an actor—he was my favorite Friend and I loved him on the West Wing as well. Like the rest of the world, I became aware of his powerful addiction years ago when he ran his car into someone’s house, and because I understand addiction first-hand I felt a lot of compassion for him. How humbling it would be to do such a thing with so much public scrutiny! So when I saw that he was finally ready to talk about his experience, I was definitely ready to listen.

Unfortunately, when I read the article I came away somewhat disappointed. I’m always happy to hear about people turning their lives around, and I think what Matthew has done in opening a Sober Living house is wonderful; it looks like a beautiful place. And his mission to work with drug courts to help non-violent addicts receive treatment instead of jail time is outstanding. Way to go, Matthew!

But what he doesn’t talk about in this People article is what his choice point was for his recovery—what actually happened that finally got him to that place where he was ready to make the decision to truly stop his addiction?

Now, I understand that Matthew doesn’t owe it to us to go into details about this. Just because he is a public figure doesn’t mean we have the right to demand private details of his life. But as that public figure, as a role model to countless others who struggle with addiction, I think that it might have been helpful and perhaps inspiring information to share with us.

I don’t believe that anyone signs up to become an addict. None of us say to ourselves “Gee, I think I’ll go out and become addicted, that will be a fun way to live my life!” In fact, most of us think that will never happen to us, that we can handle indulging in a progressive manner without ever developing a problem. We don’t take brain science into account, nor do we decide to learn from the negative experiences of others. Such is the strong denial that accompanies addiction.

But even though we are not responsible for becoming addicted in the first place, I do believe that all addicts—regardless of the substances or behaviors they choose—know somewhere within themselves that by continuing their addictive behaviors they are hurting themselves as well as those who love them. I know that I was aware of that, even when I was in my buzzy active addiction—I just chose not to pay heed to that awareness so that I could continue using to my heart’s content—until I was done.

Some people consider addiction to be a brain disease. Some also feel strongly that there may be a genetic predisposition for mind-altering substances. Many of us have learned, in our families of origin, to use a variety of addictive behaviors in times of stress. Whatever the case is for each of us, what I believe to be most important is what we choose to do about the fact that we have, indeed, become addicted. For every addict who is in active recovery, they asked themselves this question at some point – will I continue engaging in my self-sabotaging ways or will I stop? And when the addict asked that question and chose to stop, true recovery was then possible.

Although it may seem that I’m simplifying this, the truth remains that it is simple. It’s just not easy, at least not for most addicts who are ready to stop.

Every single one of us who is now in recovery from addiction came to that choice-point. I would be curious to know what happened that brought Matthew Perry to his. Maybe someday he’ll choose to tell us.

For now, I’m glad he’s clean and sober—and I hope he continues doing the vitally important inner work that allows all of us to stay that way, one day at a time.


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