“I am a very careful sober person. When I work, if there are no recovery meetings available, I make them.”
The legendary Halloween actress detailed how she became addicted to painkillers and what led her to get help with Variety magazine for its first-ever recovery issue.
Like so many people with opioid addiction, Curtis’s dependency on painkillers began when she was given Vicodin after a routine cosmetic surgery for pain.
“They gave me Vicodin as a painkiller for something that wasn’t really painful,” Curtis said. Her experience is all-too-common. The overprescription of opioids for post-operative pain is one of the driving factors behind the opioid epidemic. Nowadays, opioid prescribing guidelines and legislation are working to correct the course of the epidemic.
Curtis also discussed how addiction impacted her family, including her father, actor Tony Curtis.
Sharing Drugs With Dad
“I knew my dad had an issue because I had an issue and he and I shared drugs. There was a period of time where I was the only child that was talking to him. I had six siblings. I have five. My brother, Nicholas, died of a heroin overdose when he was 21 years old. But I shared drugs with my dad. I did cocaine and freebased once with my dad. But that was the only time I did that, and I did that with him. He did end up getting sober for a short period of time and was very active in recovery for about three years. It didn’t last that long. But he found recovery for a minute.”
Similar to her father, Curtis was high-functioning in her addiction.
“I never did it when I worked. I never took drugs before 5 p.m. I never, ever took painkillers at 10 in the morning. It was that sort of late afternoon and early evening — I like to refer to it as the warm-bath feeling of an opiate. It’s like the way you naturally feel when your body is cool, and you step into a warm bath, and you sink into it. That’s the feeling for me, what an opiate gave me, and I chased that feeling for a long time.”
Curtis described the moment her facade slipped in 1998. A friend witnessed her taking five Vicodin with a sip of wine in her kitchen and confronted her. “I heard this voice: ‘You know, Jamie, I see you. I see you with your little pills, and you think you’re so fabulous and so great, but the truth is you’re dead. You’re a dead woman.’”
This stern warning didn’t deter her from using and neither would a later confrontation with her sister Kelly about stealing her pain pills. She finally decided to get help a couple months later after reading an article about recovery in Esquire.
Her First AA Meeting
Going to AA for the first time can be intimidating but there’s an added set of worries when you’re a Hollywood superstar trying to privately deal with addiction.
“I was terrified. I was just terrified that someone in the recovery community was going to betray my trust. But it is my experience that that doesn’t really happen and that my fear was unfounded. There is no guarantee in the world that someone won’t betray your confidence. There are also ways for people to get recovery help privately. There are ways for people to understand that public figures need privacy in order to be able to disclose and talk about this shameful secret that has dogged and plagued them their whole lives.
Now, Curtis is 21 years sober, something she doesn’t take for granted. She holds recovery meetings in her trailers when she’s working, if none are available.
“I am a very careful sober person. When I work, if there are no recovery meetings available, I make them. I put a sign up by the catering truck saying, ‘Recovery meeting in my trailer.’ When I was in Charleston making Halloween, I was in a coffee shop near where I was living, and I met somebody in recovery, who told me, ‘Oh, those two ladies out on the patio are sober too. There’s a women’s meeting near here.’ I went out and introduced myself to the ladies, and a day later I was at a women’s gathering 100 yards from where I was living. Literally 100 yards. When I was making The Tailor of Panama with Pierce Brosnan and John Boorman, I was swimming in the Gatun Dam, but on my day off, I found a recovery meeting that only spoke Spanish, didn’t speak a word of English. I didn’t understand a word anybody said, but I went and sat down and met people, shook hands and talked.”