SYMPTOMS OF WITHDRAWAL by Christopher Kennedy Lawford

If you ever shied away from writing a memoir because you couldn’t summon the courage needed to tell the ugly truth, you need to read Christopher Kennedy Lawford’s Symptoms of Withdrawal.

Let go of the myth. It is a lie. 

With tons of humor and a tongue that cuts faster than you can blink, Lawford shares the drug-addicted journey he embraced to cope with the unrealistic expectations of growing up under the Kennedy legacy and his own self-hatred.

An addict continually makes choices and takes actions in his life to support his self-hatred. This is what allows him to keep using. 

Once you’ve navigated through the waves of his withdrawal you may find you still don’t have the guts to tell the truth in your memoir. Or, you may discover you have a greater need to stop pretending you’re writing the truth and just lay your embarrassing ass on the page because it’s the only way to move on from the past that haunts you.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

I picked up Lawford’s memoir as soon as it was published. When I saw the title I thought, “How catchy, a phrase that makes you want to peek inside.” While reading it aloud to my Aunt just recently, I truly saw how Symptoms of Withdrawal reflects every aspect of Christopher Lawford’s life apart from his addiction. Now that’s title perfection.

Many authors prime the reader with quotes from poets or literature. It’s a way for the reader to be on the appropriate wavelength when they dive into page one. My general response to opening quotes is, “Gosh, I wish I could find a quote for my manuscript.” Or, “Interesting.”  Then I return to the quote periodically as I read to see if I’m truly experiencing what the author desired. Sometimes I don’t get the connection, my fault, and that’s okay. I’ll probably figure it out later in my life. Lawford gave me an understanding of his life story, without wiggle room, from this quote by Proust.

We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness, which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. 

Proust’s thoughts provide the perfect mindset for this memoir, and also sum up the reason I prefer memoirs to biographies. The author’s interpretation, the why’s and wherefores of how his life unfolded allows us to check out the fit of their shoes and come to a more accurate conclusion about how we feel about them. Of course, the big question is, “Can we trust that the author is telling the truth?” In this case, yes. You’ll be as certain as I am as soon as you read Lawford’s Preface.

I grew up with the Camelot Myth. Lawford takes off the blinders so we can see the Kansas without Oz of his life. Because of his journey, his perspective is very different than what we might have come across had the events been told by Maria Shriver, or one of his sisters. My guess is this memoir is more hard-edged. I say, good thing, for it’s the edge of the sword that allows us to see inside to the truth.

Discussing the tragedies within his extended family, which formed the springboard for his downward spiral, could easily have made the pages of Symptoms of Withdrawal hard to digest. Fortunately, Lawford’s recovery went beyond detox to pure clarity. Otherwise he’d never be able to recognize the bizarre juxtaposition of life within the Kennedy family and the world.

In the summer of 1969, a year after my uncle Bobby died, Neil Armstrong took a giant step for mankind and my uncle Teddy drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick. 

This kind of moment springs up again and again, and sparks a nervous laughter that is much needed for the journey. Lawford is a writer with something to say and he says it with unique flare.

What I love most about memoir is you hear the error of the person’s ways, come to understand where they went astray, how they came into awareness and what they did to find balance. Absorbing this process is inspirational and a reminder that to err is human, and the strength and courage to correct bad behavior is an innate right we all have the capacity to do, as long as we’re willing to get out of our own way.

It became imperative for me that if I was ever going to find out who I was, all bets had to be off and everything had to be up for grabs. I would have to let go of the absolutes and the identifications I had clung to.

If ever I get around to writing a memoir, I will have Christopher Kennedy Lawford to thank. His raw honesty and ability to see the humor of his disastrous choices has shown me that balance is truly possible, as is change.

Symptoms of Withdrawal is one addictive read.