As some people know, I am in long-term recovery from both heavy alcohol and cocaine use. I am also in recovery from both anorexia and bulimia, all wrapped around a diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder. My sobriety date is April 8th 2007. Being in recovery, I tend to look at movies about addiction and recovery with a different perspective than when I was not in recovery. It has gone from, “that’s fantasy and will never be me” and “I cant identify with any of this” to finding bits and pieces in every movie that strikes an emotional cord for me in either replicating what I went through or maybe even causing me to evaluate my recovery in a different way. There are a great many films both documentary and dramatic on all of these topics. This is not meant to be a definitive short list. These are just films that both entertained me and made me think about addiction and recovery issues in my own life. With one exception I am going to leave documentaries out of the mix. There are just too many that I have not seen. Here you go.
The Anonymous People. As full disclosure, I know many of the people involved and it is a documentary but I am going to include it. Why? I believe this to be the most important film about recovery to come out in the last decade. The gatekeeper to dealing with substance use disorder whether its alcohol, cocaine, prescription opiates, meth or the current heroin epidemic is stigma and shame. Fighting through that is a must to take that first step. Instead of telling us why we should ashamed, we now have a film that encourages us not to be.
Filmed in Richmond Va, talking to real people with real addiction issues standing up for themselves and those shamed into silence. It challenges the notion that we have to hide our names in shame because we are in twelve -step or rehab. The Anonymous people does a wonderful job in letting us know that addiction is not a choice and we have nothing to be ashamed of in taking that first step into recovery. I highly recommend it.
Less Than Zero I could not identify with the flippant, overindulgent, Beverly Hills culture but that does not matter because of the brilliant performance of Robert Downey Jr. It is in my opinion, one of the most realistic, chilling and heartbreaking portrayals of crack/ powdered cocaine addiction you will ever see. It irritates me when people comment that it is “life imitating art” with regards to Downey. Robert turned his life around and has incredible sobriety. His character in the movie died.
Bright Lights Big City. Michael J. Fox plays an aspiring writer caught up in the New York City nightlife and cocaine culture of the eighties. This movie resonates with me because it most accurately portrays my descent into cocaine addiction so much that I even wrote about it in my book. For me it was the Dallas, Texas nightlife and cocaine culture. Being the last person in the club, all coked up, feeling alone and empty. Wondering what I was doing there. My only connections outside of family distancing itself, were addicts and dealers. Failed relationships. Relationships wrapped around drug use. Unable to function at work. That was Jamie Conway in the movie. That was me in in addiction.
The Morning After. A oldie starring Dick Van Dyke that focuses on the ravages of alcoholism and the family dynamics that often play a part. It was the first movie I ever saw on the subject before I began to abuse alcohol. Dick’s character is a successful executive descending into alcoholism. I cried at the end with the final image of Charlie alone, drunk and hopeless on a deserted beachfront with a rendition of the Beatles hit song, “Yesterday” playing. A beaten alcoholic. It happens every day of the year around the world. Unfortunately, it is a very difficult movie to find,. Not available for US download that I’ve seen and as of the writing of this blog, only available on DVD in European format.
Clean And Sober Another one high on my list because I identify with with pieces of the cocaine addiction story-line. Michael Keaton plays a successful commercial real estate executive deep in cocaine addiction. He embezzles company money to cover a bad investment. He goes into rehab to escape the consequences of his actions. In denial, he manipulates everyone around him and is more concerned with getting his next fix and “13th stepping” in rehab than he is in recovery. He blames everyone around him and his bad luck rather than looking within himself to take his first step forward. A gritty realistic performance about a scenario that has been played out in one form or another, time and time again by addicts in real life, including myself.
Flight. A great performance of by Denzel Washington as a high functioning airline pilot He is both an alcoholic and cocaine addict who continually avoids consequences and is in denial. While the “moment of clarity” in the face of prison consequences is highly dramatized it is something we(addicts) all face in one form or another in real life with vary degrees of consequences to ourselves and others. Mine was a two-day blackout. A year before I had come very close to suicide but that was not enough to turn me around. It is a different process for everyone.
Those are the six that I personally enjoy the most. Of course, there are many others. Some other very good ones I also enjoy are below. Feel free to comment and let me know your favorite movies about addiction, recovery, or mental health issues in general.
1. 28 Days starring Sandra Bullock
2. Leaving Las Vegas starring Nic Cage.
3. Smashed Starring Aaron Paul from “Breaking Bad”
4. Basketball Diaries staring Leonardo DiCaprio
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