Matthew Perry’s Memoir (Accidentally) Suggests that NATURAL RECOVERY is Possible
By: Stanton Peele and Zach Rhoads
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We are walking a razor’s edge in reviewing Perry’s memoir. We risk upsetting AA evangelists and the anti-12-step crowd in one review.
On one hand, AA’s “Big Book” thumpers will hate that we have no patience for Perry attending 15 rehab programs for drugs and alcohol— leaving him with a $9 million tab! And wait until they find out that we point to the crucial curative aspects of Perry’s mature and balanced adult life which allowed him to move away from relying on drugs independent of AA.
Coming from the other direction the anti-12-step and abstinence crowd will hate that we support so many elements of Perry’s memoir. After all, he evangelizes for the disease model of addiction and 12-step programs, and swears by traditional recovery programs. But, along the way, he has made life changes without using the modern pharmacopoeia of opioid use disorder drugs.
What non-12-step / non-disease (i.e. practical and real) tools has Perry wielded over time to ameliorate his addictive tendencies?
- Purpose (actor / athlete / social life)
- Skills (actor, personable, introspective, industrious)
- Resources (not everyone is born into affluence or is worth $120 million, but Perry takes full advantage of the resources at his disposal and uses them constructively)
- Values (did you know that Perry has always set parameters for himself, even in the throes of addiction? In fact, he had a rule: never work on the set of Friends drunk or high. HOW DID HE DO THAT while also being “powerless to his disease?”)
- Maturity (at this point in his life, Perry enjoys his social networks, working, taking care of his health, while he is still looking for the right person to settle down with.
Perry details his own life process in his memoir, both the good and the bad, and how these impacted his addictions:
Perry’s first use of substances to allay his personal unease was with alcohol, age 14, which he said made him feel like he imagined normal people did. He often used alcohol excessively thereaftere.
Nonetheless, talented and ambitious, he moved to LA and had success in several television series. He then got wind of the proposed show that became Friends (originally called Friends Like Us). All of the leads but the one he felt he was ideal for, Chandler, had been filled. By hook and by crook he set his sights on getting the role. Which he did — a remarkable accomplishment!
Getting the gig caused him to cut back on his drinking (we told you this wasn’t a 12-step story):
Being cast on Friends Like Us caused him to stop drinking as much. “I had a life-changing job that I had to — hell, desperately wanted to — report to in the morning, so I drank far less than usual,” he said. After the first table read, he wrote that “the cast could smell fame.”
On his ups and downs after Friends (quotes from The Guardian)
- After starring in the box office smash The Whole Nine Yards with Bruce Willis in 1999, Willis asked Perry to reprise his role in the sequel. The Whole Ten Yards bombed. “That was the moment Hollywood decided to no longer invite Mr. Perry to be in movies,” he wrote. Perry said that he began drinking and using drugs again, but sobered up so he could resume auditioning.
- After Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was canceled, Perry began working on his own writing projects. Mr. Sunshine premiered in 2011, but was canceled after one season. “Despite putting my entire self into it, the show was a big success for about two weeks before everyone in the world decided they didn’t want to watch it,” he wrote. He tried again with Go On, which was also quickly canceled. “Yet again, another show I was leading opened huge and got canceled,” he wrote. “With nothing to do, and no one to love, I relapsed one more time.”
- In July 2019, Perry said he began to experience “the Pain” while living at a sober living house. His close friend and assistant Erin took him to the hospital, where he said he was rushed into surgery. Perry wrote he lapsed into a coma for two weeks. While in the coma, he said he vomited into his breathing tube, which sent toxic waste into his lungs and caused his colon to explode. He said that when his friends and family arrived at the hospital, they were told that he had “a two percent chance of making it through the night.”
- Perry said that his therapist helped him quit using drugs by telling him to associate them with the colostomy bag he had been using on-and-off since his colon exploded. “I have not been interested in taking a drug since,” he wrote. Perry said that quitting smoking was not as simple. He said he went to the doctor after he noticed that he was wheezing, and the doctor told him he needed to quit smoking immediately. Perry said he eventually turned to a hypnotist to help him. He wrote that the hypnotism worked until all of his top teeth fell out after biting into a piece of toast. He said he began smoking again to cope with the pain, but added that he was ultimately able to quit. “I no longer feel the need to automatically light up a cigarette to go with my morning coffee,” he wrote.
So Perry’s story intersplicing his life and addictive experiences contradicts 12-step and disease ideology about the inherent nature of addictions, even as he evangelizes for 12-step rehabs and drug courts.
After the memoir appeared, Stanton received an email from a MOUD (medication for opioid use disorder) advocate, saying, “Hey Stanton — you’re not a 12-step guy, you must see how Perry’s story proves MOUD is the only way. He would have been fine if he started taking buprenorphine ten years earlier.”
Of course, there was the alcohol first and then throughout his addictive period.
But, like 12-step advocates, MOUD advocates also see no role for life values and purpose and personal progress and choices. They are like the characters in the Carl Sagan story who live in two dimensions and cannot fathom the existence of a third life dimension.
The third dimension in this case means:
No matter the specific therapeutic or medical technique that people use to overcome addiction, they must ultimately consider their own values and how they want to improve with the resources at their disposal.
They won’t become multimillionaire media stars who date Julia Roberts, like Perry. (None of us will.) But they can fulfill their own purpose and live life consistent with their values.
This is the ultimate moral of the Matthew Perry story.
Hence: “Life Process Program.”
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Stanton Peele and Zach Rhoads’ book is Outgrowing Addiction
Stanton’s memoir is A Scientific Life on the Edge: My lonely quest to change how we see addiction