VALPARAISO | A “moment of grace” 27 years ago saved his life.
After years of using drugs and alcohol, Christopher Kennedy Lawford decided to seek help.
“I became willing to believe my best thinking had made quite a mess of things and I was willing to change,” Lawford said Saturday night in Valparaiso. “This was my introduction to humility.”
Lawford, a New York Times best-selling author on recovery and addiction and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy, was the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner Saturday for Frontline Foundations Inc., a drug and alcohol abuse treatment program in Chesterton and Valparaiso.
Lawford spoke before a crowd of 300 people at Valparaiso University’s Harre Union.
Addiction is “the most serious and costly health problem” in the United States, costing $4 billion to $6 billion yearly, while only 10 percent of those who need treatment receive it, Lawford said.
Few people understand that addiction is a “brain disease,” he said.
“We don’t treat cancer and diabetes as a moral failure, and we shouldn’t treat this disease that way either,” he said, to audience applause.
Lawford's chronicle of his life’s path of alcohol and drug addiction was peppered with humor.
“I was given wealth power and fame before I drew my first breath,” he said, noting that his father, actor Peter Lawford, was a member of the Hollywood 'Rat Pack.’
“Marilyn Monroe taught me how to do the twist when I was 6 years old,” Lawford said, to audience laughter.
“What we didn’t understand at that time was that addiction ignores all that,” he said.
Addiction was his escape from all the pain he felt inside, said Lawford. He said his first addition was sugar; at 16 he tried LSD (when his life “changed forever”), and on his 21st birthday, his father “shared a vial of cocaine” with him.
“Drugs and booze made me feel fortified,” Lawford said. “The world was suddenly not so scary.”
Yet, he said, addiction landed him in jail and intensive care, damaged his liver, heart and lungs, drove away friends, and killed his cousin, his father, and his best friend.
“Clean and sober” for 27 years, Lawford is the father of three children for whom he hopes to be an example.
“I am the father I am today because I am in recovery” he said. “My kids know I don’t need to get high to have fun. Today, I am somebody, because in recovery I get to use my experience strength and hope and help others change their lives if they want to.”
Lawford praised Frontline Foundations and the people who support its work.
“The folks in communities like this are doing God’s work,” Lawford said. “I’m going to write a check because that’s what I do. Ask yourself how you’re going to make a difference tonight.”