I have written about pop culture and entertainment for a while now. A few years ago, before I made my own choice to stop drinking, I stopped writing about Lindsay Lohan. I couldn’t stand the pictures of her that people were laughing at in the news: Lindsay passed out in the passenger seat of a car, literally foaming at the mouth, looking as close to dead as anyone I’ve ever seen in a tabloid. I knew then, as I have paid special attention to articles about celebrities who struggle with addiction, that this was no news fodder I cared to bite. There would be no snarky commentary here.
I watched the premiere of Lindsay on OWN, the Oprah-produced docu-series about Lindsay Lohan’s attempt to recharge her career (and save her life) after a years-long struggle with addiction, with my heart just a tiny bit in my throat.
I’ve been following Lindsay’s struggles for the past few years, and her story hasn’t been pretty overall. Every time she’s appeared to rebound, she’s gotten stuck again, in a spiral of addiction relapse, legal trouble, then another rebound, followed by another reported relapse.
It’s hard to watch. And for each person like me who has the luxury of finding it hard to watch and turning it off or clicking out of the website, there is a person at the center of it — Lindsay Lohan. A girl who’s suffering from addictions to various substances that are so powerful that no successful acting career, no amount of public attention — positive or negative, no stern talking-to from Oprah Winfrey, can beat until she’s ready.
She says she is ready now. Here is a selection of her quotes from the premiere:
“Life can be chaotic but it’s keeping myself calm in the middle of that, which is what I didn’t do before, which is what I’m learning to do.”
“There is nothing left in the feeling of having a drink for me.”
“Being under the microscope and lens of media is difficult but I’m so used to living that way anyway that it doesn’t have that much of an effect on me.”
“It’ll be so nice when that day comes when there’s no more talking, and there’s only positive things being said. That day will come.”
“There’s that thing in my head where it’s ‘good good good’ and then whoops, sabotage.”
No one can understand what this is like better than another person who suffers from the same disease. Just last year — a couple of decades older than Lindsay Lohan and with a career and life less outwardly shiny, lucrative and, well, famous — I had to choose to get sober or lose what I knew would be everything. I chose to get sober, or at least to try, because that’s all a person can do. I live knowing that at any day it could be gone and that it is a straight-up miracle that I got here in the first place. I have to practice constant vigilance, finding better ways to process my emotions and struggles without using a chemical substance to alter my experience. Because I know that if I do that just one time, it’s all she wrote; I have to go back to the drawing board.
And I don’t want to go back there. Still, I see it a lot. It happens all the time — every day, every hour — somewhere on the planet. Sobriety isn’t easy. It’s nothing anyone can understand who hasn’t tried it. If I hadn’t tried it, I wouldn’t have comprehended it at all. And all I can say is that no one plans this when she picks up a drink for the first time. By the time it’s out of control, it just is, and it takes the kind of magic served with a giant helping of desperation that happened for me and I hope, for Lindsay, to make it stop.
That’s why there was no kick in writing about Lindsay for me, just a sick feeling that the young lady who brought a generation happiness in The Parent Trap and Mean Girls was at a very precarious point in her life where she was making headlines for everything but her acting time and time again. I prayed that she would get better. I ignored nasty comments about her. It’s very easy for people to look at someone and think “Not me,” until it is, even on a milder scale. It has nothing to do with being a bad person or a weak person, contrary to the deluge of commentary when Philip Seymour Hoffman died. It has to do with being a person whose brain is wired for addictive behavior. It has to do with a disease.
When Lindsay rebounded again last year, I was excited for her and cautiously hopeful. And when I saw that she was going to appear on Oprah’s network, I was worried again. It’s a tough thing to put a life up to scrutiny, much less in early recovery, although she is in an industry where she is used to that. She is on social media often, Instagram and Twitter, sharing her story, so maybe Oprah’s support would help her, I thought.
I know that a TV show can show only a tiny percentage of another human’s struggle. What I saw on Lindsay was a familiar drive in a flawed human being — because who isn’t — to feel and do better. I saw a struggle to reintegrate into a highly public personal life after treatment and the challenges she’d be facing for participating in an ongoing recovery program in front of millions of people. Would I choose to hang out with her? I doubt it. She’s much younger and into fashion and movie shoots and has a storage warehouse for her stuff larger than my house. I don’t think we’d have a whole lot in common, except for one particular thing that means we would probably understand each other just a little bit, so you really never know.
The most poignant scene in the show, for me, was when she was trapped in her apartment building, unable to go to a recovery meeting because there were “like 40 paparazzi outside” all day, and she didn’t want them to follow her and bombard the meeting space.
“Do you ever feel like you’re a prisoner?” the interviewer asked.
“Yes. All the time.”
Yes, people choose to pursue fame and a career in an industry based on being seen and beloved (until you’re not) by millions of people. That doesn’t mean people go into it knowing what the outcome is going to be like or deserving whatever treatment they get just because. I’ve been happy to see the majority of supportive comments on the #LindsayOnOwn hashtag, from young people who say she was a part of their childhood and they wish her well, to young girls who obviously identify with her on some level, to older people like me who hope so much that she’ll make her better health stick. I even decided to break my own moratorium on writing about Lindsay because I wanted to say without snark or judgment that I wish her well. I wish her the very best.
Image credits: Pacific Coast News; Instagram via Lindsay Lohan