Christopher Kennedy Lawford hasn’t kept quiet about his recovery from addiction.
He’s written eight books, including a memoir, "Symptoms of Withdrawal." He’s given hundreds of speeches and interviews about his substance abuse — alcohol, heroin, prescription medication — and his recovery.
Lawford’s famous family names make it difficult for him to stay completely out of the limelight. His dad was actor Peter Lawford. His uncles were President John F. Kennedy and presidential hopeful Bobby Kennedy, both assassinated when he was a child, and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy.
And the Kennedy family belief in public service gives him more leeway to use his experience to help other people, Lawford said.
But Lawford believes other people in recovery from alcoholism and addiction need to step forward and let the world know you can have a happy, successful, rewarding life beyond addiction.
Wednesday night he brought that message to more than 300 people attending CenterPointe’s annual event at the Cornhusker, which raises more than $75,000 annually for the agency's work with low-income people who have addiction and mental health problems.
“This is an illness that many people don’t believe you can do anything about. But I am here to tell them that life can change,” Lawford said in an interview before the event.
He doesn’t generally tell his gruesome story at these speeches. But you only have to Google a little to get some of the details — experimenting with drugs as a young teen, the violent deaths of two uncles, his parents' divorce, finally getting sober and straight for good 31 years ago.
People in recovery move on from addiction to productive, responsible and successful lives, he said.
"Addiction is the most media-covered illness in America. Yet the silence of recovery from addiction is deafening," he said.
Some of that silence stems from the stigma. A woman he knows, in the real estate business in California, was talking about an annual project where everyone in the company wrote down their big achievement that year. Those notes then went up on the walls of the office.
But this woman couldn’t write down her biggest achievement — getting and staying sober — because she could lose her job, Lawford said.
Part of the problem is the hesitancy in the 12-step recovery community to be open about recovery because of the Alcoholics Anonymous' suggestion that members be anonymous with the press, radio and television.
But the anonymity issue can be handled by being very general about the specific recovery program, he said.
“People who could make a difference aren’t doing it because they think they can’t. And they can,” he said Wednesday.
The only way addiction will get the attention and money it deserves is if people in recovery get active and get visible, he said.
“This is a brain illness, not just a matter of bad choices and bad behavior," he said.