Notes from the Green Couch

Kennedy addiction

Christopher Kennedy Lawford visits the Writers House for a lunchtime conversation and talks about his memoir about privilege, addiction and survival.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Lunch at the Writers House is usually light: make-your-own deli sandwiches, some veggies and snacks, and drinks. But when Christopher Lawford sat to discuss his memoir Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of

Notes from the Green Couch

Snapshots and Redemption, discussion was anything but light.

You are born into wealth and privilege. You are born in the national spotlight. You are born into Hollywood and American democracy. You are born into a close-knit, loving family. You are the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of "Rat Pack" actor Peter Lawford. You live in a bubble of bliss.

And then that bubble is popped by a flurry of bullets. One of your uncles is shot in the fall of 1963, then another in the spring of 1968. The nation weeps once and again, and comforts your family with kindness and gifts. But that is ultimately unfulfilling. You need your family to hold each other, to talk and cry - together. As a budding teenager, without them, you are stranded without the tools to mourn.

Traveling down the Green River on his family's annual summer excursion, just months after the assassination of Uncle Bobby, Christopher Lawford Kennedy was left to fend for himself. And while he was not thrown into the river by the "not fucking around" grownups when the children tried to instigate a water fight, he was knocked into a chasm between the two generations that had not existed previously.

For the first time all lunch, Lawford gets choked up while reading this excerpt from his story. He had sought comfort and reassurance but found only an emotional void caused by utter devastation. Incapable of healing alone, young Lawford "ate it up" and tried to be a "good little Kennedy...[the] stoic race that everyone seemed to admire so much." Lost and angry, he escaped into his own generation - a destructive generation that led to serious alcohol and drug addictions.

Now fully recovered, Lawford asserts that writing this book was as important a moment in his life as his sobriety, his recovery, and his children's births. He is composed and candid when he conveys his story and outlook on the world sure in his words. Without hearing the recording, a skeptic of addicts may say his ability to articulate with such conviction may stem from Lawford's acting career. But to even entertain that notion is not just unrealistic, but unfair.

This is no gimmick to earn national sympathy. Symptoms of Withdrawal is not another book about the Kennedy family to fascinate the nation. It is a story of a recovering addict, intended to raise awareness about the disease that nearly destroyed Lawford to a point of no return, and help illuminate a path of recovery for those in need. Lawford emphasizes that putting his story on paper for the world to read was "enormously difficult" as the exposure of the Kennedy's private life would be seen as treason by the family. Plagued by this fear, it took years for Lawford to realize the importance of his story.

Lawford is fascinated with the idea of "moments of clarity." He remembers the exact day of his own spiritual epiphany, February 17, 1986, the moment that allowed a shift in consciousness to change his entire life - "as simple as just as surrender." He emphasizes the idea of spirituality, making certain to distinguish it from 'religion.' "Everybody gets to have their own God," says the recovered addict - everyone has a separate path they must take. Lawford holds this notion as an unquestionable truth. Perhaps the most enlightening moment during the whole luncheon was when he discussed this idea in reference to his own children.

Having discovered drugs and alcohol on both his children, Lawford says to his audience that if that is the road his kids need to take in life, he is in no place to say otherwise. He took the opportunity in each situation to educate his children about his own past and the severity of addiction. Yet, when he acknowledges he has no idea what is best for his children, it is not a begrudging concession it is simply what he has come to terms with.

Google the word "addiction" and a blue box appears before any links - the same blue box that appears when you Google any disease. Lawford has only one message to impress upon his audiences: addiction is a disease, and a serious one at that. Fortunately for the world, Lawford has overcome his anxiety of being ignored and has no intentions of retreating back into silence. He is currently working on a book about recovery and hopes to write a children's book at some point. After all, he knows better than anyone the next generation cannot be forgotten when dealing with a serious issue.