Kristen Johnston Is the Queen of Freaks
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
March 09 2012 8:28 PM ET
I was totally stunned that you were admitted to the hospital your intestines were virtually busting at the seams. And still you lied to the intake nurses.
Yep, but that’s addiction. Off the record, what are you addicted to honestly? Work? Kids?
Food. OK. So you have this food addiction and, you know, if, if while you’re in the sickness, like before you could even admit you had a food addiction if somebody even mentioned like “Are you going to eat that” or whatever, you would be like, “What? Why would you even ask that?” You know what I mean?
So it’s very similar. I mean, it’s exactly like that. It’s just you have to protect it. And the shame of it compounds the protection. And it just becomes this kind of whirling mass of lies. It’s horrible. You lie to yourself, that’s the worst part. It’s like those crazy people who don’t know they’re crazy. You don’t know; you’re like, I’m fine. A cigarette made my stomach burst, what’s the big deal? And you really start believing it.
You ended up being hospitalized for a long time. How different do you think it would have been if you had hospitalized in the U.S. instead of London?
Well, it would have been a lot different. I’d probably be doing porno in the San Fernando Valley for gentlemen who like their ladies tall and long in the tooth. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done. I wasn’t exactly rolling in it at the time. We were panicked about it. It was two months in the hospital and infections and surgery. It was horrible.
After you got out, the tabloids kept saying you had become anorexic in order to jump-start your dead career.
Yeah. I know.
Because, as you say in the book, people in Hollywood confuse doing theater with being dead.
Did, did you respond to the media in any way then? Did you just ignore them?
No. Well, it’s hard to ignore, but I didn’t respond. Well, I did respond to one tabloid that called and said they were going to do a cover article about my anorexia. So I wrote a very long statement saying exactly what happened. Not saying I’m an addict, but saying, due to an unhealthy lifestyle, you know, my stomach blew up. I’ve since gotten sober. I changed my life. And, yes I’m still thin. I agree I looked terrifying, but they refused to refused to print it. They just printed their story. So, you know, I did try to comment on it. I just thought it was kind of horrible because what if I had anorexia? The way everybody was attacking me, I was like what if I had it? My God, it would have been just awful to do that to somebody, I think.
That seems a common thing too, in the media.
If somebody obviously is sick or has a problem, sure it’s your job to comment on it. I get it. But to eviscerate someone for something just feels wrong to me. But I didn’t have anorexia. And I, I’m actually the only actress I know who does not have an eating disorder. Well, that’s not true, I know a couple, but very few. And so to be accused of the one thing I don’t have was just so frustrating.
Do you feel like at this point you are the real you? You know who you are now?
Yes. I’m the real me, flaws and all. Again, look, hey, I do not try in the book to say, “Now my life is rainbows and skittles and kittens.” OK? I still have a lot of trouble like figuring out how to calibrate stress and anger — I never figured those things out or how to self-soothe other than pills or drinking. When every moment, every sad, happy, angry, celebratory, funny, every moment is an occasion for [alcohol], it becomes very difficult to live without it. So I do want to make it clear that I could be in rehab tomorrow. I’m not some poster child for recovery and I don’t want to be. But if somebody gets inspiration from my story, as somebody who changed their life in their, their late 30s and figured out how to sort of live a happier life then, I’m your girl.
Yes, I think too often we hear people who are like “I was an alcoholic” or “I was an addict” and the reality is, no, that’s a lifetime issue, you’re an addict in recovery forever.
Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. And its the worst thing in the world to do that to yourself. It’s just so important to me to say that because it is a very tricky disease and it’s very, very baffling and cunning, as they say, and it can creep back up on you if you get a paper cut or stub your toe or your mom dies, you know? You just don’t know, and so I would never try to say that I am some poster child but I have been painkiller- and alcohol-free for five years. And that’s all I know. And who knows what’ll happen tomorrow.
One last question. You end the book with a quote created by AIDS activists in the ’80s. Tell me why it resonated.
Well, I just, I think it’s the whole point of the book. Simon and Schuster wanted me to talk about my addiction now, have it be a big story now, as opposed to a couple months ago. But I was promoting The Exes and I refused to be coy, because the whole point of the book is if you want to say it, say it. If you don’t, don’t. There should be no shame. It’s just like having leukemia. And you go and get your treatment — whatever that is for you. Whether it’s a meeting, whether it’s a shrink, whether it’s friends. Whatever that is, your support system. That is what you have to do. That’s your chemo. If you don’t do that, then you’re an asshole. So basically the whole thing is, I just want people to stop being so ashamed of it. And that was the reason I wrote it, the book, because I didn’t have to. I haven’t been arrested and no one knew about it. I just wanted to sort of stop being embarrassed about it. I was sick of it.
But some people wonder why you came out now, when you hadn’t been outed, hadn’t had a public embarrassment like some others.
Yes. Exactly. Or I don’t have to say, “Look, here’s what really happened when I said the n word,” or you know, whatever. So people think I’m crazy. Maybe I am. I had an agent coming up to me and saying, “Stop telling people you’re sober. It makes everybody uncomfortable.” And I sort of think that’s the important thing to take away. It’s like really? I was so flustered and then I thought, I can’t wait for the day when that’s no longer a big deal. And hopefully my book just takes a little of the edge off for people. That they can maybe go into work and tell their boss that they’re struggling, because so many people are. As I said to Simon and Schuster, my publisher, I said, “Look, if every addict in the United States at some point buys this book, it’ll be on the New York Times best-seller list for the next 40 years.”
It’s not super self-referential. We get the sense you’re not promoting your career.
Wow, that’s nice. Thank you very much for saying that. Honestly. Now you’re going to write some cunty thing about me.
[Laughs] What else do you want readers to know?
Oh, and I designed the cover and wrote every fucked-up word myself.
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