On October 28th, 2023, like so many others (particularly Generation Xers), I paused with sadness upon hearing about the death of Matthew Perry, an internationally famous actor and great supporters of those in recovery from addiction. My husband showed me the headline, and I actually stopped in my tracks.
I paused as I am about the same age as Perry. My personal life absurdly seemed to parallel the show Friends as it happened in the 90s. I paused as any sudden loss always feels poignant. I paused due to his humanity.
Thanks for Being a Friend in Recovery from Addiction
I doubt I need to clarify that he was best known for playing Chandler Bing on the popular TV show Friends from 1994 – 2004. An award-winning American-Canadian actor, Perry’s acting career spanned decades, well beyond Friends. He appeared in numerous television shows and movies, including The Odd Couple, The Whole Nine Yards, an award winner performance in The Ron Clark Story and even live theater. I highly encourage you to watch the sole season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, if you haven’, where Perry joined an amazing cast.
While it’s arguable that he was a master of the big picture screen, I don’t think anyone debates that his comedic timing, physicality on set, and ability to improvise were masterful.
The One Where He’s Human
I paused in October to honor a human being who struggled with the disease of addiction to drugs and alcohol. Whether he was struggling or soaring, I honor his life and journey.
Since the age of 14, the actor battled this disease. His memoir released in October 2022, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, intimately chronicles this lifelong battle and opens with a line many may not be able to relate with:
“Hi, my name is Matthew, although you may know me by another name. My friends call me Matty. And I should be dead.”
Perry experienced decades of living hell, lived in sober homes/rehabs over 15 times, and at age 49 culminated with a medical crisis directly related to his disease. That crisis put him into a coma and five additional months in the hospital, resulting in the requirement to use a colostomy bag for nine months after that experience.
The One Where I Understand
I also paused in October, as I identify with his statement above. Not because I loved Friends or watched his movies, or even read People Magazine at the hair salon. I shut my eyes that day to honor a brother in recovery.
My name is Rebecca, and I am a women in long-term recovery from alcohol addiction. On July 27th, 2010, after six months of homelessness, worsening health, danger and despair, I crawled to an emergency room begging for help. Doctors told me that in approximately two weeks, alcohol poisoning and malnutrition would shut down my system. That morning a voice inside me had risen softly. It then screamed at me to find the mom inside, the woman of dignity, the daughter and the friend again.
And like Perry, that day the fear of continuing towards death and leaving that legacy to my family was just a tiny bit greater than the terror of what being sober would bring and what I would face.
The One Where the Monster Stalks Anyone
Except for perhaps stalking paparazzi and Holly gawkers, Perry battled his living hell as quietly as one can in the world of being internationally famous. The average person likely did not know his reality; even his close friend and past colleague Lisa Kudrow stated that after 2004 she did not know either.
For me, I knew the battles inside my own soul long before the staggering implications of my addiction revealed themselves to the masses. I also could not believe “it could happen to me.”
One thing about addiction is that it does not discriminate. It is the great equalizer, and those who confront it head on for recovery feel that to our core.
Perry stated, “Alcoholism did not care that I was on Friends,” he said. “Alcoholism wants you alone; it wants you sick; and then it wants to kill you.”
I have always viewed the disease as a Monster who deserves to be a proper noun. It breathes insanity and ravages the mind, body and soul of its victim and all those around them. One of the most insidious aspects is how the brain changes and one’s perception of reality is altered. If one’s path to recovery from addiction includes a history of relapse, as both Perry’s and mine did, the cycle of self-loathing and helplessness falls into a death spiral.
The One Where We Can Win
I have come to believe that, unless one is faced with a cataclysmic situation, it’s often too terrifying a concept to look deep inside, face incredible fears and change. Sometimes, this change is needed to truly grab onto the blessed life of opportunity and choices, which we are all granted upon birth. Mr. Perry references that he would remember his colostomy bag when he wanted to use or drink. Me? I just am not willing to lose all I am and have gained – inside and out.
For me, it took losing my entire prior life and then having to live in a world so dangerous and foreign for six months to find this spark. Like Perry, I do not find my path different from others who suffer from this disease or from other struggles. I have come to believe that most humans are so often bound and limited in life by their fears. We create a belief of what we need to be, should be, and want to be based often on external ideals. These beliefs limit our bravery, choices and sometimes – our entire lives.
Perry recognized how life can cloud perceptions and priorities. He stated in 2002, “I’m lucky to have a cool car and plenty of money. But if you don’t have happiness inside, and you don’t think of others first, you’ll be lonely and miserable in a big house.”
Hank Azaria credits his entrance into recovery to Matthew Perry and describes incredible gratitude for this hard journey. “(He) was unfortunate to have needed (Perry’s) help — or fortunate, depending on how you want to look at it.”
I agree with Azaria. I was fortunate to have walked my path – and not only survive but thrive.
Thanks for Being a Friend in Recovery
We should honor the incredible work Perry did to help his fellow sufferers with the disease of addiction. He knew he was no different and dedicates his book “For all of the sufferers out there. You know who you are.”
One of the tenants of recovery is to help others. The more one helps, the more grounded their recovery is. Frankly, it should be a tenant of just living a good life overall, but I digress.
Perry lived this deeply. Many actors, such as Azaria, have come forward, crediting Perry’s help guiding them and “regular” people to resources for recovery. Perry regularly spoke out out about his struggles and recovery. He established a sober house for me to aid others in their struggle with addiction. He also wrote a play, The End of Longing. Perry viewed this as his personal message to the world about living with addiction.
He knew that his immense fame could be used to help others into recovery from addiction. “I (knew that I) had something important to say to people like me, and to people who love people like me.”
People like me. Friends like me.
“The best thing about me, bar none, is that if somebody comes to me and says, ‘I can’t stop drinking, can you help me?’ I can say ‘yes’ and follow up and do it,” Perry said. “…And I’m gonna live the rest of my life proving that.”
“When I die, I know people will talk about Friends, Friends, Friends. And I’m glad of that, happy I’ve done some solid work as an actor, as well as given people multiple chances to make fun of my struggles on the world wide web…But when I die, as far as my so-called accomplishments go, it would be nice if Friends were listed far behind the things I did to try to help other people. I know it won’t happen, but it would be nice,”
In his honor, it was also announced that the Matthew Perry Foundation has been created to help others struggling with addiction.
Thank you Matthew Perry for embodying what we all should do in recovery. What we all should do as human beings.
The One Where Hope Exists
Not all people who struggle are like Matthew Perry or me or anyone you may know. We each are unique individuals who walk our own path into recovery from addiction. However one thing is in common for us all:
there IS hope. I promise.
You are NOT alone.
Below are some great local resources who can help.
The Doorway NH – https://www.thedoorway.nh.gov/home
The Triangle Club – https://www.triangleclubdovernh.org/
Addiction Recovery Services – https://arsnh.com
Seacoast Mental Health Center – www.smhc-nh.org
Safe Harbor Recovery Center – https://granitepathwaysnh.org/
SAMHSA helpline – 1-800-662-HELP