The path that has led Christopher Kennedy Lawford to become one of the nation’s most high-profile advocates in addiction treatment and recovery certainly doesn’t resemble a calculated play. He wrote his first book on the topic not to get on a soapbox, but simply to launch a writing career. When he pitched the concept for his second book to the first four people he thought might contribute, only one of the responses encouraged him to pursue the idea.
So is it luck that brought Lawford to the New York Times bestseller list earlier this year, as well as a formal advocacy role with a leading addiction treatment organizations? Or is it another kind of intervention at work? It would be an interesting question to ponder for a person who attributes his own recovery to something he still struggles to define precisely.
“Addiction is not just a physical disease or a mental disease—there is also a spiritual component,” says Lawford. “I for nine years had tried to attack this physically. I tried abstinence, and I tried psychological approaches also. What happened to me couldn’t be explainable in physical or mental terms.”
Lawford’s new book, Moments of Clarity: Voices From the Front Lines of Addiction and Recovery, is a collection of stories from a variety of individuals that attempt to shed light on the “transformational moment” that he believes happens for most addicts to start them on the road to recovery. “Some are more dramatic than others,” Lawford says of these moments. His own occurred on a cold day in Boston in 1986 when he was having suicidal thoughts and decided as a last resort to seek the advice of a cousin who urged him to rejoin a recovery group that hadn’t worked for him before.
The follow-up to his book Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption spent three weeks on the New York Times bestseller list earlier this year, yet it actually represented a detour from Lawford’s earlier plans to work on a novel. He says that in speaking engagements about his first book, people constantly asked him what had happened on that February day that allowed him to change his life. The new book, published by William Morrow, includes stories of transformation from celebrities and unknown heroes, from friends of Lawford’s and complete strangers.
Asked about what he learned from his latest project, Lawford says it is important to remember that “there are a lot of different pathways to this thing.” He adds in reference to the highly personal stories told in the book, “Sharing your experience, strength and hope is the most powerful engine for social change in America.”
Lawford’s speaking engagements after his first book led to his being approached by Caron Treatment Centers to speak nationally on the treatment center’s behalf on issues ranging from fair housing to parity to the shortcomings of the drug war. “This doesn’t put bodies in their beds,” Lawford says of Caron. They do it because they care about the issues.”
This October in Minneapolis, Lawford will be the featured speaker at Hazelden’s 60th anniversary celebration. Press material for the event states, “He shares his personal story of recovery in hopes of making a difference.”