Sober celebrities gathered in Los Angeles to express gratitude for their recovery and celebrate this year’s Experience, Strength, and Hope Award-winner, Jodie Sweetin.
On February 28, 2019, the 10th Annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards honored actress Jodie Sweetin for her successful journey into recovery. Detailed with painful conviction in her book, unSweetined: A Memoir, Sweetin’s story exemplifies the ESH Awards’ mission to recognize an individual’s honest journey from addiction to recovery, and their dedication and enthusiasm for carrying the “message” to help others with addiction. Hosted by Leonard Buschel, founder of Writers in Treatment and the Reel Recovery Film Festival, the event marked a milestone for the recovery community in Southern California and beyond.
For ten years, Leonard Buschel’s organization has hosted the high profile get-together in Los Angeles honoring people who spread the word of recovery. Commenting on the success of his efforts, Leonard said, “For the past ten years, it’s been very gratifying honoring these remarkable individuals who’ve taken the time and have had the fortitude to bare their souls writing such compelling memoirs. We mark this 10th anniversary honoring Jodie Sweetin, who went from adored child star to struggling addict, then rising phoenix-like to become an author, devoted mother, and full-time TV and film actress.”
The experience of being honored at the ESH Awards resonates with the honorees as well. When asked what it meant to her, Jodie Sweetin smiled and said, “It’s incredible that such an inspirational event has now been happening for an entire decade. It’s powerful not just as a symbol of success outside of the sober community, but also as a celebration of recovery from within. Together, we are stronger, and we have a voice that has an impact and can save lives.”
Having covered this event as a journalist for The Fix and other news organizations since its inception, I have been impressed by its consistency and overall quality year after year. Before the actual awards presentation, there is a catered reception organized by Ahbra K. Schiff, the Director of Operations and Outreach for Writers in Treatment and the Reel Recovery Film Festival. The reception includes red carpet photographs, networking, food, and lots of nonalcoholic drinks. Every year, there’s a buzzing energy in the room before the show.
During the reception, I asked Mackenzie Phillips what she thought of the ESH Awards’ decade-long history.
“It means that we are a vital and important people; we are members of society today. This event is a testament to our staying power, our longevity, and our insistence on surviving and thriving. As it says in the Big Book, we are not a glum lot,” she said.
The miracle of recovery also is expressed through family. Ben Buschel, Leonard’s son, embraced the path of sobriety several years after his father. As Leonard remarked, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. With close to 20 years of sobriety under his belt, Ben said about the event, “After witnessing this celebration of recovery in Los Angeles time and time again, I have come to appreciate that the best parties and the most fun are to be had long after we thought the party was over.”
Leonard Buschel is well-known for calling the ESH Awards his love letter to Alcoholics Anonymous, and attendees of the show share his appreciation of the program. During the catered reception, Academy Award-nominated actor Bruce Davison expressed how “The Experience, Strength and Hope Awards has expanded the 12-step principle of ‘keep coming back.’ It shows that what works for us in recovery also works for us in all the other areas of our lives.”
When you think about the nature of recovery, there are very few lightning strikes or earthquakes or flashes of enlightenment. Instead, the process of getting and staying sober is the day-to-day maintenance of a person’s spiritual, mental, and physical condition. In recovery, we learn to take care of ourselves. By turning the ESH Awards into an institution that reflects the best of these efforts, Leonard Buschel pays respect to the hard part of the journey.
Mackenzie Phillips, a former winner of the Experience, Strength and Hope Award, intimately understands the hard part of the journey. As she mentioned onstage, it took 11 attempts at treatment before she was able to achieve sustained sobriety. She also memorialized the winner of the first annual ESH Award, Christopher Kennedy Lawford. In 2018, Lawford, 63, died after suffering a heart attack at a yoga studio in Vancouver, British Columbia. The internationally-respected author, actor, and activist had been sober for over 30 years.
Phillips remarked how happy Peter Kennedy Lawford would have been to see all the people in recovery gathered together on this day to honor what matters in our lives. Smiling through tears, she said: “We freely have been given this life, and we are blessed to be able to celebrate together. We come here so we can express our gratitude for the amazing gift of recovery.”
In her acceptance speech, Jodie Sweetin expanded on this idea. Beyond thriving and expressing gratitude, we also learn how to love and be loved in recovery. Looking directly at her parents from the podium on stage, she said: “When we are using, we don’t get the luxury of being with the people who love us because we are unable to love ourselves. Loving and being loved by your family, your friends, and your community is one of the greatest gifts of recovery.”
Many other celebrities took part in this year’s event. Ed Begley, Jr. hosted, John Stamos presented the award to Sweetin, and there were special appearances by actors Joanna Cassidy and Tony Denison. At the end of the night, after spoken word and musical performances, comedian Mark Schiff closed the show. By the end of the 10th Annual Experience, Strength and Hope Awards, everyone was ready to go home and climb into bed, relaxed, happy, and with fond memories of the evening.