Christopher Kennedy Lawford: the pain of addiction, the hope of recovery

Christopher Kennedy Lawford brings his insights into addicition and recovery to Seattle, March 19.
Credits: womensconference.org

As a thirteen-year-old with great expectations, he aspired to follow the life trajectory of his uncle: attend and excel at a prestigious university; engage in a distinguished military career; publish an award-winning book at a relatively young age; pursue a successful path in politics; and, naturally, become President of the United States. If that’s what his uncle John F. Kennedy was able to achieve, well then, reasoned youthful Christopher Kennedy Lawford, why couldn’t he?

One of Chris Lawford’s earliest—and fondest—memories is of being awakened early in the morning of July 13, 1960 by Uncle John in Los Angeles. “Christopher,” said Uncle John as he sat on the edge of his five-year-old nephew’s bed, “I’ve been nominated to be President of the United States. Will you help me?”

“I was mesmerized by the whole American political spectacle,” says Lawford, recalling how he did indeed “help” his uncle by sporting a little red jacket, tie, and American flag during the wild tumult of the Democratic National Convention at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

When Uncle John was assassinated just over three years later, it was a horrible blow to Chris and all the extended Kennedy clan. Not to mention the entire nation. But there was still hope. Chris turned to another uncle, Bobby, for inspiration.

“Uncle Bobby was the most profound influence in my young life,” Lawford says. Uncle Bobby always seemed to be there for Christopher, was continually involved with the family. He constantly urged his nephew to explore life, and, no matter what the game or contest, Uncle Bobby saw to it that “no one sat on the sidelines; everybody played.”

That hope ended abruplty with yet another assassin’s bullet when Robert F. Kennedy was cut down in June of 1968, just as his presidential campaign was reaching its climax.

It was the “Summer of Love.” But it devolved into a summer of despair for thirteen-year-old Christopher Kennedy Lawford. Subjected to such immense pain and trauma in raw adolescence, Chris began looking for a way out. Something to help him feel better. Laments Lawford, “I spent the next seventeen years trying to ‘feel better.’”

What began as teenage experiments with LSD escalated into chronic heroin and alcohol abuse. “I knew I had a problem at the age of twenty,” Lawford says, “but it took me ten years to get sober. I tried everything…nothing worked.”

But eventually, one miserably cold day in Boston, 1986, Chris hit rock bottom and began to look up.

By late 1986, Christopher Kennedy Lawford found himself wallowing in a miasma of drugs and alcohol, both despite and because of his rich family heritage from the political Kennedy clan and high-profile actor/father Peter Lawford. Feeling his great expectations might never be realized, he considered his life to be over and contemplated suicide. Then it happened.

Chris Lawford experienced a “moment of surrender, a window of opportunity,” during which he resolved to do whatever he was told to do in order to change his life. Lawford frequently emphasizes the need for such a moment in his incredibly insightful writings about addiction and recovery. Is it a spiritual revelation? Perhaps.

Chris describes it as a gut-level feeling of submission: “Please help me!” And there is help. With that help—and it may take a long time or not—anyone can move from slavery to toxic compulsions into recovery.

Addicts, observes Lawford in his latest book Recover to Live, are driven by self-centeredness. Once that self-centeredness is overcome by the realization that there is, indeed, something greater than you, then the process of reaching out for help can begin. The ultimate prize of recovery, and what Christopher Kennedy Lawford regards as his proudest achievement, is “my freedom to be me.” Finally unchained from his perceived legacy, toxic relationships, and the other assorted carry-on baggage of his previous life, Lawford revels in the possibility to examine his untapped talents and explore his future.

And he firmly believes we as a society ought to foster those opportunities for all Americans. How? For one thing, “nutrition and healthcare should be affordable for everyone.” Why? Because “physical health is mental health.” Can’t have one without the other, as Chris sees it, and everyone should have access to both.

Universal health care is one priority for Chris Lawford. A national dialogue about mental health is another. Having come from a family scarred by divorce and murder, and seen first-hand the ugly influence of poverty, Lawford insists that “we (Americans) have to overcome this enormous ignorance and shame” we feel when it comes to talking about mental health.

“My family, generationally, was obliterated by gun violence,” Chris recalls, as he bemoans right-wing political hysteria that points accusing fingers at scapegoats and scarecrows instead of engaging in genuine discussion about the root causes of social ills like aggression and addiction.

“People that care about this as a social justice issue have to get involved,” Lawford implores. If it’s left up to politicians and insurance companies dealing behind closed doors, nothing will get done.

Perhaps we as a nation need to recognize our addiction to fear, surrender our ignorance, and recover our possibilities?


  • Christopher Kennedy Lawford will be appearing in Seattle at Elliott Bay Books Tuesday, March 19, 7:00pm. He’ll be signing copies of his latest book, Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction, an extensive exploration of the possibilities for self-treatment of toxic compulsions from drugs to gambling to sex and pornography.
  • Earlier in the day, at 7:30am, Chris will be speaking at an Invest in Youth breakfast for Youth Eastside Services, at the Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.

Originally published at Examiner.com.

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