Actress Dedee Pfeiffer On How To Achieve Great Success After Recovering From An Addiction
Think twice if you believe in your heart that you are alone with your feelings of shame… trust me you are not!
When people are trapped in a severe addiction it can feel like there is no way out and there is no hope for a better future. This is of course not true. Millions of people are in recovery from an addiction and they go on to lead successful, fulfilling and inspiring lives.
Authority Magazine started a new series about women who were able to achieve great success after recovering from an addiction. The premise of the series is to offer hope and inspiration to people who feel trapped in similar circumstances. As a part of this series we had the pleasure to interview Dedee Pfeiffer.
Dedee Pfeiffer is currently starring on the hit David E. Kelley ABC drama series, Big Sky. She is best known for her starring roles on television’s Cybil and For Your Love and films like Falling Down, Red Surf and Into The Night. She holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from UCLA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this! My childhood? LOL. Well, there’s nothing very interesting to tell because we were a pretty average blue-collar family! My dad crawled around people’s attics for a living, making sure everyone’s daily temperature was as comfortable as possible. He owned his own business, “Dick’s Heating and Air Conditioning”. Mom was a big-hearted stay at home mom who didn’t drive. My older brother was shy and quiet and he was never around because he was always surfing. I always got into my big sister’s makeup and clothes annoying her. My little sister was always skating outside with Cindy, her BFF LOL! I was the stereotypical middle sister… Always the people pleaser and always trying to put out all the family drama while rescuing every stray animal I could get my claws on, including a baby duck.
Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers how you were initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
Because I never feel comfortable talking about my addiction and trauma is the very reason why I have to talk about it and have become an advocate for that very thing. It’s hard talking about things that are uncomfortable and are riddled with shame and public stigmatization, even though it is getting a little better… thank GOD! There are a few theories about addiction and I feel that whichever one resonates with your soul and helps you stay on the path of recovery… it’s a good one! I believe that my addiction is biological because addiction runs in my family and those that are addicts have a different brain chemistry than those who are not. I’m a child of a high functioning alcoholic and it’s like ‘Whack a Mole’. When I was younger, my addiction was food, then love and then booze. The only reason it was alcohol and not something else, was because alcohol is legal. Because my DOC (drug of choice) was not illegal, it was socially acceptable and convenient and I used it to pretend I was not hurting inside from undiagnosed or untreated trauma. If I had access to something else that was socially acceptable, I probably would have chosen that too!
As you know, addictions are often an attempt to mask an underlying problem. In your experience, what do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place? Can you explain?
I love this question because it is an important one. First, everyone is different even if they have the same diagnosis. No two people are alike. There are a few things to consider when you or someone around you is struggling with anything that is making their lives unmanageable. It could be addiction, trauma and/or undiagnosed (or misdiagnosed) mental health issues to mention a few. You could look at me for instance and say well heck! If I had that kind of trauma in my life I would drink too! Therein lies the problem because no one wants to enable another’s using their DOC. something that is directly/indirectly hurting them anymore than anyone wants to ask that person in pain to stop using the very thing that they think is helping them cope. SO, that was a long answer for I drank because I was prone to addiction and most certainly was suffering from undiagnosed/untreated trauma.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
Everyone asks me what was your bottom? What happened? What made you stop? It’s an easy answer and I would imagine I’m not alone when I say I had many bottoms. I was always trying to stop. I believe for me it was accumulative. After multiple years of failing at trying to control something that I could not do alone (God knows I kept trying because I’m stubborn), I finally just got tired of feeling like a failure, a loser, a zero. Look, when you’re in your mid 50’s and you’ve been carrying all this crap around that you “think” you have control over and realize one day that you don’t… you either check out or stay in the game and ask for help. That’s what I did…finally!
Was there a tipping point that made you decide that you needed to change? Can you please share the story?
My tipping point was after I went into rehab for a 30-day intensive program with no contact with anyone but other addicts. First, there is nothing sexy about being in rehab while you’re going through menopause. LOL! I can laugh now, but I certainly wasn’t laughing then. I went to get my shit together for my boys. While there another addict who was a frequent flyer to rehab said, “Girl? You do this for your kids and not yourself… You’re looking at a relapse!” I went to bed crying my eyes out that night wondering how I had gotten so low in my life and how in the hell did I get here? It was then when I realized it was time to stop resisting the process. I had to stop thinking I knew all the damn answers and start using the lens of curiosity and not resistance. The guy who said that to me was in his 20’s and is no longer with us…RIP Trevor.
Can you tell us the story about how you were able to overcome your addiction?
It happened when I asked the question in rehab, yes…REHAB where others know more than you and I about addiction and hopefully trauma as well…What’s the difference between giving up and surrendering? They kept saying you had to ‘surrender’ and all I kept hearing was ‘giving up’! The therapist simply said, “Giving up is when you say no more. I’m done. I don’t want to listen nor try anymore whereas surrendering is saying I’m willing to listen, I’m not giving up and need help and that does not mean you are weak.” I can’t explain it but it made me feel a hell of a lot better knowing I was actually not giving up, but rather by asking for help was fighting for my life! Fighting for a better life! Asking for help was not weak, but brave and I was given the opportunity to show my boys what real bravery looked like.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them? Can you please share a story about that?
Well…. I have to work on forgiving myself and my addict every day. It’s not easy, but when I was taught that when my addict was driving, she was only doing her best to help me cope, but the problem was she was going to kill us both, so I had to take the wheel. All you can do is try. None of us are saints by the way! Not even normies, those who can drink like a normal person. When I look at the past, there is no healing there, but rather it’s here right now! That’s where the true power is and when it comes to forgiveness… I’m one of the most forgiving people you will meet (to a fault), but I do not forgive myself that easily unfortunately. I have to remind myself to get off my own back sometimes…ok a lot of the time. Finally, I learned that if I am accountable for things I’ve done in the past and another person is still not ready to forgive you me, all I can do is wish them well. I can hope that one day they can release the negative energy in their heart because we know that negative energy in one’s heart is not a healthy way to live. You can’t change the past, but you can change your behavior in the present.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
LOL!!! I started kickboxing like a maniac until I hurt my hip like the all or nothing addict that I am! Rehab gave me the breath to stop and think about what my values were and are, and with that, rediscovered my passion for Mother Earth’s creatures and beauty. I’ve always loved animals and nature, but when I was in my disease, I had lost it and didn’t know how to find it again. Sobriety has allowed me to find it again and I will never let it go because it feeds my soul. I’m CRAZY for anything paranormal, ancient aliens theory, all the mysteries all over the globe and all the mysteries in our universe! There’s so much we still don’t know and I’m excited about the journey of all the discoveries ahead. Also, super spicy foods rock and I’m looking forward to something I’ve never experienced before, a healthy functioning relationship! Most would say that at my age (57), I would want to give up, but for me it’s the opposite! I truly feel that getting my trauma and addiction under control has given me not only the opportunity to be my real authentic self, but experience a rebirth! Yes, at my age. If you would have told me I was going to say those words four years ago (I’m 3+ years sober), I’d ask you, “What are you smoking dude?” LOL!
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life, post addiction, to keep you on the right path?
I try to stop and take a few breaths before I answer any question that has triggered me. In that pause, I get to respond versus react. Before I would just react, resulting in almost always an apology needed shortly afterwards and it’s so nice to be able to control my responses now. It makes for a better conversation instead of a bunch of yelling back and forth. Not much gets solved that way. I also learned that when my anxiety gets to the point where in the past I would drink, I’ve learned to lean into it instead of running from it. I now notice what the anxiety is doing to my body. I note how it is making me feel like crap and I then go do something to help it subside. This might be to focus on breathing, getting up and walking around, noticing things in the room from a different perspective like…Damn. I need to dust that shelf and I then dust that damn shelf!
Can you tell us a story about the success that you achieved after you began your recovery?
I do not think it was an accident that I landed the role of Denise on Big Sky. This could not happen until others including my entire family saw all my intensive hard work in recovery. I know in my heart that had I still been in my disease, this amazing opportunity would have passed me by. If you are in recovery, people around you see your hard work but might not tell you out loud. Trust me that they do notice and doors open to those who are trying their hardest to be a better person.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you share five pieces of advice that you would give to a person who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
- You ‘have’ a story, you are ‘not’ your story (think about that for a minute…)
- Recovery is messy. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!
- It is not weak to ask for help, but rather brave and if anyone tells you any different… get new friends!
- Be careful when carrying your old feelings into new experiences
- Think twice if you believe in your heart that you are alone with your feelings of shame… trust me you are not!
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
@dean.schneider because he tries to bring wildlife animals into people’s hearts. Because animals are such a big part of mine and other’s recovery, it would be an honor to meet him P.S. My spirit animal is a male lion and he works with them so he’s the coolest in my eyes. LOL!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
IG is the only social media I’m on because I can barely do that as it is LOL!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.