Mackenzie Phillips wants to help you recover from addiction too

Mackenzie Phillips, now a counselor, draws on her own experiences at work.
(Christina House / For The Times)

Mackenzie Phillips knows all too well the triggers that lead to addiction.

The actress, who shot to stardom while on the 1970s sitcom “One Day at a Time,” had a number of public bouts with addiction since first experimenting with drugs while still a child. In her 2009 memoir, “High on Arrival,” she confessed to having an incestuous relationship for many years with her late father, the singer John Phillips. The revelations created an uproar, with Phillips being accused of fabricating the material and leading to strained family relationships, which she says are now “on the mend.”

“After ‘High on Arrival,’ along with the family backlash, there was a huge amount of support from survivors across the world who let me know how much my story helped them,” she said. “I don’t regret writing [it], but I do feel terrible about how much distress it caused some family members.”

These days, Phillips, 57, is in a dramatically different place. After returning to school and becoming trained as a registered alcohol and drug technician, she last year began working as a substance use disorder counselor at the 22-acre Breathe Life Healing Centers in Laurel Canyon and is able to connect more authentically with patients because of her own experiences.


“She’s masterful and engaging,” said Brad Lamm, the center’s founder. “As a woman who has been through intense trauma and neglect she has an inner strength. You know she hears and sees you.”

Phillips also channeled that insight and clarity into her new book, “Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction,” a chatty, intimate tome intended to help people equip themselves with the skills to live a happier life — even if they’re not necessarily fighting serious addictions.

“Everyone has some sort of inclination to do something repetitively and compulsively,” said Phillips. “It could be food, technology, shopping, sex. People who are recovering from one addiction might pick up another one.”

While on a lunch break recently, Phillips talked about how people can be “fully realized individuals beneath the addictions.”


Why was it important for you to write this?

I wanted to write about something that was meaningful to me — and that is helping people recover from addiction and alcoholism. It’s a practical handbook, in essay form, that’s not particularly linear. You can pick it up and start anywhere. It’s like sitting and having a chat with someone.

What made you move into counseling?

All my life I’ve been interested in why people do the things they do. When I was little, I wanted to be in the field of abnormal psychology. But the acting train pulled into town and off I went. I recently started realizing: I’m not going to be alive as long as I have been. What do I want to do with the rest of my life?


What are you hoping readers take away from the book?

I really thought about what I came up against in early recovery. And I broke it down to: defining addiction, choosing recovery, becoming mindful, trusting yourself and having others trust you, control, acceptance and surrender. I address shame, regret, guilt, fear — things everyone experiences. It could be for anybody.

Broadly speaking, what is your approach?

Mindfulness, kundalini yoga, psychodrama. It’s a little bit unconventional. Clean, fresh eating. You are what you put into your body, and people need serious nutrition when they are getting clean. You can’t just throw processed food toward those who are trying to reclaim their lives. And you need a community to recover. There are a lot of ways to get there, but the destination is the same — that of peaceful, comfortable recovery. But we don’t do this alone.


Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

There are things that I regret. I also look at it as a motivator, and I think, ‘I’m going to modify my behavior so that never happens again.’ For me to consider what I would go back to change would be an exercise in futility. It can’t be done.



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