The Reassuringly Normal Recovery of Lindsay Lohan
Remember when Lohan was portrayed as the incorrigible bad-girl alcoholic who would never change—i.e., enter recovery? She may not now be in “recovery” in the sense that word is most often used in America. But she sure has changed.
There have perhaps been five ages of Lindsay Lohan. First came the child model, television actress, and phenomenally successful young Disney performer, starting with the 1998 movie The Parent Trap, when she was 12, in which she played twins. Still in her teens, she made the hit film Mean Girls in 2004. Around that time, she also made two successful music albums.
Then came the troubled Lindsay, who—still making films and music—took over managing her life from her troubled parents. Self-management didn’t work well for Lohan, and she was hospitalized in 2006, aged 20, for “exhaustion” while filming, leading to her being deemed unreliable by Hollywood producers. This crescendoed into a series of drunken episodes and traffic arrests, court involvements and repeated rehab stays.
Thus Lohan entered a period when she was regarded, and regarded herself, as alcoholic, including attending AA. Oprah Winfrey interviewed Lohan in 2013 after a recent stint in rehab and elicited a somewhat hesitant acknowledgement from Lohan that she was an “addict.” In 2014 Oprah produced an eight-episode docuseries, Lindsay, in which Lohan did not appear altogether self-possessed, with repeated reports that she had been partying and drinking.
In a somewhat quiet period that followed, Lohan lay low—or as low as she could—still appearing in various media and TV reality series, with accompanying rumors about her behavior and health.
Now, in her 30s, Lohan has emerged as the partner in an Athens nightclub and several Greek beach clubs, leading to this year’s MTV series, Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club. She makes no reference to treatment, AA or addiction.
“Uh-oh,” recovery mavens clucked. Nightclubs and beach clubs, where alcohol flows like water (especially in Greece, a so-called non-Temperance culture) would surely spell disaster. After all, according to one treatment center discussing Lohan’s history of substance use in 2014, “It is impossible to recover alone and that is why there are rehabilitation centers and treatment programs.”
We don’t know whether she currently drinks or not, but that’s beside the point. More importantly, she doesn’t define herself by her previous problems.
Nowadays, Lohan doesn’t publicly identify herself as being in recovery. Instead she has developed interests in politics (although the Obama campaign rejected her involvement) and spirituality—Lohan reports that she meditates and is studying different religions. She doesn’t speak about being in therapy or support groups.
At the same time, her life has definitely become more stable. She has always been involved with her younger siblings, and her mother gushes over Lindsay now being the family’s “momager” (mom-manager).
And Lohan is a businesswoman, one who has worked and largely managed herself since her late teens. True, she has run into trouble there too (for instance, she seemed to go broke and once ran afoul of the IRS). Still, without any business training or much education she has achieved much in the entertainment world, with sidelines like creating her own fashion brand.
Now designing and managing clubs, she takes her work seriously—almost too seriously for some: “She’s really strict. But that’s being a boss—you have to be a hard a** sometimes. She’s very personable so you get to know her as a person. She’s been through a lot too,” said employee Sarah Tariq.
When the interviewer asked if she would be the new Lisa Vanderpump, Tariq responded: “Um…I think Lisa Vanderpump might be nicer.”
Running clubs, of course, is quite different to partying. And it’s hard not to believe that Lohan has changed her lifestyle. Put simply, at age 32 she’s no longer getting arrested and appearing in court. Her business partner, Panos Spentzos, describes Lohan’s lifestyle:
“Everybody has this idea that Lindsay goes out all the time. That’s not her. Her normal life standard is staying at home. She cooks this recipe called borscht that is delicious. She introduced the series Pose to me and we watched the whole thing in two days. We’re like family.”
On the other hand, learning from past mishaps, Lohan keeps close tabs on what’s going on in her clubs: “It’s true she trusts me,” Spentzos added, “but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t keep her eyes on me all the time.”
Which is the right way to run a business with many employees and a large cash flow. And creating a major cable series like she has for MTV is another daunting enterprise at which Lohan seems to be succeeding.
We don’t know whether she currently drinks or not, but that’s beside the point. More importantly, she doesn’t define herself by her previous problems—a disease-model worldview that can become self-fulfilling. “I’m a normal, nice person,” she told the New York Times last year. “A good person. I don’t have any bad intentions. And my past has to stay in the past.”
How is that possible? She told Oprah in front of millions of viewers that she was an addict (she said she took cocaine 10-12 times in order to drink more). Isn’t that a life sentence? She drank alcoholically for years. She has spent hundreds of days in rehabs. And now, in her early 30s, she wants people to believe she’s a normal, hardworking, nice businesswoman who isn’t anchored to her past?
In 2001-02, and again in 2012-13, the US government conducted NESARC, a massive study of over 43,000 Americans. Its results strongly contradicted the standard AA narrative by finding that, of those who ever in their life qualified for a diagnosis of alcoholism, only 25 percent still met the criteria in the past year. This remission point could be any length of time since their alcoholism. As described by Maia Szalavitz, “Despite this 75 percent recovery rate, only a quarter had gotten any type of help, including AA, and as many were now drinking in a low-risk manner as were abstinent.”
Thus, Lohan represents the standard route to achieving recovery—make that normality. The dramatic stories we hear from Hollywood stars about their addictions are nearly always classic recovery tales involving AA, rehab and abstinence. Yet if we look, we can find, even there, equivalent stories to Lohan’s—for example, Drew Barrymore’s. And, of course, coming from the other direction, we discover people claiming to be in recovery who are consuming dangerous combinations of substances.
As people age, accept adult responsibilities, and assume age-appropriate maturity, which can be sooner or later in the context of different lives, most grow out of addiction. Whether or not they are in a program or drink is not the primary source of their wellbeing. Having a purposeful life is. And this is the true recovery story.
“Ms. Lohan needs to grow up, realize her talents and find ways to fill her time that aren’t self-destructive. Coming to see herself as an adult, accepting responsibility, and developing pride in her skills are difficult but time-tested therapeutic techniques. These are things Ms. Lohan won’t learn in standard treatment programs.”