The Nation's Pulse

A Cry for Help

Kristen Johnston shouldn't be the only one getting attention for addiction dependence.

By 3.27.12

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You may not have heard yet but I just got out of rehab. My problem was that I had never been in rehab for anything and desperately needed something to jump-start my stalled career. I tried performing, but lacked any talent. I took up writing but obviously that hasn't worked out. I didn't much want to get into pot, coke, crack, meth, heroin or booze, so clearly I had a major problem finding an excuse to check myself into rehab. I popped painkillers but extra-strength Tylenol didn't hook me; I only got up to two a day.

There are now even high schools for rehab -- 25 around the country reports the New York Times -- so there's no need anymore to wait until you're a messed-up adult to enter the Betty Ford clinic. It's possible to build an enviable rehab résumé by the age of 15.

Actually I'd been thinking about going into rehab for years but couldn't find a career-boosting reason. Physically abusing my body was impractical (then, at 50, my body began abusing me), and a gambling problem never got beyond the quarter slot machines. Sexual addiction was the most appealing prospect, but much as I tried, it didn't seem feasible once I hit 70.

So clearly I was a prime prospect for a little-known rehab facility in Topeka, Kansas, that cures people in urgent need of major media attention and an outpouring of public sympathy for their un-ruined condition -- which is not, as I'd feared, incurable. Rehabs R Us promises to find you a major debilitating problem and then cure you of it in six weeks, notify the media, assign you a publicist, and get a book publisher to peddle your story -- just like actress Kristen Johnston, whose memoir on her drug addiction, Guts, will hit the stores soon, aided by a long interview in the New York Times, accompanied by a shot of Ms. Johnston sprawling on the couch with her pit bull, looking extremely pleased, her long blonde hair all a-tumble in come-hither disarray.

You can see Kristen has come a long way from the day her ulcer burst open from painkillers and she "was covered in blood and vomit, sobbing like a four-year-old." Kristen has now been clean for five years. My problem is far worse -- I've been clean for almost 75 years, but I've learned that many people are in a similar fully functional situation and just need a hand to help break the cycle of non-dependence. The toughest part is admitting that you have a problem getting properly addicted to anything.

Hey, I figured, if an actress I never heard of can get a big book deal and major media coverage, why not me? There is nothing between myself and the best-seller list except a really cool addiction that (as the interviewer says of Ms. Johnston) "spares no gory detail." Thanks to Rehabs R Us, I think I can now come up with at least one gory detail (but you'll need to buy the book to find out what it is).

After weeks of testing and counseling, during which time I was in constant turmoil, Rehabs R Us found me a troubling addiction to chocolate, specifically the hard stuff -- dark chocolate, at times in the 70 percent range. The clinic procured some dense cocoa beans from Africa. In no time I gave up chomping unsweetened baking chocolate and was able to get myself off the hard stuff. After two weeks, I was down to one milk chocolate Nestle Crisp a day; eventually I could sip an occasional glass of Quik without a worry.

I'm in recovery now but will always be just a Dove bar away from falling off the wagon. I still need a cup of hot cocoa now and then, but I know I can quit anytime, although a whiff of newly baked brownies can trigger a relapse. I'm able to pass up crude street buys like Mounds, Reece's Pieces and Kit Kats, but it hasn't been easy. Right now I'm concocting some grisly tales to share on talk shows of my painful recovery, how I fought my way back from Godiva hell to become whole again and virtually cocoa-free.

I've just written a one-man show about my struggle, and am currently working on a book, screenplay, and TV special that will alert people to problems like I had, to show them that they are not alone. Chocoholics Anonymous is holding a series of marathons to raise money for treatment. To show your support you might want to wear a brown ribbon.

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About the Author

Gerald Nachman is the author of Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Raised on Radio and Right Here On Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan's America. He is currently working on a book about the great Broadway musical show-stoppers.