“It was a very permissive time in a very rock ’n’ roll world. Pretty much anything went. I can’t characterize it as being strung out as a child. That came later. Certainly, things were set into motion early, but I wasn’t strung out as a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old. It sort of grew. It’s a snowball effect. Nobody starts out as a full-on junkie. It comes over time.” MacKenzie Phillips.
MacKenzie Phillips is remembered for playing the rebellious teenager Julie on Norman Lear’s half hour comedy, One Day at a Time (at least remembered by me; One Day At A Time was my first TV staff writing job). She is also known as the eldest daughter of the late singer-songwriter John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.
Phillips recently spoke about her troubled childhood, her eleven stints in rehab, and a long but successful path to recovery. She was recently a guest speaker for a dedication ceremony celebrating the Palm Spring’s Library’s new addiction and recovery resource center.
Phillips, who now works as an addiction recovery advocate at the Pasadena Recovery Center, has written about her complex relationship with her father. Phillips has accused her father of introducing her to drugs and engaging in an incestuous relationship from the age of 13 to 23.
She was into sex drugs and rock ’n’ roll from an early age. At 10 she shared pot brownies with the singer Donovan. At 11, she was snorting coke in her classroom at school. At 12, she gave up her virginity in a closet with a classmate at a party. At 18, she slept with Mick Jagger.
She and her father had been getting high together since she was ten. One night, while they were in a drug-induced fog, she and her father had sex. She claims that she felt like it was just a part of the rock’n roll scene at first. She didn’t feel the full shock of what they were doing.
When she realized that it wasn’t normal, she found herself engulfed in toxic shame. The shame crept to every aspect of her existence. It informed her relationship with her family, her mother, her boyfriends, and shaped her view of herself and her place in the world. It shaped her sexual identity and and severely damaged her self-esteem.
Like many incest survivors, she found herself self-medicating (in this case, with the very drugs her father had given her). Drugs and alcohol were used to numb the emotional pain and cope with the confusion she felt in her defining years.
Studies show that such individuals are three times more likely than average to use marijuana, six times as likely to use cocaine and ten times as likely to use heroin.
Phillips has been candid about her excesses. She admits using cocaine while working on her tv show. She said she’s even been high on a One Day At A Time reunion, on TV and shot up heroin before an interview on the Today Show. She admits to shooting up cocaine while still being pregnant with her son. By some miracle, he was born a normal, healthy baby boy.
Now she’s a member of Writer’s In Treatment,” a group of TV and screenwriters in recovery who speak out and offer resources for those who currently cope with addiction issues. She often speaks out at the group’s meetings. Other members include Ed Begley Jr., Robert Downey Jr., and Joanna Cassidy. Their resources are available to everyone.
Phillip’s had the added pressure of trying to recover in the public eye. Her fans and detractors all knew she’d been fired from her TV show at the age of 17 for drug abuse. She didn’t work for years. Her recovery stretched out for more than a decade.
“I am a survivor of incest and sexual abuse,” Phillips said wrapping up her recent presentation in Palm Springs. “But I am not a victim.” Phillips said she views her sobriety as the one thing that her father couldn’t take from her.
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