Daily Word Q&A With Mackenzie Phillips
Mackenzie Phillips is perhaps best known for her roles as a rebellious teen on the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time, and as Carol in the 1973 coming-of-age film American Graffiti. While Phillips, 57, occasionally takes on small acting roles, these days she is committed to her work as a substance abuse disorder counselor at Breathe Life Healing Center in West Hollywood, California. Phillips, the daughter of the late John Phillips, front man for the 1960s indie/folk band The Mamas and the Papas, talks with Daily Word about her new book, Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction (Beyond Words/Atria), her faith, and her life. Phillips has four dogs and five cats and lives in Sherman Oaks, California.
Daily Word: Why did you decide to write Hopeful Healing?
Mackenzie: Well, after High on Arrival hit the best-seller list the day it came out in 2009, I considered writing a follow-up to it that I was going to call Everything I Left Out. But since going back to school to work with addicts as a counselor, I felt like there is so much misconception about what addiction is and who addicts are and what we’re like. I thought, What if I wrote a book to put a face on the addict and let people know what it’s like to go through this process? That’s where the seed of Hopeful Healing came from.
Daily Word: Did the book write itself or was it a painful process?
Mackenzie: It was a little bit of both. I hit some snags along the way with content and continuity. I had to decide if I wanted it to be in essay format. I knew I wanted to talk about trust. I knew for sure that I wanted to talk about the concept of hope. I wanted to talk about the leap of faith. I wanted to talk about all those different components that people might not even think about. They might think recovery from addiction is just about not using and not drinking, right? There’s so much controversy with the opioid epidemic. Some people say addiction is a moral failing. Other people say it’s a disease. Others say I don’t care what you call it—addicts are just bad people. I thought it would be really an interesting thing to map the journey so that people who might have a curiosity, like a family member, could see what the process might look and feel like. That’s what I’m trying to say.
Daily Word: What was most challenging?
Mackenzie: I think the toughest part for me was deciding where personal stories belonged in it—you know, the connective tissue between talking about what the different essays might be about and how things like shame, guilt, or regret might manifest, and then finding the right place in that essay to put it in.
Daily Word: How did you know you could bring something new and fresh to this important subject?
Mackenzie: I’ve read so much about addiction and addiction recovery from memoirs written by rock stars to more clinical type overviews and the brain chemistry behind it. So many of these “how to” books were written like, I’m up here telling you what you should do as I look down on you, pointing my finger at you. I just wanted to be very relatable—eye-to-eye, addict-to-addict. I didn’t want it to be, This is what you have to do; if you don’t do this you’re gonna die. So that was the thinking behind it.
Daily Word: There was a lot of fallout from your memoir, High on Arrival, particularly around you sharing the incestuous relationship between you and your father, which some of your family members vehemently denied. Were you nervous at all about writing another book?
Mackenzie: I wasn’t. I mean, up to a point I was, but at the same time, I have to live my life. I have to follow my creative path and my recovery path. This time I was very mindful of not talking about other people too much.
Daily Word: How do you feel now that the book launch is right around the corner?
Mackenzie: I feel good about it, but it’s also really hard for me to be objective about it. The more that I hear people who have read it say how much they like it and how they feel that it’s a good thing, I begin to feel better about it. But I do have some second-guessing going on.
Daily Word: How did you decide on the title, Hopeful Healing: Essays on Managing Recovery and Surviving Addiction?
Mackenzie: I’m fascinated by alliteration. There’s an old Crosby, Stills & Nash song called “Helplessly Hoping.” “Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby. Awaiting a word. Gasping at glimpses of gentle true spirit … Wordlessly watching he waits by the window and wonders …” I just wanted the title of the book to be alliterative, to have a rhythm like that. “Hopeful Healing” is alliterative. It came out of a conversation I was having with someone and I said, “I’m a hopeful healer.” A lightbulb went off and I thought, That’s it. It just seems right to me. As for the subtitle, it seemed like the right thing to do. Our main goal as a species is to survive. Addiction is antisurvival—the antithesis of survival. But at the same time, there are people who I say to them, “Thank God you had drugs and alcohol because they got you to this point where you could get sober.” Because some people might have made a permanent decision (suicide) for a temporary problem had they not had drugs and alcohol as a sidekick.
Daily Word: Is that true for you?
Mackenzie: I’ve never been actively suicidal in my life, but, that hopelessness: Am I ever gonna get out of this? Is this ever gonna change? What can I do? I’ve been there, for sure. More than once. I love the headline on the back cover: Baby Steps for Recovering Giants. I love that because we all have to start with baby steps, but in recovery you can be whatever you want to be. You can do whatever you want to do. Your recovery becomes portable. I used to say stuff like, “I can’t go to New York. You know what happens to me when I go to New York? I disappear for 10 days.” But now I have the awareness that my recovery is manageable. I’ve survived addiction. My recovery is portable. I can take it with me everywhere I go.
Daily Word: Did you think you’d live to see the day when you could write a book about addiction and recovery?
Mackenzie: (Laughs) I’d never even considered it. When I was 18 or 19, I remember reading an article in the National Enquirer about me, and it said a close family member said, “We don’t think she’ll make it to her 21st birthday.” And I said, “Oh, watch me now. Watch me now.” Of course I struggled for many, many more years with my addiction. But that (article) was motivator for me.
Daily Word: It’s gutsy to write a book about recovery when you’ve relapsed many times, isn’t it? Is that scary?
Mackenzie: It doesn’t make the content of the book any less true. I mean, if I were to consider, Oh, I better not do that, I might relapse. Oh, I better not go there. I might relapse. I better not reach for the stars because I might relapse. Then I’m not risking anything. If I were to spend my time being concerned about what might happen instead of allowing the plan to unfold as it’s going to anyway, I probably would never leave my house.
Daily Word: In the book you focus on hope and on the idea that hope fuels recovery. When did you experience that moment of knowing there was, as you write, “the potential for something better?”
Mackenzie: Which time? I mean, I actively engage in hope every day when I get out of my bed. I remember different times in my life where I felt hopeless and then the spring of hope began to well up again. We’re hope in action every day when we go out and face the world.
Daily Word: You write about meditating. What is the role of meditation in your daily life?
Mackenzie: I definitely meditate in the morning. I might do a guided meditation. And then I do meditations with the client population at Breathe Life Healing Centers, where I work. But you can do a walking meditation. You just feel the rhythm of your feet on the ground and the beauty around you and the breath. One of the best tools we have to self-regulate is to monitor our breathing. If you become mindful of the breath and you use the breath to calm the body, it becomes a very powerful tool for recovery.
Daily Word: You talk in your book about the role of mindfulness in recovery. You talk about being aware of all that you would miss right now if you weren’t in recovery.
Mackenzie: I want to be present for all these beautiful things. My son Shane is turning 30 next month. I want to be present for this beautiful moment. Here I am in my kitchen and one pug is drinking the water and the other pug is sniffing around his bowl to see if he can find any leftover bits of rice. I’m aware of what’s going on around me and I’m present for it, and I’m open to it. Whatever it may be. That, for me anyway, is what mindfulness in recovery becomes.
Daily Word: What do you want people to know about the 57-year-old Mackenzie Phillips?
Mackenzie: That I still feel like a kid. That I’m in love with life. That animals are probably a greater source of comfort than actual people most of the time for me. And that I love my kid with all my heart and soul. And that I’m a good friend.
Daily Word: You have said you live a simple life. Is that true?
Mackenzie: My life is pretty simple. I’ve been in the same house for 16 years. I drive a Kia. I absolutely love my car. I have a great house. I have a lot of animals so it’s a little worse for the wear and tear. I get up and I go to work in the morning and then I come home to my home and my family in the evening. It might not seem like a simple life to someone else, but compared to the life that I have lived, this is a very beautiful, simple, loving, and happy life.