Like Matthew Perry, we’ve also experienced addiction — here’s what he’d want you to know
'Addiction isn't a moral failing, it's like a physical wound.'
‘If I didn’t have alcohol to soothe my nerves and help me have fun, I would’ve leaped off a tall building sometime in my twenties,’ wrote Matthew Perry in his memoir Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing.
The Friends star, who passed away at 54, on October 28, had been very open about his battle with addiction, writing: ‘In the dictionary under the word “addict”, there should be a picture of me looking around, very confused.’
Having been in and out of sober living facilities since the age of 24, his fear of ‘being alone’ drove him to drink and drugs, he claimed in his memoir.
But perhaps the most poignant message he had on addiction was this: ‘Someone else may be confused by the fact that they know they should stop drinking — like me, they have all the information, and they understand the consequences — but they still can’t stop drinking. You are not alone.’
That’s what Matthew Perry wanted us to know about addiction and recovery. So, in the light of his passing, we asked those impacted by addiction to share what they want us to know about the disease…
Darren: ‘No one chooses addiction, there’s a trauma they’re trying to escape’
Darren Lacey, 44, began drinking when he was 17 because it helped him ‘forget who [he] was’. At the time, he was struggling with his sexuality.
‘I grew up in the eighties and nineties around the Aids epidemic where there was a lot of negativity towards gay men, so drink helped me block that out,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I started working in pubs and bars around 18 and it quickly turned into heavy drinking seven days a week. Drugs became a part of that — cocaine, ketamine, LSD and ecstasy.’
Darren was discharged from hospital on his 40th birthday on November 12, 2018, for ‘the umpteenth time’ and says: ‘I knew in the lead up to my 40th, if I didn’t change then I wouldn’t be around much longer.
‘My body was shutting down, physically and mentally I was in a really bad place.’
Darren, from East Kent, had been battling addiction for 23 years by that point. After a stint of rough sleeping and a suicide attempt he joined a recovery programme at The Forward Trust and began his sober journey.
He’s now Forward’s Inclusion Co-ordinator, working to support the LGBTQ+ community who are dealing with substance misuse issues, which helps him in his ongoing recovery journey as much as it helps others.
He says: ‘Nobody chooses to end up homeless, injecting drugs, drinking, as I was, a litre of neat vodka a day plus 10 to 12 pints on top — no one chooses that.
‘There’s some sort of trauma involved people are trying to escape from. Trauma sounds like a huge word but it doesn’t have to be big. People who drink or use drugs generally just want to be heard without any judgement and discrimination.’
Darren says he wishes we could reduce the stigma around asking for help with recovery.
‘I certainly was ashamed asking for help. I thought “I’m 40-years-old, I shouldn’t need help from others to sort my life out” but I couldn’t have done it on my own.’
He agrees that getting sober is ‘hard work but the benefits outweigh the bad’.
‘It’s a walk in the park compared to my previous life where I was lying, cheating and stealing — I was a horrible person and desperate,’ he says.
‘The way I work my recovery is by helping others and I go to a meeting if I’m having a head wobble – if I have my down day I’ve got good friends who are in recovery too.’
Darren was ‘more affected’ than he thought he’d be when he heard of Matthew Perry’s passing — he falls asleep to Friends every night because it’s his ‘comfort blanket’ — and says Perry’s journey had ‘so many similarities in there that anyone going through addiction can recognise’.
But Darren hopes the conversation Matthew Perry opened up about addiction is one people take into their every day life, and that others in recovery receive the same compassion.
‘I hope that people recognise that the person on the street — the family member, the friend, the colleague — I hope they have the same respect for those people,’ he says.
‘Just because they’re not famous and are maybe not as outspoken, I hope they get the same love and respect as Matthew Perry.’
Naetha: ‘You don’t have to refer to yourself as an addict’
Naetha Uren, 54, shares the same sentiment as Darren, saying Matthew was ‘amazing’ for being so vocal about his addiction and recovery journey, but the praise he got needs to be the same for all.
‘What about the guy who’s your neighbour, who’s been on that journey? Why aren’t we talking about him?’ she asks. ‘He wasn’t criticised when he acknowledged he went to rehab 15 times, but if my neighbour needs to go to rehab 15 times, I’m not sure the same message would apply.’
Naetha is 27 years sober from a drug addiction, last using in February 1998, and her daughter, Calliese Conner, 29, is also recovering from an alcohol and drug addiction, having been sober since February 2018.
Both originally lived in Texas but moved to Lincolnshire when Calliese was 97 days sober.
‘Matthew Perry talked about wanting a legacy of educating people to overcome stigma around addiction. We just want a legacy of people knowing that it’s not just about addiction, it’s about recovery,’ says Naetha, who runs the Recovery Coach Academy along with her daughter.
It’s an organisation that supports individuals and families impacted by substance misuse.
Naetha says: ‘People assumed that because I had my own recovery journey, they were like, “you know, what she’s going through, why can’t you fix it? Why can’t you help it?”
‘I really must have missed the meeting where they gave the manual on how to fix it — it is very different when it is your child. Everybody’s journey is so unique.
‘There’s that undercurrent of we all go through the same thing, but we all go through it differently.’
Naetha adds: ‘I didn’t tell anybody I was in recovery for 17 years because of shame and stigma.
‘Then when my daughter needed to find recovery, I just thought, I don’t want her to ever feel like I do. So I have to change.’
If there’s one thing Naetha wants people to know it’s that ‘you don’t have to refer to yourself as an addict’.
‘You can talk to you about yourself as being a man or woman in long term, sustained recovery, living an amazing life,’ she says.
‘But we don’t frame things like that always. We like to say that my daughter and I’s recovery journey is like MasterCard — priceless.’
Naetha also wants people to remember that addiction isn’t a choice, it’s an illness.
‘Addiction is a disease like cancer,’ she says. ‘People have recurrences of cancer and we don’t punish them. We don’t deny them treatment. We support them and put a canopy of love around them and give them everything they need.
‘But just because it’s drugs and alcohol, people treat it so differently.’
Josh: ‘Addiction isn’t a moral failing, it’s like a physical wound’
Josh Connolly, 36, is an ambassador for The National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and is 11-and-a-half years sober from Class A drugs and alcohol.
He also describes addiction ‘not as a moral failing but like a physical wound’.
‘A physical wound can be enough to end one person’s life, but somebody else will overcome it. We don’t say one person is stronger than the other, we just know that they’re different,’ Josh tells Metro.co.uk.
His father, who was dependent on alcohol, died when Josh was nine, and he began using cannabis and alcohol himself at the age of 12.
‘Until I found alcohol and drugs, life felt very difficult,’ says Josh. ‘The prospect of having to live my whole life was far too much actually. When I was 12 and found drugs and alcohol, I remember thinking, “if I can just figure out how I can do this and not become addicted to it like my dad did, life might be alright”.’
But at 24 years old, Josh’s marriage had fallen apart, he had four children and he was £17,000 in debt, so he decided to get sober, but it took a toll on his mental health.
‘I remember feeling amazing for a couple of months, then I really deteriorated after that — I emotionally couldn’t cope. And I planned to end my own life when I was about nine months sober,’ he says.
But after hugging his daughter goodbye, he changed his mind, and 11 years on he has remarried and had two more children.
Josh says: ‘I realised that my problem had never been alcohol and drugs. Actually, when I took them away, what I was left with was the problem. Addiction is actually the symptom of a much deeper struggle.
‘I was really touched by people like Matthew Perry, because physically, you could see him changing a lot. And I really resonate with that. Sometimes I feel sort of untouchable in life and then sometimes you think “God, I’m no further along than the day I quit drinking.’
But Josh thinks it’s important to say that he doesn’t think we can ‘fully understand addiction’.
‘You can never really definitively say this is what you need to do to stay sober. I will never fully understand what it is that I do to stay sober. I don’t want to sit here and say, “I want it more than anybody else who’s not here”, because I don’t think that’s true.
‘Some of the most troubled people in the world, for want of a better term, when you look at a lot of them, Robin Williams is another one.
‘Through their pain and all their hardship and all they give to the world, the positive impact that they have on other people never seems to correspond to the pain that they’re going through.’
If you're a young person, or concerned about a young person, you can also contact PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide UK. Their HOPELINK digital support platform is open 24/7, or you can call 0800 068 4141, text 07860039967 or email: [email protected] between the hours of 9am and midnight.
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