Kristen Johnston, the towering comedic actress best known for her role on "3rd Rock from the Sun," may bring the laughs on TV Land's "The Exes," but in reality, the star has been battling some serious personal issues.
Johnston recently penned a powerfully honest memoir, "Guts," in which she writes about her miserable school years, her rise to fame and, most stunningly, her addictions to drugs and alcohol.
The actress, 44, who has been working to establish the first sober high school in New York City, chatted with The Huffington Post about her new book and overcoming her serious struggles.
In "Guts," you write about suffering a terrifying medical scare. What happened?
Five years ago I ended up -- due to naughty living -- with a gastric ulcer that I wasn’t aware of and it burst and I became septic, meaning I filled up with stomach stuff in my armpit. I was in the hospital for two months. That’s the short story; for the rest you’ve got to buy the book. Basically, the event is used to help tell my story of addiction.
The pain sounds as if it was unbearable.
It was. I’ve never even experienced pain like that. Trying to describe it in words was so challenging because I also wanted it to be me, which is funny. I have a lot of self-deprecation; I’m not a pitying person. It was also a very lonely process to write about that because it was so dark.
You’re an alcoholic.
Yes, and a drug addict.
How long was your addiction really serious?
I would say it was bad for six years, but really bad the last three. The thing that’s so complicated about addiction, which I hope I addressed [in the book], is that the nightmare is your friends and loved ones are behind door number one and your drug is behind door number two, and you will always choose door two. It’s not personal; it’s because you’re in prison. You can’t help it.
It was a slow, slow process. I call [my addiction] "Mr. Morphine" because it was like a toxic relationship. We dated for a week and then we broke up for six months, and then we’d date for another two weeks. It was like that until basically six years ago, when I was like, "Oh, alright, move in."
There are so many different types of addiction and people kind of separate themselves from us; I’m not that different from you. I mean, I do have different brain chemistry than you. But I believe that if the right circumstances happen, like your child, God forbid, is harmed and you happen to get a migraine at the exact same time...
You’d drink yourself silly every night.
Exactly. Anyone has the capability for it. But I do believe there are some people that have a greater predilection. I’m the strongest person I’ve ever met; I can will things with my mind, or at least I thought so, and so the fact that I couldn’t navigate this on my own was shocking to me. I’d done everything myself. So I started to believe I could actually control things and the bottom line is I can’t.
That’s hard, that surrender.
I had a lot of shame, and that’s why it took me so long to get help because I did know for a good long while that I was in trouble, but I just kept thinking I would grow out of it. When I didn’t, that’s when I realized, "Oh my God, I’m really really an addict." I was also embarrassed at the concept of me being an actual cliché -- "Oh great, another actress on painkillers."
The tabloids went nuts when you lost a lot of weight.
I was sober then. That was a really dark time. I was finally on the right path and yes, I did look terrible, I agree. However, I did give a statement where I told the truth. I said that due to late night living, I had a gastric ulcer that burst. I was in hospital for two months, had a large portion of my stomach removed, blah, blah, blah. Ever since then I’ve been sober and yes, I’m struggling to put on weight, but they would not print any of that.
I couldn’t believe the level of malice directed toward me. I thought once, "God, what if I was anorexic? This would be the worst." Everybody knows anorexia is a disease that people struggle with and the fact that people were so cruel was shocking to me.
You write that you had a tough time when you were in school, something that many people can relate to.
I really was a loser; I’m not exaggerating. It wasn’t just that my height (6 feet) was wrong. I was very loud. I always said the wrong thing at the exact worst moment. They called me "learning disabled" even though I wasn’t. I had to wear corrective shoes, and everything I wore was totally ill-fitting only because my mother could not keep up with my height. Now I look at pictures of me then and I go, "What a cutie," but back then I felt like a giant ugly turd. But you know what? It gave me everything I am.
You don’t want to peak in high school. That’s the whole thing and you just don’t know it then. I work with young high school girls at self-esteem workshops, and they are so unhappy. They’re cyberbullying each other; they just torture each other and the bottom line is you don’t want to be a rock star when you’re 12. You want to be a rock star when you’re 23 or whatever, just not 12.