More: What prompted you to get clean?
MG: It was a gradual process. I tried drugs and alcohol recreationally in my early twenties and late teens. I mean, I was into some heavy partying with the wrong crowd. But then everything stopped when I had my first child, Dakota, at 25 years old. It was then I realized I am responsible for another life, so I’d better get my act together. Even though I still had moments where things got out of control, I was vigilant to stay healthy.
More: So you have been sober ever since?
MG: Eight years ago, my grandfather passed away, and something triggered inside me. I found myself at the end of the day not being able to fall asleep. I was full of all of these feelings that were more than just being sad. These feelings were not just about my grandfather passing away, but there were other things that had been building up. To deal with it, I would have a glass of wine or two or three or four or a couple of martinis. Before I knew it, I was drinking up to more than two bottles of wine a night.
More: By yourself?
MG: Yes, by myself. It was my son Michael who saw me refilling my glass and said point blank, “Mommy, you are not going to drink anymore, are you?” It was at that moment—August 9, to be exact—I knew I had to get sober. I haven’t had a drink since.
More: What about prescription drugs?
MG: They terrify me. I had to deal with them on an intimate level a couple of years ago when I broke my back while touring with The Little House on the Prairie Musical. We didn’t know my back was broken. If anything, we thought it was a disk. Turns out I broke part of my vertebra; it was just floating in my back. To help deal with the pain, I was traveling with all sorts of pain medications and muscle relaxers to help deal with what was going on. There were even times when I could not get out of bed due to the pain. It was so bad they would have to take me to the nearest hospital to give me morphine and steroids. But I was really scared taking this because addictions slide from one base into the other.
More: Such as?
MG: They can go from alcohol to shopping to sex, you name it. They are very patient because they just waited for the next fix.
More: Who did you turn to?
MG: My sponsor, a close friend and Dr. Drew, who worked out a plan for me to deal with this constant pain and not become addicted. Man, was that hard! I could take the medications for three days, and then I had to switch to Tylenol, which did nothing for this outrageous pain I was experiencing.
More: Has getting involved in something like this campaign helped you move away from your demons?
MG: Absolutely. One of the principles of Alcohol Anonymous, which is hard for me to do without being noticed, is to pay it forward. It is about volunteering, teaching, dealing with the problem, preventing it and getting help when needed. By taking on this job, it guarantees I will stay sober.
More: You’ve mentioned that your own children have gone down a dark path.
MG: Yes. One of my stepsons from my last marriage had a battle with cocaine. Unfortunately for him, he got arrested right after he tried it for the first time. You would think we would know what to look for since we all tried it back in the 1980s.
More: Do your children know about your past?
MG: My family knows I am an open book. My 17-year-old recently asked me if they could go down a list of all the drugs out there and then answer yes or no as to what I have tried.
More: Your response was?
MG: I have no reason to lie.
More: What’s on the list?
MG: He asked me if I ever smoked marijuana. I said yes but it made me vomit. Then he asked, “Did you ever try cocaine?” I replied, “Yes, I did,” to which he screamed, “Mother, you are so dumb!” I was a dumb teenager, I admit it. But I also asked him to ask me how many friends I had that died from drugs. I told him I had three close personal friends, plus another 10 others who lost their lives to drugs.
More: What goes through your mind when you see the young Hollywood stars of today getting busted for drugs and DUI?
MG: Let me begin by saying I am always one martini away from a full-blown relapse. I never consider myself to be recovered, and I am always trying to recover. This is nothing different today from what I was exposed to years ago. The only big difference is there is less privacy, given the explosion of the Internet, cell phones and video cameras inside the cell phones.
More: What keeps you going so you don’t make that wrong turn?
MG: I do a lot of praying. However, sometimes it is all about the carbohydrates. I confess French fries or mac and cheese make it all better.
More: Who inspires you?
MG: Robert Downey Jr. is a hero of mine. His story is so extraordinary. I love hearing what he has been through and seeing how he came out the other end. He reinvented himself and is flourishing in his career, his marriage and as the father of a new baby. What makes him even more special is he always says how appreciative he is and how blessed he feels.
More: A big theme here at Moreis reinvention. How did Melissa Gilbert reinvent herself?
MG: I want to inspire others, and I hope by paying it forward I can change someone else’s life for the better.
More: You also recently filed for divorce. How are you doing?
MG: I just moved, too. I have been through the big three all in one year: divorce, death and moving. They all happened around the same time.
More: Are you starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
MG: I just had a meltdown last week. I didn’t want to get out of my pajamas or unpack another box or wash more dishes. I wanted to sit on the couch and watch some of the Lifetime movies that I am not in, eat mac and cheese and cry. I even watched The Green Mile because I knew it would make me cry.
More: Why did you want to cry, given these huge obstacles you recently overcame?
MG: I have been the cheerleader for everyone else. I never experienced the stage of grief, and I needed to do that. Those are the things I needed to do to keep me sober.
More: If you could leave us with one piece of advice, what would you say?
MG: If I can do it, anyone can do it!
More: You are teaming up with DrugFree.org. Tell me why you felt compelled to get involved.
Melissa Gilbert: I have been their spokesperson for almost two years, and in addition to that, I continue to be sober! Aside from that, I am a mom to four children and have watched a couple of my kids go through their own tough times, so I think I know a thing or two about addiction.
More: Explain your role.
MG: I am now promoting the organization’s newest initiative, called The Medicine Abuse Project. The goal of this project is to keep half a million children here in the United States from trying prescription medicine over the next five years.
More: Kids reaching into their parents’ medicine cabinet seems to be the latest trend.
MG: One in six, to be exact, between the ages of 12 and 13 has died from abusing prescription medicine. I mean, more people are dying from drug overdoses than from car crashes.
More: Some people might look at you and say, How could Half-Pint (the nickname her TV dad, the late Michael Landon, gave her) from Little House on the Prairie, which was so pure and innocent, get hooked on drugs?
MG: They didn’t come from that. I wish I lived in that perfect little world everyone watched on TV. While everyone was watching my perfect TV family, I was thinking this family is my fantasy. I wish my family was like that, but offscreen we were not like that at all. There was trauma—significant trauma, to be exact—in both my past and my childhood.
More: You also documented your troubles in your book, Prairie Tale: A Memoir.
MG: I hope people found a connection to me and found the strength to get over their obstacles.
Click here to read “Dee Wallace: From E.T. Star to Author and Motivational Speaker.”
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