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- January 29, 1990
- Vol. 33
- No. 4
Falling Down...and Getting Back Up Again
She Thought She Had Quit Drugs and Drink Forever, but After a Relapse Actress Drew Barrymore Knows She Faces a Lifelong Battle
"I'm aching for pasta," the teenager says into the receiver. "In the Valley? I don't know. Besides, I don't have any money."
"Would you?" she giggles. "Will my best friend take me on a date?"
For any number of California teens, this would be an unremarkable scene of tranquil domesticity, but for young Drew Barrymore it represents a kind of achievement. At birth she became a fifth-generation member of a singular, century-old acting dynasty; at 7, in E.T., she was a full-fledged movie star in the most popular film ever made. And before adolescence she became the latest inheritor of her family's dark legacy of alcoholism and addiction, a veteran user of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
Drew has been actively battling her dependencies since 1988, and last year, after a highly publicized stay in a California rehabilitation clinic, she proclaimed herself sober for the first time since age 9. But as stories circulated of a relapse into drug use and a suicide attempt, it became clear that Drew's self-declared happy ending was slipping away. She headed back into the center for a three-month stay last July, then spent another three months at an unlikely locale—the home of friend David Crosby, the musician of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame, and his wife, Jan Dance, both survivors of their own harrowing odyssey of alcohol and drug abuse. Crosby has gone straight since his 11-month jail term in 1983 for conviction on drug and weapons charges, but even the seen-it-all, done-it-all rocker has been touched by the enormity of Drew's fight. "It's hard enough being an alcoholic," muses Crosby. "But being a 14-year-old at the same time?"
This month, as she leaves the Crosbys and moves back home to her mother, Ildiko Jaid, with whom she has shared a stormy relationship, Drew talks about her past 12 months with an introspection surprising for someone whose cheeks are still plump with baby fat. Sitting on her mom's couch, a pack of Marlboros by her side, she speaks with girlish candor and not a hint of self-pity. "Emotionally," she says, "I hit the biggest bottom ever. Everything just collapsed on me. Everything." As she relates in her new autobiography, Little Girl Lost, that trauma did finally teach her the first lesson that every addict must learn: "The truth is that you are never fully mended. There is no happy ending because there is no end to the struggle for a clean and sober life."
Tossing her hair, she says the latest—and most painful—chapter in her life began not long after her release in December 1988 from the ASAP Family Treatment Center in Van Nuys, where she thought she had put her addictions behind her. Looking back, however, she realizes she was not truly sober, but only "dry." "When you're dry," she explains, "you don't have the chemicals, but you're doing the same old patterns as when you were loaded. When somebody puts a joint in front of your face, it's easy to say, 'Okay.' "
In March, on the six-month anniversary of her sobriety, Drew says that's exactly what happened. Out on the town with a friend who had a couple of joints, Drew hesitated only a moment before smoking one. "I thought, 'Oh, everyone's gonna be so pissed.' Then I took the joint and inhaled it like there was no tomorrow." That night, she and her friend got into a car accident. Drew's head broke the windshield, but she was unhurt. Her only concern, she remembers, was that her breach of sobriety might be discovered. "But you know what?" she says. "Addicts are the best manipulators in the world, and we manipulated our way through it. We 'slapped five.' We were free!"
At home the next morning, Drew's mother, Jaid, a former actress who has cared for her only child since she left John Barrymore Jr. while she was pregnant, congratulated her daughter for six months of sobriety. Drew's guilt began to flare. "I love my mother more than anybody in the world. But I was just too scared to come out and say, 'Oh, Mom, guess what? I got loaded to celebrate my six months.' " She got high two more times over the next few months but "my ass was always being covered by somebody." Her relationship with her mother, a fragile woman who rarely saw through Drew's fabrications, began deteriorating. The two fought incessantly, until finally, in June, Drew moved with an older girlfriend to a tiny West Hollywood apartment.
Drew's depression worsened with her own mounting lies. She put on 10 lbs. A boy she liked seemed coolly disinterested. Then she received a call from her father, an alcoholic and a drug abuser whom she hadn't seen in nearly eight years, begging her for money. "If I had been in a rational state, I probably would have been suckered into him, but I was so frazzled," remembers Drew, "I just went, 'No!' and flew off the handle. Everything was coming down on me. I called my mom crying, and she goes, 'Oh, honey, by the way, I'm leaving for New York tomorrow.' "
The next day, while waiting to be picked up for a Fourth of July barbecue, she heard that some friends were mad at her. It was a minor blow, but enough to send Drew over the edge. "I thought, 'My dad hates me, I'm fat, ugly, I've got no money, I'm living on my own, nobody likes me, I can't stand this!' " She tried phoning her mother and her therapists at ASAP, but the center had emptied because of the holiday. Unable to find any other release for her anguish, she says, "I ran into the kitchen and could not stop crying. If a gun was there, you know, I might have shot myself, I don't know. I grabbed a knife, and I thought, 'Well, what shows the most pain?' So I went in the living room, and I cut"—she makes a slashing motion across her wrist—"and right then my friend walked in, freaked out and rushed me to the hospital."
Drew insists that she never intended to kill herself. "I kind of slipped," she says. "I just wanted what would get me the most attention at that point—and sympathy. I didn't want to die."
From the suicide ward at the local hospital, Drew was sent back to the ASAP center. It was in the comfort of that familiar setting, she says, that she finally reached a critical epiphany. Counselors Betty Wyman and Lori Cerasoli, she recalls, "sat me down and just said, 'You've come close to death before, and you're heading in that direction. This is your last chance, or you can die.' As I looked at it, I thought, 'They're right.' "
In a move crucial to Drew's recovery, her counselors also persuaded her mother to check in for six weeks of separate co-dependency treatment at the Meadows, a clinic near Phoenix. "I come from a very dysfunctional family," admits Jaid, with tears in her eyes. "I grew up in a violent household with a lot of anger, so my frame of reference for a solid family structure didn't exist." Indeed, Jaid had largely ignored the early signs of her daughter's smoking and drinking and was often her escort at the Hollywood parties and clubs where her bad habits began. At the Meadows she learned to be both more consistent and strict. "I had tried to be all things to Drew—mother, manager, drill sergeant, friend," says Jaid. "And when one assumes too many roles, none are done well."
Despite the progress that both Drew and Jaid had made individually and in family sessions at ASAP, when Drew was ready to leave the center in October, Betty Wyman concluded that she would benefit from some interim time in a new environment. She asked David Crosby, 48, and his wife, Jan, 38, if Drew might stay with them for a while. Betty had introduced Drew to the Crosbys (Wyman's husband, Dallas Taylor, had been a drummer for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) when she had first entered ASAP, and Jan had become Drew's Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. The couple were eager to help.
"I knew her father back when I was using," says Crosby, who recently made somewhat of a comeback himself with a new solo album and autobiography. "I'm an old Hollywood kid and I knew her story. I felt she had been dealt a short deck, you know, a fifth-generation alcoholic, and I didn't want to see her go down the tubes. I would not presume to try and supplant her parents. But she needed to be around some people that were committed to sobriety, and God knows, Jan and I are. We put a lot of energy into staying straight."
"It was good for Drew," says Wyman, "to be in a more conventional kind of house." She had to adjust to curfews and a set dinner time. "Drew tests limits," Wyman observes, "but if she sees you're unbending, she conforms to limits very well. My sense is that she thrived and blossomed at Jan and David's in a way I hadn't seen before."
Drew's stay with the Crosbys was the first time she had ever been around a strong paternal figure. "At first I didn't know how to deal with it," she recalls. "I wasn't used to having to answer to a man, but eventually it was really great." Crosby's presence eased Drew's constant need to seek attention from boys, which was an effort, she says, to fill the void left by her father's rejection. "Basically, what I was looking for in men or boys was acceptance," she explains. "You want to feel pretty, you want to feel loved, you want to be hugged, you want to feel adored. You want to feel that grounding of security that sometimes only men can give you, you know? And sometimes that gets out of control. It certainly did with me." Already, Drew has been linked with Edoardo Ponti, Sophia Loren's son, and actor Corey Feldman, but for now, she says, she is more comfortable with purely platonic friendships.
Not that she doesn't still enjoy the attention. About a trip to Hawaii with David and Jan last month, Crosby remembers that at first, "Drew didn't even want to go, to leave her friends and all that. But once she hit the beach and the surfers took one look at her, that was it. She spent the rest of the time on the beach with a bunch of guys sittin' around her." Crosby got a kick out of the boys that Drew would bring to visit. "They didn't know quite what to make of me," says Crosby, a musical guru of the Woodstock generation. "Oh, they know who I am, but they don't know whether I'm gonna be like, 'Grrrr, who is this?' or, 'Hey, man, like, what's happening?' "
In addition to her new outlook on boys, Drew has changed her hours, her crowd, her hangouts and has stopped cutting classes at her private school. On a typical weekend of the past, she says, "I'd wake up about 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock in the afternoon, watch some TV, around 7 we'd go out to dinner, get high, go out to a club, get loaded, go dance, you know." And now? "We go to the movies, go out to lunch, go out to an AA meeting. I've stopped going to clubs and parties, so basically I have fun, hanging out with my friends." Her mother praises Drew's attitude transformation. "The first time she came out [of rehab]," says Jaid, "we both looked at each other, going, 'Oh, God, I hope this works.' But she wants it now. I think she's gonna be all right."
Of course, as Wyman cautions, "The disease of alcoholism is one based on relapse, so there's no guarantee that next year it won't have happened again." Drew herself knows that her old demons are hovering nearby. "There's, like, when you get up in the morning and you're just, like, 'Oh, I look like crap,' or 'My hair's not working.' That's not something I would get loaded over," she says. "But then you find out some horrible news about somebody you care about, or something that you really, really wanted totally discouraged you, and you almost don't know how to handle it. That's when you're truly put to the test, because you have to overcome your temptation."
Another element of Drew's strategy to avoid those temptations is getting back to work. Absent from the screen since last summer's unsuccessful thriller Far from Home, she is reading scripts and is optimistic about prospects for future parts. Drew, who starred in her first commercial at 11 months, knows that acting will always be in her blood. "It is," she says, "my pride and joy."
For now, Drew's intentions for a future of sobriety seem tempered with hard-won experience. "You know, when you become sober, you don't own a halo," she says matter-of-factly. "You've just got to do the best that you can."
Thankfully she will not be alone in her struggle. "It's kind of like watching your baby walk off into traffic," confides David Crosby, a little wistfully. "But I have a feeling she'll make it."
—Jeannie Park, Robin Micheli in Los Angeles
December 20, 2014
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