Keynote speech – Laurie Dhue
Founder & President
@Laurie Dhue Media
“My name is Laurie Dhue, and I have a substance use disorder. There was a time when most of the country thought I had it all. They saw a rising star in the TV news industry, the face of three major news networks, an award-winning journalist who could write her own ticket to success. My future was very bright indeed, but in reality, my life was a disaster. Did you know that eight out of ten people with a substance use disorder never seek treatment? I was one of them. In my case it was alcohol and cocaine. The stigma attached to men and women struggling with addiction was so pervasive it prevented me from confronting the disease that was destroying my life. So I suffered in silence for nearly 20 years before I faced the truth, asked for help and began the journey of recovery.
Life isn’t perfect of course but the last 10 years in recovery have brought me more happiness than I ever could have possibly imagined, and on behalf of the more than 23 million Americans currently in long-term recovery I’m here to tell you that recovery is real and it’s happening every day. And while that is good news, don’t kid yourself, the scourge of addiction isn’t going anywhere, and in fact it has become an epidemic unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. However, something is happening. You can feel it in our country’s largest city; along a quaint village street in the southern tier, on the cultivated lands of Hudson Valley farmland and throughout the majestic mountains of the North. It’s a collective voice that can be heard above the raging falls to the West and amidst the tidal waters of the Northern Atlantic. This is a New York story and the empire state is on to something, something that speaks to the very core of this issue. As a society we’re beginning to realize that if we truly want to fight addiction we have to start with reversing the stigma.”
Thank you. Hi everybody. How are you?
Good. I’m so so happy to be here today. Great to be in this beautiful city and great to be able to share my message of hope and help with all of you. I’m Laurie Dhue, and I am a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. For me that means that I haven’t had a drink of alcohol or any other intoxicating substances since March 14 of 2007. A little over 10 years ago … Thank you. Thank you so much.
A little over 10 years ago I made the decision to save my own life. After 18 years of abusing my mind, my body and my spirit with alcohol and drugs, all while holding down a very high profile job on national television, I realized that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of waking up severely hung over several mornings a week. I was tired of not remembering what I had done the night before. I was tired of apologizing to people that I had offended, or hurt, or gotten in a shouting match with when I was in a blackout the night before. I was tired of having to lie in the fetal position of my office on the floor just an hour before going on national television because I was so hung over that I literally could not lift my head or sit up straight. I was tired of leading a secret life, a double life that made it hard for me to even look in the mirror. Despite the fact that upwards of a million people might’ve watched me on TV at any given time, I could not face myself.
That woman you might’ve seen on TV looking confident and strong and poised and in control, was anything but confident and strong and poised and in control. So 10 years ago I made that life-saving decision to surrender to my disease of addiction. Now, any general in battle would tell you, “Never surrender.” Seems counterintuitive to surrender to win, but that’s exactly what I had to do or else I would’ve died, for sure. Just like the 88,000 people who die every year of alcoholism. I was on a fast track heading towards a brick wall. I was either drinking, thinking about a drink or recovering from a drink. My life really wasn’t much of a life at all. I would say it was more of an existence really. I was completely powerless over the intoxicating substances that I had become completely dependent on.
Let me give you a few examples of how sad my life really was. I got the chance to meet then President Bush, Bush 43, just before the National White House Correspondents Dinner, which Donald Trump has said he will not be showing up at this year. I’m going to leave my thoughts on that outside the room. I would say they’re probably going to have a lot more fun without President Trump there. At any rate, I had been invited to a private party many years ago when Bush 43 was president. I had the opportunity to meet President and Mrs. Bush at this private reception. Did you think I was going to show up at that sober? Oh no. There I was in my room, doing vodka shots, and maybe a little bit of cocaine. I headed down to this event.
When I had that moment where you meet the president … Maybe some people in this room have been lucky enough to meet a sitting president … There’s the moment of the photo op where you get to shake the hand of the president, and there’s always a photographer there to capture that moment and it’s hopefully a picture that you’ll be displaying in your living room, or, heck, put on your Christmas cards that year. Well, I was drunk and high when I met the president and so my picture wasn’t very good. It was roughly … And I don’t know if everyone can see me … It was roughly something like this. I looked awful because I was high when I met the President of the United States. You would think that meeting the sitting President would be reason to stay sober, but not for me.
Then there was the time that I was at a party for my then network Fox News Channel, and there were lots of VIPs there, including Dick Cheney, who was the then Vice President. Well, a photographer again approached me at this party and said, “Hey Laurie, why don’t you pose with the Vice President and Rupert Murdoch, who was the chairman of Fox News and the parent company. Fox has been in the news a lot lately, as you’ve probably seen. A photographer approached me and said, “Laurie, why don’t you go pose with the Vice President and Mr. Murdoch?” Did you think I’d put my drink down for the photo? Oh no, and in fact, as the moment came for the photograph I flung my arm around Dick Cheney like that. You don’t fling your arm around Dick Cheney under any circumstances. I’m quite certain that at that moment he was probably saying something like, “I wonder how I’m going to vaporizer her.” At any rate, again, I was drunk when I met somebody very important.
Then there was the total blackout I was in when I had a conversation with Joe Biden at a restaurant. I don’t remember it at all.
I was a really, really good drinker. I’ve always been a super achiever my whole life and drinking was no exception. I was great at it. I used to like to dance on bars. Not at bars, but actually on top of bars. Maybe some of you are familiar with this particularly classy spot in New York called “Hogs and Heifers.” Anybody been there?
No. No one’s been to Hogs and Heifers. Really? Well, boy did you miss out. You know it’s a classy joint when the name of it is Hogs and Heifers. So there I was dancing on the bar at Hogs and Heifers when a guy looked up and said, “Hey, aren’t you the lady from Fox News?” I looked down without missing a beat and I said, “Well I’m no lady but I am on Fox News.” Classy huh?
Then there was the eight day trip to Spain that I don’t remember taking at all. I remember getting on an airplane. I vaguely remember walking around Madrid, and that’s about it. Apparently I went to five different cities in Spain. I was in a blackout the whole time. Only when I checked my American Express bill that I knew what cities in Spain I’d been to.
Then there was the time that I woke up in the ER after overdosing. Yup. After a night of alcohol and cocaine and Xanax and marijuana and then more of all of those, I was found face down on the floor of my kitchen. Thank goodness my boyfriend at the time found me, called 911, got me in an ambulance. I arrived at the emergency room. They kept me overnight. I don’t know what they did to me to save me, but they did. I was released a few hours later and told that I have been very lucky that I hadn’t died. Do you think that was enough for me to stop drinking and drugging? Nope. I continued to drink alcoholically for the next two and a half years. That’s how insane my life was, and you need to hear all this.
All this was while holding down anchor jobs at the three major cable networks; CNN, MSNBC and Fox News. Yes, I’ve got enough stories to write a book, but I won’t be writing that book. You’re just going to have to hear it from me now. Anyone looking at my life wouldn’t have thought I had it made. Great job, nice salary, a fancy apartment with beautiful clothes in the closet, lots of fans. My family love me, my friends love me and on and on and on, but the truth of the matter was I was so incredibly isolated and so incredibly lonely.
So March 14, 2007 was the beginning of a beautiful journey. One with plenty of ups and downs but mostly ups. Little did I know that in a few short years into my recovery I’d be traveling around the country coming to beautiful places like San Francisco trying to educate people about mental illness and addiction, working with the White House, Office of National Drug Control Policy, speaking at conferences like this. Little did I know that I would become a leading advocate for recovery in this country. It’s been a beautiful journey and it’s a journey that’s leading me to you today.
For the first year of my recovery I didn’t tell many people and I certainly did not tell my employer, which was Fox News at the time. Even though I knew that I had much to be proud of for making that life-saving decision to get sober. And I knew that I had become a happier and a more productive employee I felt that I had to keep it secret because I mistakenly thought that I would lose my job. Many, many other people, I would venture to guess millions of other people, are doing the same thing and that’s because of stigma and shame and blame. Even though we are making great strides in terms of bringing addiction into the national conversation there’s still too much shame. So people stay quiet and silence equals death. Many of you, if you are over a certain age, will remember that phrase from the early part of the AIDS epidemic; “Silence equals death.” Well the same thing applies to addiction. The longer we stay silent the more people will die, and too many people have died from mental illness and addiction already and that’s not okay.
The name of the documentary I’m working on as you saw is called “Reversing the Stigma.” It’s a message that I take with me everywhere I go, and it’s a message that I bring to you right now. Stigma and fear and shame and blame accomplish nothing, but so many people struggling with mental illness and addiction are afraid to come forward and ask for help. Yet, think about it, we as a society openly celebrate people who have survived other devastating health issues, like cancer in all of its forms, like HIV, or even diabetes. The 23 million Americans who suffer from the disease of addiction, or the 23 million Americans who are in recovery from it, deserve the same respect. We deserve the same kind of coordinated long-term care and compassion that we give to people who endure every other major health issue in this country. We’ve got to change how America cares for those who are struggling from or those who have overcome this often deadly disease.
A few years back the CDC announced that this country is in an epidemic when it comes to addiction, particularly opiate addiction. An epidemic; it doesn’t get much bigger than an epidemic. While addiction is not an infectious disease per se, it is a disease that is widespread. As I said a moment ago, we have at least 23 million Americans who meet the criteria for active addiction in this country, and I would suspect that that number is probably a lot higher. Imagine if 23 million Americans had cancer or HIV. Think about that for a minute. If that many people had cancer or HIV don’t you think that we would be doing everything we could to lower that number? You bet we would.
I’m here to tell you that depression and mental illness and addiction are everyone’s problems, and the tentacles reach far and wide. The dangers of addiction affect all aspects of peoples’ lives, including obviously their physical health and their safety, their social life, their family life, their ability to work, and their job performance to name just a few things. April is alcohol awareness month and so it’s a perfect time for me to be talking to you and sharing my story. Sharing that we have a problem with depression or substance abuse, or both, is counter to everything that we think makes someone successful in the working world. Don’t show fear. Don’t show weakness. Don’t show vulnerability, for Pete’s sake. But one in five adults, that’s about 44 million Americans, experiences mental illness in any given year, and many of them are suffering in silence. I would guess that there are some people in this room who are suffering in silence, and no doubt there are employees in your company who are doing the same. They don’t feel that they can be honest.
There is such a connection between mental illness and addiction. People use and abuse substances for a reason. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. Sometimes mental illness can contribute to addiction. Alcohol or drugs are often used to self-medicate the symptoms of depression or anxiety. That was certainly my case. Often substance abuse and addiction exacerbates mental illness. It also did for me. The more I abused alcohol and cocaine, and eventually became addicted to those substances, the more acute my depression became. Alcohol is after all, a depressant.
I want you to know that diseases of the brain, such as depression or addiction, are the same as the illnesses of the body, like cancer or heart disease, and they should be treated as such because, guess what, addiction is a very, very costly disease and everyone in this room is paying. I would argue that addiction is the biggest health care issue in America. I want to pause and pose this question to you. How much do you think the disease of addiction cost this country? Anyone want to take a guess? Don’t be shy. Anyone got a guess? No one has a guess?
$4 billion. Okay, keep going.
$200 billion. Not even close. Wow, right? Addiction to alcohol and drugs costs us nearly, drum roll, half a trillion dollars a year in lost wages, lost productivity, hospitalization, institutionalization, incarceration, not to mention the major health consequences wet brain. That’s a real thing; wet brain. Where your brain just kind of goes dead. Cancer of the esophagus, breast cancer, liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease. Shall I go on or have you heard enough?
Alcoholism cost us $275 billion a year, drug abuse, 215 billion, and approximately 60% of people like me, that is adults with substance dependence, are employed full-time. So, since most adults who have problems with alcohol or drug use are in the workforce employers incur the costs. Guess how much addiction costs employers in this country? Anyone want to guess? No guesses. Okay, fine I’ll give you your answer. According to the National Business Group on Health it’s $104 billion, with a B. It’s kind of a lot of money. Those numbers scare me and they should scare you to because, guess what, you’re paying for it.
Substance abuse by employees means higher health care expenses for injuries and illness. When we talk about the example of the trips to the emergency room, like the one I took when I overdosed, almost half of all ER visits for trauma and/or injury are alcohol-related. Two, higher rates of absenteeism. Can’t show up to work if you’re hung over or intoxicated. Number three, reductions in job productivity and performance. Four, more workers’ compensation and disability claims. Five, safety risks for you the employer. A few resources that employers do provide such as employee assistance programs are woefully underutilized.
A study from the National Behavior Consortium shows us that only about 3.5% of employees take advantage of EAPs when they’re offered. That’s rotten. Speaking from my own experience, it never actually occurred to me to find out more about my company, which at the time was Fox News Channel, to find out about my company’s EAP. I just didn’t want anybody to know. Yet by doing a little research, I would have found out that Fox and most other companies support people suffering from mental illness or addiction or both. Now, some larger companies may see their employees as commodities. Some smaller ones may consider their employees to be like family. At the very least, employees are investments.
Let me go back though for a moment and focus on the family aspect. You know as any family functions when one member of the family is off the whole family system is off. Think about your own family for a minute. You know that saying, “When mommie ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” It’s true. Part of your job if you work in HR or management is to manage personalities. Obviously you want your system to function as a whole, and that necessarily means that the individuals within that system are properly functioning. When one person is off, when they’re keeping a secret or they’re afraid to ask for help, like I was for many, many years, it permeates the entire system, whether that’s obvious at first or not.
Mental illness and substance abuse are often the elephant in the room. Perhaps you’ve had this conversation in your places of work. “You know we’re pretty sure that Tom in accounting has a drinking problem, but we don’t talk about it. We don’t know what to do with him.’ Or, “You know I heard in the break room that Elizabeth in the production department has been seen crying at her desk every afternoon. I’ve seen her crying in the ladies room, and I heard that she might be going through a divorce, or someone died in her family and she’s been taking pills, but I don’t know what to do.” Or even some of the younger employees or the interns have noticed that Richard in management has booze on his breath at 8:30 in the morning, but they don’t know what to do because their entry-level and they don’t want to lose their jobs and they’re afraid to say something.
This is happening in companies. It’s probably happening in yours, especially if it’s a larger company. Rather than burying your head in the sand about it or thinking that the problem will simply go away or resolve itself, it’s important to deal with it now. You can be part of the solution. You can save a life and what is more valuable than that? Ask your employees what you can do to help them. Tell them about the company wellness programs and the employee assistance programs. Let them know about Talk Space. This is a pretty amazing resource. You all think so too or you wouldn’t be here. Let them know that they have options.
Make the conversation a fact-finding one and a problem-solving one. I think it’s all about having good will and good intent and trying to find resources and the right support to make sure that employees get the full benefit of adequate medical coverage, short-term long-term disability, whatever it is. That’s not my wheelhouse, but what I do think is supremely important is that we create a culture in which it is not only okay, it’s a good thing to ask for help. I didn’t ask for help for more than a decade when I knew I needed it. Again, because I didn’t want anyone to know that I was suffering the way I was suffering. That I literally had some days where I could not get out of bed, much less go be on national television. But somehow I would find the strength to get up, get in the shower, somehow trudge to work and then be on national television.
You know, I used to make a deal with myself. I would make a deal with God. I would say, “God, I am more hung over than I have ever been at this moment. I also know that I’ve got to be on TV in an hour, so big guy, if you help me get through this and if you help me get through my show anchoring the national news I will never drink again.” Maybe some of you … I am sure that some of you have been hung over before. You know how awful it feels. It’s awful to be hung over. I did that several mornings a week, and then I would say, “God, get me through this and I’ll never drink again.”Well, you know how that ended right? I would get through my show, look perfect, sound perfect, be an attractive, intelligent voice for the news. Do you think then I would get off the set and maybe go home and get some rest, maybe figure out how I was going to change my life? Oh no. I would celebrate by getting drunk again.
It’s kind of funny now when I look back on it, but the truth of the matter is that’s no way to live. I should have asked for help and I didn’t because I was scared I was going to lose that high paying very glamorous national job on television. I didn’t have an incentive to come forward. I really thought I’d be fired. People need to be incentivized. If your employee needs to get treatment for mental illness, or maybe needs to go to rehab but doesn’t know it, or maybe you could let them know that there are options available. They need to know that they have the support of the company and that they will have their job when they come back. And when they come back be patient with them. After all they and you are only human. Both parties need to understand that when a person functions better, they’re a better employee.
You know, it’s funny; I’ll share something with you. A couple of months after I got sober I was back on TV actually, didn’t really take much time off. I did not have the luxury of going to rehab because I was on national TV every day and I didn’t want anyone to know so I didn’t go to rehab. I sought treatment through a marvelous 12-step program that saved my life and still does every single day. But a couple of months into being sober people started asking me questions. They said, “Have you lost weight? Did you have your eyes done?” That moment has not happened yet for me to get my eyes done. I’m sure it will one day and when it’s my time I will happily go in, but no, at the time I hadn’t had my eyes done. I wasn’t blonder or hadn’t lost weight, I was sober. I was better on TV. Anyone working in any company is naturally going to be more productive and happier. I’m pretty sure I started whistling in the hallway at Fox because I was happy to be alive.
While the chronic disease of addiction is not curable, it is treatable. I am living proof. When people receive appropriate treatment, recovery works, and people can get back to work. Let me tell you what happens when they get back to work … I speak from my own experience … They have a clear head, a clear mind, a clear heart and they are enthusiastic. You want to know why? First of all, they are alive and not six feet under. Second of all, they are most likely relieved that you’re giving them a second chance. They’re more productive, and when these people are more productive your company wins.
I spend a lot of my time putting a face on the disease of addiction. People look at me and they say, “You’re so pretty and smart and you dress well, and you went to private school right? How on earth could you be an alcoholic and a drug addict?” I am. I’m in remission right now but I am always going to be a person who suffers from addiction, but I want to show people that this is the face of addiction folks. This is what it looks like, and this is face of recovery. What I try to do is educate as many people as I can, including you good folks, about depression, anxiety, substance abuse and addiction. I want to tell you it’s not a flaw in character; it is a flaw in chemistry. We are not bad people trying to get good. We’re sick people who are trying to get well. I’ll say it for the third time, there are 23 million of us getting well in this country.
Earlier I mentioned that this disease cost us nearly half a trillion a year, so how do we cut down on that number? For starters, education and support and treatment. People who choose to give up alcohol and drugs and narcotics go on to lead productive lives, as I’ve said. We are CEOs of companies. We are television news anchors. We are your coworkers. We even become the President of the United States. I’m referring of course to President George W. Bush. Alcoholic and coke head and he got sober and he became President of the United States. Whether you liked him as President or not that doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that those of us in recovery go on to do really cool things.
I’m going to give you an example from my life. For many years I was in a relationship with a very special man who’s in the audience, who I’m going to be having a discussion with later on the stage. He’s sitting right here. His name is Joe Schrank. We’re going to be doing a really fun Roundtable in a little while. Joe and I took in a boy from Africa and we made him ours. He was a 14-year-old orphan from the [inaudible 00:33:32] slum in Nairobi in Kenya. Joe heard about him through a Catholic charity. It’s a very long story, but suffice it to say that we decided to take him in and welcome him into our home, and we have provided him a home, an education, and love, and a family support system for the last four and half years, and I’m happy to report this kid is wrapping up his freshman year at Georgetown. Nice job.
That’s what sober people do, okay. Joe and I are in long-term recovery from addiction, and now our son [Kiori 00:34:16] benefits from that. Sober people do good things like that. Believe me, if we were still drinking and drugging that would never have happened. So, good things happen to you, your employers, your friends, your employees when you get sober.
I think that human resources departments and management they can set the tone. When someone self-reports or is brought to your attention by other colleagues, don’t respond with shock. Respond by saying, “Okay, what can we do to help this person.” Or, “This is how we can help this person.” You set the tone for employees to seek treatment for depression or go to rehab proactively. Most people go to rehab because of a crisis. A spouse says you need to go or else I’m divorcing you, or there’s a DUI, or someone gets a bar fight, there’s an incident at the company holiday party. We’ve all seen it. I used to get pretty wasted at those TV holiday parties, myself.
You know the expression, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” right. Address the problem before it becomes an even bigger problem. You know an HR director or someone in management would never tell a diabetic, “Okay, just hang tight. Just eat a bunch of candy until we need to amputate your foot.” Think about that for a minute. Don’t tell someone suffering from depression or addiction, Okay, just hang tight.” Tell them about the services that are available. Encourage a screening with a nurse practitioner. Encourage them to get nutrition counseling. Go work out. One of the most important things that Joe and I know is that a good work out helps tremendously when you’re first getting sober.
Think about how you would talk to someone in your company who was just diagnosed with cancer. You’d be compassionate wouldn’t you? You’d probably say, “What can we do for you and your family,” right? It is the same thing for someone who has alcoholism or drug addiction or other mental health issues. You want to know how they are physically that’s important. You should also want to know how people are doing mentally and emotionally. Even if you don’t have cavities you still go to the dentist twice a year. You go to the eye doctor. You go to your internist for your annual checkup. Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy has devoted the last several years of his life and has written a terrific book about mental illness and addiction. He’s coined a phrase that I really like, “Get a checkup from the neck up.” Catchy, but you’re remember it aren’t you? A checkup from the neck up. Hey, corporate America, why not have mental health screenings twice a year.
Innovation is changing this country, whether it’s through pure technology, or being more environmentally aware, or creating flexible work schedules for people. Looking at mental illness and addiction should be incorporated into that innovative process. It’s important to remember that we humans are flawed creatures. Some of us more than others. Some of us cannot responsibly drink or use drugs. We don’t like to feel pain. We don’t want to feel our feelings. I certainly didn’t, so I just drank them away. It didn’t matter what kind of situation I was in or if it was an inappropriate time to drunk, i.e. meeting the President of the United States, because I thought I could enhance every single experience by drinking or drugging. I really thought that I had to live that life in self-imposed torture.
People numb their pain in a variety of ways; shopping sex, Netflix, junk food, booze, drugs, anything is better than having to feel pain. Some people really need to feel that way 24 hours a day, so they start abusing at work because they can’t stand it. There are people in your company for whom this life is a reality and you can’t deny it or wish it away.
10 years ago I realized that my life was worth saving. Those of you who might be on your personal devices right now, not listening to me, I’m going to ask that you listen to me. I only got one minute left. I learned that I could start over, that I could reach my potential in life, and 10 years later I am happy to report that I live a really full and happy and fun life. It doesn’t mean that I haven’t had pain along the way. I’ve had a lot of tough times. I have been fired three times in three different jobs after getting sober. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but I know that everything happens for a reason. Because I lost those jobs, I get to pivot in my life, and do this. This is far more valuable than any job I’ve ever done.
You know what; in moving forward I have times where I’m a real bad ass and I’ll like it. I am worth treating myself with respect. We are all worthy of being treated with respect. Your employers are worthy, your employees are worthy, and by helping them everybody wins. It’s all about transformation. Isn’t it great when you see someone, whether it’s a friend or an employee or a coworker, flourish and grow, when you see them literally whistling down the hallway with a grin from ear to ear. Help them. Give them tools so that they can learn to like themselves. Give them the help to live and not to die. Think of that miracle.
I want to close with a favorite quote of mine from Carl Yung. “I am not what happened to me. I am what I wish to become.” I have become a person who lives in long-term recovery. There’re 23 million Americans who have made that choice. Perhaps someone you know or someone you work with has made that choice or desperately wants to make the choice, they just need permission. I ask you to give them that permission. Thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate your attention. I know it’s hard to focus. You want to be on your iPhones and on your laptops. I’m going to take questions for about eight to ten minutes. Please don’t be shy. This is the time that I always hate, when no one has a question, but please ask away. Yes. Hi there.
My name is Joanne. Thank you so much for inspiring us today. I have a very simple question.
You described how you ended up in the ER, you described how you almost died in fact, as a result of your addictions, but you didn’t tell us what allowed you to take that critical first step on the road towards recovery.
I’d love to hear little bit more about that.
That’s something I just didn’t have time to get to. There’s so much I can talk about, but it’s like these people are getting antsy. I got 35 minutes. I will tell you what first sparked me. I woke up one day and thought I’m going to die. I’m really going to die unless I take some major steps in my life. Also, I’ll tell you something that was a huge motivator for me. My sister was pregnant with the family’s first grandchild. I thought this unborn baby has a chance to meet me as a sober person. This little unborn miracle in our family has a chance to have a sober aunt who shows up for things, who doesn’t miss her flight and miss the christening or the soccer game or the ballet recital. That little unborn baby is almost 10 and his name is Robert. He has a brother who’s almost seven, and his name is Thomas. Those two little boys, my nephew’s, and Kiori who I mentioned earlier they are three of the biggest reasons I stay sober.
For me, it was about this momentous occurrence in the family. I also knew I was going to die, and really as started off my speech, I was just sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had heard about an addiction doctor, and so I reached out to him because I could not take 30 days off to go to rehab, because again I was on TV every day and I just didn’t want to tell anybody because of the shame. So I found a good addiction doctor, who started working with me and then I got into a 12-step program which saved my life. I hope that answers your question.
It does, thank you.
Okay. Anyone else? We still have about five minutes.
My name is Steve. I’m actually the substance use expert at Talk Space. First of all, thank you so much for your story.
I want to shake your hand. Thank you-
Well, you can … Everybody can come hug me after this. I’m from Georgia. I love to hug.
I’m a hugger too, but I’m just from Montreal.
I wanted to thank you for your story because it’s important. I’ve had my own issues with substances, and thankfully I’m doing okay today. I like how you use, I’m a person in recovery versus I’m an addict, which is very, very, very important. The one thing that I hear from HR departments, I’ve seen it at Talk Space, people talk to me about their addictions and saying, “This is so freeing,” because they can type, they can talk to me. They don’t have to worry about anything and I love doing that. I’m going to throw a question. I know my answer but I wanted to throw it out. What I’ve heard HR, including a company I worked for in the past, say, “Well, addition is a choice. The person’s making a choice to do this.” What would you say to anyone who might say that to you?
Such a good question. It’s a question I get a lot. It’s a question Joe gets a lot. “Well, you can just control it, Laurie. You’ve made some bad choices.” Look, choice is part of it, I think. I get it. However, there is a genetic component to this disease. It runs in my family. I don’t want to tell you exactly what specific family members suffer from addiction in my family, but I get it from everywhere. Part of it is biological. I was born. The rest of it is definitely environmental, but it’s not so simple. Do other people have a choice when they diagnosed with cancer? I suppose if you smoke and you are diagnosed with lung cancer than maybe yes. It’s a tricky question.
I felt like I could not stop after the first drink, so maybe people think, “Well, you could make a choice not to pick up that second, third, fourth drink,” but I didn’t because I have a disease that tells me that I don’t have a disease. The disease of addiction was characterized as a disease by the American Medical Association back in the 1950s. It’s a very real thing. I’m not sure I answered your question effectively.
Well, you did and thank you for that. What I tell people about choice is that maybe the first drink is a choice, or the first use is a choice, but after awhile it’s no longer a choice. It’s a mode of survival.
That’s what I say about choice, it’s no longer a choice after the first or second one. Let’s-
It’s hard for people, those of you who are not in recovery or who can handle alcohol fine, you don’t understand it so hard. That’s why I’m here today. I want to try to educate you about this. You know we are not flawed people. We are flawed people, but we’re not bad people, we are flawed people.
Any other questions? Yes, hi. In the middle in the white top.
This will probably be a bit of interesting question.
Well, I’ll be the judge of that.
I work in HR consulting, so I work with large employers, all the benefit programs and the like, and specifically work a lot in employee engagement. Employers have a tremendous amount of data at their disposal. They always have a number of laws and regulations that they have to comply with the data. My question for you … Sort of a follow-up to the emergency room question … If you would have, within a few days of that emergency room visit, received from the EAP that Fox sponsors or the health plan that Fox sponsors some sort of personalized notification saying, “Hey, we know from the claim,” … Of course they do know from the claim … “that you had this incident. We’d like to point you to these resources.” At that moment in time I am curious to know if you can tell me honestly what your reaction to that message would’ve been.
I’m so glad you asked that because guess what, I paid for that ambulance and that whole visit privately. Of course I did. I didn’t want anybody to know, so I paid. It was like $2500 for the ambulance to go four blocks in New York to pick me up. I just paid for it. I think I put it on a credit card. I didn’t want anybody to know. At that time I wasn’t ready to get sober yet. Again, I said that after that overdose I didn’t get sober for two and a half years. Had I gotten a notification at that time I probably would’ve burst out crying and said, “Oh my God, they know.” It might have led me to getting help at that time. It was almost like I was waiting for someone to do an intervention on me. I wanted help so badly but I didn’t know how to ask for it. There is a chance that would’ve helped me get sober earlier.
One final thing I’ll say and then I’ve got a wrap it up is you can’t force someone to get treatment for mental illness or addiction until they’re ready and until they say, “I need help.” It is very hard. You know you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. I had to be completely ready to give it up, but if I have gotten some notification from Fox saying, “We know this happened. How can we help,” I might have gotten sober two years earlier. Who knows?
I thank you all for your time and attention today. Really appreciate it. Thank you.