diploma and drugs
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I came to Hollywood with a degree in one hand and a drug addiction in the other

by Susan Ferris

I came to Hollywood with a degree in one hand and a drug addiction in the other. Neither thing got me anywhere in the beginning.

I got here in 1986. Life was very different in Hollywood then. It was much wilder. You can’t get away with anything now without someone capturing it. I think it’s fair to say a lot of folks would not be in the positions they are in now, if it was all caught on camera (you all know who you are!).

My degree was in theater and film, so it made sense to get a job doing stage work, suss out the best place to live and the ideal place to get drugs (that was much easier, by the way).

We all have war stories. Although I would do (and did) everything, my preference was coke (it was the eighties after all). I had an eight ball a day habit. (Go ask your drug friends. Sure it’s impressive… stupid, but impressive.)

Don’t misunderstand — I had the problem before I got to Hollywood. I had been working diligently at my drug craft for years, and I was very very good at it. I came from an upper middle class household. Being bored = drug use, at least in my case.

I went into hyper overdrive, after moving to Los Angeles, as everything was readily available. It was not always pretty — I went through a crack phase that put me in places downtown that to this day are still hard for me to drive through.

I was working at a theater, crewing shows and frequenting the clubs nightly. I’d arrive home at the wee hours of the morning and sleep an hour or two. Then start the day over. Seven nights a week, an eight ball a day — it was a vicious cycle.

May 21, 1987. My sober birthday, and a day that I acknowledge every year. Like most folks who are sober, I had a moment of clarity. I had just shoveled a couple of grams up my nose and was not done. High, I got into my car to go find another way to finish the drugs. I got to the end of the street… I sat there. For whatever reason I had this thought, if I turn right and do this, there is no turning back. I have not finished what I came to Hollywood to do (even though I really had no idea what that was), so I turned the car around, went inside and called my folks. I was on a plane the next day and within the week was in rehab in Dallas. I am aware that this is a bit unusual — no jail time, no cops, no gnarly accidents — just a voice in my head that I listened to… for a change.

I stayed in TX for three months (28 of those days in rehab), but I knew I needed to get back to Hollywood. It was calling to me, though now I didn’t have the safety net of being high to help me conquer all those fears.

I decided if I was going to head back to Hollywood, I would have to make a lot of changes — who I hung out with, what I did at night, where I lived.

I lived in crack alley for the first six months. I worked two jobs — one at a record label during the day and one at a very trendy bar at night. I figured that Hollywood was not going to change, so I needed to learn to live within these perimeters and stay sober. And I did. I was always angry, I had a few fights (I was not a nice person at the time).

I went to meetings a couple of times a week, and tried to make this all work.

By the time I was working in management full time, I was still going out 7 nights a week and one of the only sober people in the crowd (which can get exhausting). Every night was a different club (back then Monday was Scream, Tuesday was Cathouse, Wednesday was English Acid, Thursday was The Roxbury, Friday was Good Luck Bar, Saturday was a movie or party and an after hour bar, and Sunday was Camp Hollywood).

By 1994, I had been sober for seven years, figured out a way to live in Hollywood, have my own company and still be out every night. I figured I would sleep when I am dead!

But life changed soon after, and I paid a huge price for all that drug use. I started having seizures. As it turned out, it was epilepsy, more than likely brought back on (I had it as a kid) from my extensive use of ecstasy (ahh… X…. back when it was still legal to do). By this time I had stopped going to meetings, so wrapping my head around this sober without support was tough. It took me a couple of years, but I ultimately did change my lifestyle.

Although we may cruise down the path in different ways, all addicts have to go down the same damn path. It can be aggravating, but there is a reason it works. Over the years I have helped a lot of folks get sober. I have been known to have an impromptu meeting in my office for anyone who wants to come.

27 years later, I am still sober. And very open about it. I never have any problem having people break my anonymity. I certainly can’t speak for anyone else, but I think being so open about it is what keeps me in check. And I think it is important that folks who are just getting sober see what the possibilities are.

Hollywood is a very different place for me now. I don’t really go out unless it is something business related. The hardest lesson is knowing that I am not invincible and can still be fearless — with a sober brain.

Susan Ferris

About Susan Ferris

I have been in Los Angeles for almost 30 years. I'm originally from Boston (but spent time in Arkansas - yes… Arkansas). The most important things someone should know me about are: 1) I manage; 2) I produce; 3) I read (a lot); 4) I am a cigar smoker; 5) I am a Red Sox fan. Please follow Susan on Twitter: @szferris and her company, Bohemia Group: @bohemiagroup1

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