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Tyler Gillespie Tyler Gillespie

Lindsay Lohan’s Mistreatment Should Matter to All Addicts

Getting and staying sober has been hard enough for me without paparazzi, vicious tabloids and TV cameras documenting my every move. I can't even imagine what it's like for Lindsay.

5 Substance

Lindsay Lohan is a “skanky boney smelly drug-fuelled body” who “alledgedlly makes money from dirty old men in the Valley, Saudi Princes, and other EuroTrash,” according to the commenters on one recent article. Almost every mention of Lohan online inspires this kind of rage-fueled diatribe.

I’ve never met a Saudi Prince or allegedly made money from old men in the Valley. But Lohan and I have some defining things in common: We’re both 27 years old and pale as the day is long; we’ve both struggled with addiction; and we both know a thing or two about difficult relationships with our fathers (read: “Daddy Issues”). I guess this is why Lindsay’s struggle, and her mistreatment by the media, matter so much to me.

Lohan became a child star at age 10 in The Parent Trap. My grandmother says when I was 11 I told her I thought the redhead “was hot.” The 2004 hit Mean Girls cemented her Hollywood fame, but LiLo really won my undying support in 2005, when I watched the video for her single “Confessions of a Broken Heart (Daughter to Father)” on MTV’s Total Request Live. “I dream of another you, one who would never leave me alone to pick up the pieces,” go the lyrics. “A daddy to hold me, that’s what I needed.” The video stars Lohan’s real-life sister Ali sobbing in a bathtub. Video parents fight in the background.

Until this single, Lohan had maintained a goody-goody image. This was a glimpse of something grittier and darker—something I could feel. I became a fan. We were both 18 when the video was released.

Not long after it aired, she checked into rehab for the first time.

My first ever alcoholic drink was a “Roman Coke.” I’d misheard someone order “rum and coke,” and that was the only drink name I knew. I was 15, at my father’s wedding reception in a Kentucky Elks Lodge in the early 2000s. The DJ played something like the electric slide as I marched up to the bar with my bleach-blond hair.

Before I left my home in Florida to go to the wedding my mom had sat me down: “Please don’t drink.” At the time, I attended a Southern Baptist Christian high school, prayed every night, and refrained from cursing for fear of hell. Drinking never crossed my mind.

As my mother expected, though, my father told me I should drink with him to celebrate. We spent little time together so I obliged. As the night progressed I downed a few more “Roman Cokes” and a bottle or two of cheap champagne. Then I puked in the Elks Lodge bathroom and blacked out.

“Let’s not tell your mom,” said my father’s mother the next morning. Hungover on the plane, I resolved to keep quiet. I wanted to protect my father.

Sometime later, my father and stepmother left Kentucky and moved into a trailer park within walking distance of my mom’s house. During high school I often picked him up, gave him money, and took him to the liquor store to buy me booze. It was a bond we shared.

My high school friends would drink stuff like Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff Ice, but I took shots of Bacardi 151 and chased it with vodka—because I liked the taste. I once almost got kicked out of high school for smuggling vodka on an overnight trip. I blacked out frequently. Shortly after my graduation in 2005, I was arrested in a mall parking lot for driving drunk on my way home from a gay bar.

Getting sober is fucking hard—even if you do manage to “lay off” the sauce/pills/powder/etc, things don’t get easier right away. People who aren’t in recovery rarely understand the process.

On Memorial Day 2007, Lindsay Lohan made headlines with her first DUI arrest. In 2010, she was arrested for violating parole, in 2011 for theft and in 2012 for battery. It became difficult to insure her for a movie role. She stopped getting cast in as many productions.

Like Lohan, my legal troubles followed me. In 2012, an employer fired me three days into my first post-college job. They ran a background check and discovered my past DUI arrest. Although my conviction classified as a misdemeanor, Florida is a “right to work” state, and the company followed a “one and done rule”—I was done. The job consisted of writing about celebrities for an entertainment website. Had I kept my cubicle, I would’ve probably written plenty of stories about Lohan. Her rumored use of various substances—alcohol, cocaine, Adderall—had made her a gossip mag favorite.

At this point I was in my twenties and living Grey Gardens style at my grandmother’s house, while Lohan “dated” A-list actors and stayed in places like West Hollywood’s posh Chateau Marmont. Though we occupied different worlds, I still felt connected to her. In the years following her “Confession” video she publicly fought with her father, who’s also an alcoholic (he appeared on VH1’s Celebrity Rehab). My own father sent me Facebook messages telling me how much my absence hurt him—I barely responded. Years later, I still haven’t quite figured out what to say.

Shortly after getting fired, I made an appointment with a therapist. Along with my joblessness, my long-term boyfriend had broken up with me. I wanted a professional to say, “It’s not you, it’s him.” That’s how I thought therapy worked. Within 10 minutes the therapist said, “You’re an alcoholic.”  I thought, maybe she’s right.

“I’m an addict,” Lindsay Lohan told Oprah on national TV in 2013. It was a powerful admission. But it has hardly gotten people off her case. I often hear or read people saying she should just “lay off” the booze—as if it’s that easy.

It’s not. Getting sober is fucking hard—even if you do manage to “lay off” the sauce/pills/powder/etc, things don’t get easier right away. People who aren’t in recovery rarely understand the process. A “normal” life is possible for someone in recovery, but we may have to re-define what “normal” means. Many addicts, myself included, struggle with how to handle situations like a Friday night out with co-workers, or explaining our sobriety to a new friend. Oh, and sober dating: Is that even a thing? I’m constantly checking-in with myself and others, and it can be an exhausting process. Despite the rewards, at three years sober, I still sometimes feel overwhelmed and alone.

I can’t imagine struggling with addiction in the spotlight. In 2012, Lindsay starred in Lifetime’s Liz & Dick—a film depicting Elizabeth Taylor’s patterns of unhealthy drinking (pretty uncanny). The actress was reportedly intoxicated and drugged during much of the filming, missing one day when she was found unconscious in a hotel room. Soon after the shoot, a judge mandated a 90-day rehab stay.

In August 2013, four days after she completed her stint at Cliffside Malibu, Lohan began filming her “docuseries” Lindsay for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. Oprah reportedly offered her $2 million. Many were quick to criticize her decision to accept, but her career was on the rocks. And could anyone really turn down $2 million?

Every time she leaves her house people assume she’s on her way to the liquor store. That’s a lot of pressure. Thank God no one is accusing me of relapse every time I make a Taco Bell run.

So for months, a film crew followed her around, documenting her early recovery. Predictably, it sounds like the eight-episode show was a nightmare for everyone involved. In one scene, the paparazzi prevent Lohan from attending an AA meeting, since the paps could have compromised the group’s anonymity. Throughout the series, Lohan was widely criticized in the media for her erratic behavior, brattiness, and selfishness. (While Oprah is depicted as a patron saint trying to help the ungrateful star.) The show’s ratings were reported as an “absolute disaster.” One inside source said: “It didn’t pull in the viewers that Oprah had hoped for.”

The first entry for a recent 2014 “Lindsay Lohan” Google search came up as an article headlined “Good Riddance, Lindsay! Off-The-Wagon Lohan Plans London Move.” The exclamation-ridden article speculates on Lindsay’s future European plans and accuses her of lying about her sobriety—calling her “a hard-partying star—who still claims to be sober.”

Did Lindsay stay sober? I don’t know, and it’s not for me to speculate. But I do know that trying to stay sober in her circumstances must be difficult.

In my early recovery, my insecurities often made me want to drink. Lohan sees hers plastered all over the front pages of tabloids. I needed space and quiet—not the stuff that drives ratings.

I needed to learn boundaries. Whereas Lohan’s struggles were mined by those closest to her for profits. Some of her “friends” talked to tabloids; one sold a compromising photo of the actress possibly “grabbing” for a wine bottle in a private apartment. Every time she leaves her house people assume she’s on her way to the liquor store. That’s a lot of pressure. Thank God no one is accusing me of relapse every time I make a Taco Bell run. Celebrities may live privileged lives in certain respects, but privacy is priceless.

If you’ve ever said “I’m an addict” and meant it, you know how much weight that statement carries. Famous or not, we’re all in this together. It’s time we all stopped being Mean Girls.

Tyler Gillespie is the palest Floridian you will ever meet. He has written for Rolling Stone, Salon, The Daily Beast and NPR.