“I’ve been harbouring a bad secret. 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. I am lonely. I take them at night to ease the pain. I was so afraid to tell you.” - Jamie Lee Curtis, in a public letter to her sister
Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Hollywood legends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, admitted in an open letter that she once used to steal pain pills out of her sister’s purse. The actress’s struggles with substance abuse do not follow the typical route that many stories of addicts do, but it just goes to show that addiction does not discriminate based on race, age, gender, or family.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/alan-light/211191614 photo by Alan Light
“I too, waited anxiously for a prescription to be filled for the opiate I was secretly addicted to. I too, took too many at once. I too, sought to kill emotional and physical pain with pain killers. Kill it. Make it stop.”
Jamie Lee says her problems began on set when a cameraman told her that she was developing bags under her eyes. The actress had turned heads for years as a young starlet, but at the age of 35 it was becoming difficult to keep up with Hollywood’s high pressure culture of eternal youth. She began her first bout of plastic surgery and was prescribed pills to deal with the post-surgery pain.
“I attempted various types of plastic surgery, minutely but enough to stave off this encroaching middle-aged body. And every time I did, something went wrong. I felt misshapen, just not natural any more. I think it was a big stimulator of my drug abuse. I’d anaesthetise myself on a daily basis.”
According to Curtis, this was the start of her addiction to painkillers. She describes feelings of anxiety about her attractiveness to both fans and her husband and claims that she was self-medicating on a daily basis. Ironically enough, around this time, Curtis would land a role that demonstrated she was still capable of dropping jaws, performing an iconic strip tease for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1994 blockbuster True Lies.
Her battle with addiction would continue for more than 4 years afterward, until things gradually became too strained between herself and her daughter Anne. She credits an article in Esquire magazine entitled “Vicodin, My Vicodin”, with finally opening her eyes to the reality of her addiction. Curtis recalls reading the article and empathizing with the author about knowing the exact location of all the pain pills in her home and the shame of having to steal painkillers from a family member. Her moment of clarity didn’t require hitting rock bottom or losing a relationship, but it was still a painful and eye-opening experience that would help her turn her life around.
Credit: Gage Skidmore https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/29279088903
“It was the first time I understood that someone else was enmeshed in painkillers as I was, and he gave me the confidence to tell the truth on myself.”
Curtis would not enroll in a rehab program, but at the suggestion of friends she began attending recovery meetings, which she credits with helping her to stay sober. She also states that her brother’s death of a heroin overdose at the age of 21 also inspired her to take her sobriety seriously and work to help others overcome their own addictions.
“I lost a brother at 21 to a heroin overdose, and both of my parents struggled with alcoholism and addiction their whole lives. I take sobriety very seriously. I talk to a lot of people who share addiction.”
In an interview with More, a leading U.S. women’s magazine, Curtis says that part of her recovery has been about welcoming older age with enthusiasm instead of dread. Today, she has been sober for more than 18 years and works as a volunteer counselor on anti-drug campaigns. She also works with the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University to teach students about drug and alcohol abuse.
When famous musician Prince died from an opioid overdose in 2016, Curtis published an article on Huffington Post about the tragedy of drug addiction and her affinity for the late, great artist. The two did not know each other, but Curtis could empathize with the drug-seeking behavior and pressures of celebrity that pushed Prince and others such as Michael Jackson and Carrie Fisher to rely on self-medicating.
"I remember the feeling of wanting that prescription. I was an opioid addict, hidden, only got more famous and more attention during it. And it was one of the most humiliating, shameful secrets, and you know, I’ve had a couple. It was horrible, and I’m very lucky. I’ve been in recovery for a long time, I work with a lot of people.”
For Jamie, the process of recovery should begin with love and compassion, not scorn or judgement. Family members need to recognize the intense shame and pain that addicts undergo. In interviews with reporters, Curtis acknowledges that she has had a privileged position when it comes to dealing with addiction, but that she does her best to use her platform as a means to increase visibility and encourage others to seek support for addiction recovery. .
"If you had to pinpoint one thing that will be important at the end of my life, it would be my sobriety.”
Jamie’s story is different from most addicts, but then, no single addiction is ever exactly the same. Although she had a family history of struggling with substance abuse, Jamie Lee Curtis never had a problem with addiction until later in her career. Unfortunately, addiction can take hold at any stage in life and be just as difficult to treat for the young and old alike. Curtis now uses her platform as the means to encourage others to seek treatment and stay sober.
Although Curtis did not require the assistance of a certified drug and alcohol rehab center, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of trained therapists, medication assisted treatment, and ongoing support found in rehab. Trained counselors and certified medical staff will help you to get sober and learn how to stay that way. Visit Landmark Recovery, a drug rehab center to learn about more tools and resources for overcoming addiction.