Why Recovery Rocks with Kristen Johnston

Recovery Rocks is thrilled to welcome two-time Emmy award winner Kristen Johnston.

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

In the 90′s Kristen starred as Sally Solomon in the hit show ’3rd Rock from the Sun.’ But despite a long and acclaimed career as an actress on stage and screen, Kristen was battling a life threatening addiction to pain pills and alcohol. Now six and a half years sober, she recently wrote a book called ‘Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny triumphs of a Giant Disaster’ chronicling her illness, rock bottom and journey into sobriety.


Despite what some people tried to tell her, Kristen’s career has flourished since she got clean and sober. She is currently starring in the hit TV show ‘The Exes’ on TVLand. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can catch up by watching free episodes on TVLand before the season finale this Wednesday. It will get you in the groove for Season 3 which starts in December.

Since getting sober Kristen has founded and is the Executive Director of SLAM (Sobriety, Learning And Motivation). 
SLAM’s goal is to see that NYC build’s it’s first, and desperately needed, sober high school. There are over 25 such schools flourishing across the US—FOUR in the Boston area ALONE.
Kristen is determined to start a school in New York, If you want to learn more about SLAM, you can do so here. More importantly if you want to support SLAM, click here.
I will be writing more about SLAM in a later post, sign up for notifications if you want to learn more about sober high schools..

Sobriety is Kristen’s passion, sick of the shame and secrecy that surrounds addiction and alcoholism, she has consiously decided to speak out about her experiences in order to help others do the same.
Which is also why she took part ‘The Anonymous People’ Greg Williams stunning documentary about addiction.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
Hmmm…well, since my entire book ‘Guts’ is about that, I won’t go into too much detail. Let’s just say that due to a prolonged love affair with Vicodin & red wine, unbeknownst to me I had developed a gastric ulcer. I was doing ‘Love Song’ with Cillian Murphy on the West End in London and all through rehearsals I felt (and looked) just awful. Puffy and miserable with a vicious case of heartburn.

After opening night, my guts ripped open & I became septic. Meaning my guts were leaking stuff out into my body. It sucked, badly. I was in the hospital (or as you Brits like to say “in ‘ospital”) for two months. Chelsea Westminster, for those who care.

Why don’t I just let GUTS explain it to you: 
(This is after a night of absolute horror and indescribable agony in my Flat near Kings’ Road. I finally got to ‘ospital and after about thirty or forty shots of morphine, I finally felt some relief. )

“I don’t know how long I snuggled into my downey-soft morphine duvet, but suddenly the mood in the ward shifted. “Something’s happening” I thought to myself just as a team of about 10 impossibly serious looking people rounded the corner. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that they were coming towards me. Which was baffling, until I realized that the hospital must have finally realized that ‘Ivana Humpalot’ was in their very hospital, and that they had quickly assembled an impressive-looking welcoming committee to apologize for their previous unpleasantness. I smiled forgivingly.

The group took formation around my bed, a well-practiced ballet designed to impress. A few of them looked like they had just started grade school. Not one of them looked older than 23. That is, with the very notable exception of their leader. As he walked towards me, I have this fuzzy and hopefully untrue memory of my jaw dropping open. (Oh dear God, please tell me I shut it at some point.) He reach out his gorgeous hand to shake my and introduced himself. This man was so elegant, darkly stunning, and breathtakingly handsome, I instantly thought of one of those impossibly perfect heroes found only in one of those Danielle Steele novels my sister used to beg me to read aloud. “His icy eyes focused on her pillowy lips and suddenly she knew she was his, forever….” We could easily spend an entire Saturday afternoon doing this, laughing until our faces hurt.

Not sure how long I was lost in this memory, but I slowly realized his pillowy lips were moving. Whoopsies, he’s talking and seeing as I was committed to making our relationship work, I decided to listen to his soft yet commanding voice. I missed the beginning, and most of it was medical lingo that flew over my addled mind, but I’ll give you the gist….
“…….ulcer for quite a long time. I’m surprised you haven’t experienced more discomfort before this. Regardless, this has caused an erosion of the gastrointestinal wall, which has led to your intestinal content spilling into your abdominal cavity. We call this ACUTE PERITONITIS, which is the reason for the sudden onset of your intense abdominal pain. To be blunt, Ms. Johnston, you could die at any moment.”
My smile faltered. This wasn’t at all what I expected. And where’s the cheese plate?

“We must perform a very risky surgery, called a GASTRECTOMY, to fix this. We are rushing you ahead of
all other patients. We will try to fix this problem with ARTHROSCOPIC SURGERY, meaning, through 5 incisions around your stomach. However, there is a very good chance this won’t work and then we’ll have to cut you open with a rather large incision across your stomach. Clearly, we’d like to avoid that if we can, for obvious reasons.”

Obviously. I nodded in total agreement. He then looked around at his minions who immediately murmured words of agreement.

“Ms. Johnston, I suggest you let your loved ones know.” 
I smiled dreamily at him.
He leaned forward and looked at me seriously. “Do you have any questions?” “Ummmm…Yep, no, I’m good”
This seemed to disappoint him. He held forward something to sign and I eagerly scribbled the signature of a drunken toddler. His face remained blank.
“Yes. Well, Ms. Johnston. See you very soon.”
“Ok, Bye Bye.” I’m pretty sure I waved. I hope to God I didn’t wink. And with a whoosh, they were gone.
I sighed, in love. I wondered If I looked hot. I’m pretty sure not, because when I coyly reached up to fluff my hair, I found it to be rock-hard with the remnants of last evening’s detritus.
Aww, puke-mousse. Bummer. “
And you thought the name of my book referred to what a badass I am.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
I spent them in a rehab, and I walked in a terrified, angry, lying, self-despising mess and I left a terrified, open, hopeful, weepy human being. It was, without question, the best decision I ever made. I really do consider it my birth–I was a 38 year-old baby. 
Now, what few people tell you is that staying sober in rehab is easy.

It’s staying sober in the world that is so, so difficult. 
People read GUTS and write me all the time, hundreds of thousands of people, hoping I can give them that one trick, one idea, one way of staying sober. And I can’t. There is no one way. For some, meetings save their lives. For others, yoga. Or therapy. Or service. Or religion. Or on & on.

I can say, the road is not easy. 
But I love myself now, which is a pretty profound thing for any addict in recovery to say. Early in my recovery, someone once said to me “In a few months, you’ll be able to say that your worst day sober is better than your best day using.”
I wanted to punch her. What a fucking dumb thing to say. 
But you know what? She was right.
 So who’s the dummy now?

4) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/ sober?
I’ve been in recovery for 6 1/2 years, and shallowly, I look much better. Plus I have a hit TV
show over here called ‘The Exes,’ which is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life.
I wrote a book. By myself, with no help.
I’ve become an advocate for addiction reform. (If you told me I’d be an advocate for ANYTHING 6 years ago I would’ve laughed in your face).

I created and am executive director of a foundation, SLAM (Sobriety, Learning And Motivation),www.slamnyc.org. Our sole purpose is to see that NYC finally creates it’s first and desperately needed sober high school.

(There are over 25 such schools throughout the US. The Boston area alone has 4. Teens are being decimated by addiction, the CDC recently said 1 in 5 US teens meets the medical criteria to be an addict. If they’re lucky enough to go to rehab & then are sent to any school, the relapse rate is 90%. If a teen goes to a sober high school, 70% graduate drug & alcohol free.)
Last, and most importantly…I have my self-esteem back.

Kristen Johnston - SLAM NYC

Kristen Johnston – SLAM NYC

5) If you could go back in time to you when you were dinking/using what would you tell yourself?
That’s a very tricky question, because while I certainly regret things that I did as an addict, It’s taken me years to let go of the terrible shame. 
I wouldn’t change a thing, because it brought me here today–and without all that pain, would I be the same person?
However, I speak to many addicts all the time, and what I probably tell them most often is:


It’s not your fault. I know it feels like your fault. I know everyone else tells you it’s your fault. I know everyone’s hurt & angry with you. I know you’ve done bad things. But the only thing within your control is seeking help to stop.

6) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I’m much stronger than I pretended to be. 
That to live an honest life is possible. Difficult, but possible. All those years I thought I
excelled at bullshit? They can’t compare to how good I am at telling the truth.

I’m deeply flawed, and make so many mistakes. But I’m able to admit them and try to grow from them.
I love people. For the first time in 20 years, I like talking & interacting with people.

I still like toxic people, and I’m working so hard on this. 
I can write. 
I’m a good person

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
I hate all Recovery slogans. Ugh. I find them all so cliché. 
I feel like slogans can detract from the actual idea behind the slogan…many of which are true. So I make up my own version, just for me.
 Like I say in GUTS:
“Now, if you’re in a play and all you care about is where you’re getting loaded afterwards, that’s slightly worrisome. But if you can’t fucking wait for the fucking audience get over it and stop giving you a standing ovation already, because you’re dying to get to the bar? Well, then – that’s just a whole other kettle o’ crazy.
But it was all I knew, really. Plays were simply a conduit, an appetizer to the most important event of the entire day: getting hammered.
Nowadays when I’m in a play, the very first thing I do when we move into the theater is to grab a dark red lipstick (frosty pink just doesn’t have the same panache), and scrawl in my dressing room mirror my new mantra:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Shakespeare, ‘tis not. But that’s not the point. You see, it means something to me.
Besides, “One Day At A Time”, while an excellent motto, doesn’t really work for me. You’re more than welcome to borrow my mantra, but to be fair I must warn you about a very scary potential mind fuck – which really only applies if you’re a gay male and over forty.

Whatever you do, please try not to think of the poster for the film ‘The Main Event,‘ which showcases an tightly permed Barbra Streisand in one of the most nauseating costumes in all of celluloid history: boxing shorts over thick nude pantyhose.
Or, if you are a gay man over 40, perhaps that would help? Wait. Hold up. Am I a Gay man over 40?
Regardless, I make sure to write “THIS IS THE MAIN EVENT” as big as I can, so that as I get ready to go onstage, I will never again forget how lucky I am to be alive and able to do something I love with all my heart.”

Kristen Johnston

Kristen Johnston

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Well, since you already know of my aversion to slogans, I will say that I deeply respect your point: Life doesn’t end when you get sober.
In fact, it’s just the beginning. 
How much more time do you want to waste worried about how to get a refill, or what you said to your boss on the phone last night, or why your life is so miserable?


Here’s a clue: It ain’t where you live, what you do, who you hang out with, your mate or your family. IT’S YOUR ADDICTION. 
And the solution is as both easy and difficult as this: get help.