One of the hallmarks of addiction is a persistent denial about one’s own condition. Many of us rationalized our behavior in order to feel better about how much we were drinking or using. “It’s only until I’m through this rough patch,” we might say. Or, “Everyone drinks/uses like this during the holidays.” If we’re lucky, this denial doesn’t last forever. Sometimes an incident that seems like it will ruin our life is actually what saves it. Other times, we just wake up and realize that we can’t continue to live the way that we’ve been living. However it happens, these turning points can lead to incredible transformations. Here are four celebrities who took different paths to recovery but managed to get there all the same.
In her new memoir, Forward, soccer star Abby Wambach talks about the night that changed her life. On April 2, 2016, the two-time Olympic gold medalist was arrested by Portland police for driving under the influence. She later admitted that she had been abusing alcohol and prescription drugs for years. Wambach now looks on that night in Portland as one of the best things that’s ever happened to her. In an interview with the Associated Press, Wambach said, “If I don’t get so publicly shamed and publicly humiliated, I don’t think I wake up,” she told the AP. “I think I was asleep for a lot of years. Asleep to the pleas from my family and friends, and even myself, to get help. So that night I was humiliated enough to wake up.” Wambach has been sober since that night in April and agreed to enter a program for first-time offenders.
The star of blockbusters like “American Sniper” and “Silver Linings Playbook” has been sober since he was 29. The Golden Globe award-winning actor used to have a problem with alcohol and drugs and one night purposely bashed his head on concrete. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bradley Cooper explained that he harmed himself by trying to prove that he was “tough.” He told The Reporter, “I was at a party, and deliberately bashed my head on the concrete floor. Like, ‘Hey, look how tough I am!’ I did it again. And I spent the night at St. Vincent’s Hospital with a sock of ice, waiting for them to stitch me up.” That’s when Cooper realized how destructive his hard-partying ways had become and decided to clean up his act.
Some people have a number of frightening incidents before they are able to get sober. One of the most frightening for journalist Elizabeth Vargas wasn’t the one that launched her into long-term sobriety. In 2012, Vargas woke up in a hospital, after having wrapped a shoot for 20/20 roughly 13 hours earlier. What happened over the course of those 13 hours? Vargas isn’t sure. She now knows that at some point she was walking in Riverside Park in New York City when a woman spotted her and became concerned for the journalist’s safety. “I was able to tell her my address,” Vargas told ABC News. “She said she saw some men nearby that she didn’t like the look of who might have been, at that point, probably seeing me as a vulnerable person and she brought me back here [home]. And at that point I was apparently unconscious.” After the good Samaritan got Vargas back to her apartment building, Vargas’s husband took her to the hospital. That scare gave Vargas the courage to tell her boss that she needed to go to rehab for addiction. Like many people struggling with addiction, Vargas wasn’t able to make sobriety stick the first time around. In 2014, after a few more stints in and out of rehab, news of her alcoholism was leaked to the press. She was put on notice by NBC and went on vacation with her kids. When a crew from NBC arrived at the beach house where Vargas was staying with her kids to reshoot some footage, Vargas was drunk. It was 8 a.m. “I remember that day, sitting there, and I could read the words and I couldn’t make my mouth work to say the words,” she told ABC. The incident alerted the NBC executives that Vargas was drinking again. Vargas called her sister and said that she knew she needed help. From there, Vargas began working with a counselor and went into a sober living facility where her blood-alcohol level was regularly tested. She’s now open about her sobriety and talks about it in her memoir, Between Breaths.
Jamie Lee Curtis
The path to recovery isn’t always lined with rock bottoms. Jamie Lee Curtis found her turning point when she was writing a letter to her sister. After taking painkillers following a surgery, Curtis developed an addiction to them. Her painkiller habit was compounded by alcoholism. Curtis realized she had a problem when she was writing a letter to her sister, Kelly. In the letter, Curtis made a confession, “I’ve been harboring a bad secret,” she wrote. “I have found and taken many of your painkillers. I’ve betrayed you, and I know that you’re angry, and you have every right to be.” Although Curtis never sent the letter to her sister, the process of writing it was crucial to understanding that she had a problem. Now, Curtis is an advocate in the recovery community and considers sobriety among her greatest accomplishments. She attributes her recovery to “being courageous enough to acknowledge it [addiction] privately with my family and friends. Working really hard at solidifying it, getting support around it and being healthy. And then talking about it publicly.”
It’s Different for Everyone
While a significant turning point or “rock bottom” can play a role in helping an addict realize the truth of his or her addiction, the real rock bottom is the desperation of addiction. As NBA star Chris Herren said in an interview, “Addiction is rock bottom.” What matters is that those who are struggling find the courage, as Vargas did, to make as many attempts at recovery as it takes. The realization that one needs help, no matter how that realization arises, is the most important first step toward a life in recovery.