How Carrie Fisher was a Beacon of Hope for Addiction and Mental Health

Carrie Fisher’s passing on December 27th, 2016 came as a shock to many people. She was beloved for her role as Princess Leia in the original Star Wars Trilogy and for 40 years that legacy followed her. To an entire generation of men and women that is how she was known, and that is how she will be remembered. But she was more than just the Princess. She was more than just an actress or daughter to the recently deceased Debbie Reynolds. She was a crusader for addiction and mental health issues. One who fearlessly exposed her own struggles in the hopes of helping others with theirs.

Fisher fought with drug addiction, bipolar disorder, alcoholism and body dysmorphia issues to one degree or another for most of her life. She famously did cocaine on the set of The Empire Strikes Back and suffered an almost fatal overdose at the age of 28. During her mid-twenties, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and would struggle with this on and off again for a good portion of her adulthood.

After her overdose at 28, she entered into rehab and remained sober, minus “a few slips” here and there for the remainder of her life, but as interesting as all this is, it is the fact that she was so open about all of her experiences that really makes her a beacon of hope for people suffering from addiction and mental health issues. She didn’t do as so many people in the spotlight choose to do, which is to hide their problems and pretend they don’t exist. She didn’t step away because of “exhaustion”, but rather she was open and honest about every one of her struggles and wrote about them extensively in the books she penned.

In her 1987 book Postcards From The Edge, she wrote about her experiences in rehab and how she struggled with the ideas presented to her in the 12 Steps, something that many people who are attempting to get sober can relate to. She wrote about how she didn’t really want to be in rehab but decided to stay anyway, and how she found peace in relating to the stories told to her by her fellows in 12 Step meetings. It wasn’t just another celebrity tell-all about addiction and mental health, but rather really explored the nuances of it all.

Years later she would write another book about her experiences with her bipolar disorder and how she was treated for it with electroconvulsive therapy, a fairly controversial and misunderstood treatment even to this day. But Fisher didn’t balk at any of this and whenever she was asked a question pertaining to any of the trouble she had in her life, she would address it candidly. Her philosophy was, “If you claim something, you can own it. But if you have it as a shameful secret, you’re [screwed].”

In a world where addiction and mental health issues are often stigmatized, Fisher was a refreshing reminder that you can be an incredibly successful, smart, and funny person, and still struggle with personal demons. She was a reminder that you do not have to be perfect and that to be one’s self is more than enough. She was the antithesis of the Hollywood starlet and for this, millions of people loved her. She was authentic and dared to speak her mind and she did it all on the world’s largest stage.

She also showed that openly sharing about your personal struggles does not need to be social or career suicide. She continued to work through her struggles, continued to be lauded for her bravery, and continued to inspire many. To some, her candor may have been too much, but she never rejected who she was or what she had been through and because of this, she gave hope to many people who were silently struggling with their demons.

It cannot be overemphasized how important relating is to a person who struggles with addiction. Being able to hear someone else share their thoughts or share similar stories is many times the beginning steps to recovery. It allows for them to not feel so alone and in doing so, it gives them just a glimpse of what life can be like without drugs or alcohol.

So as we move into 2017, and as we begin to talk more openly about drug addiction in this country, I think it is important for us to remember the example that Carrie Fisher set. We should no longer shy away from the hard facts of life or the ugliness that addiction or mental illness can be, but rather face them head on in an attempt to actually deal with the issues at hand. Up until now, we have attempted to skirt the issue and in doing so, we have only compounded it, but if we all, those in recovery and those still struggling, own what we have been through and no longer hide it or make excuses, we can impact the world in a tremendously positive fashion.

Rest in peace Carrie Fisher, you will be sorely missed by your millions of fans, and those you have touched in ways that you may not know. May the force be with you.

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