Actress Jodie Sweetin was 13 years old the first time she got drunk. She was attending the wedding of her "Full House" co-star Candace Cameron, and she was allowed to have some wine. After the first sip, she couldn't stop herself.
"For me, that was the first time I drank and the first time I drank so much that I couldn't hear my own thoughts," Sweetin said to an audience in Hall Auditorium last night. "That was the first relief I got. I was never able to reach that point again. But I chased it for many, many years."
Sweetin, now 35, visited Miami University yesterday to speak candidly about her struggles with alcoholism, addiction and recovery. After eight years playing Stephanie Tanner, the middle child on the popular sitcom "Full House," Sweetin began an intense descent into substance abuse, beginning with alcohol but eventually graduating to more discreet yet lethal substances, such as cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine. Today, she is six-and-a-half years sober, and she uses her experience to speak out about alcoholism and addiction.
"My story isn't perfect. It isn't pretty. It isn't always the easiest to follow," she said. "But when I share my story, I feel like I finally have a purpose. I finally have a reason I went through all that pain. One of the most important things we get to do with each other is share our stories, share our humanity."
Sweetin discussed how she was adopted when she was 14 months old, both of her biological parents being in jail or prison at the time of her birth. To this day, she is not in contact with them (her father died in a prison riot; she has never heard from her mother), but she does know that both of them struggled with addiction, a disease they passed on to her genetically.
Sweetin's adopted parents created an environment of love and care for her, allowing her to enjoy a wonderful upbringing. But throughout all of it, she knew something was off.
"I can always remember feeling different, like something was missing, like I couldn't quite fit in my own skin," she said. "My entire life was spent trying to get people to like me, trying to fit in."
She spent most of high school drinking while keeping up the appearance of a successful life, even earning an academic scholarship to Chapman University. But when she began to enjoy the freedom of college life, everything fell apart. She earned a 0.9 GPA her first semester.
When her western spirituality professor brought in two AA members to speak with her class, Sweetin heard, for the first time, people whose message resonated with her. She decided to get sober.
Her first foray into sobriety did not last long, however, and over the next few years she relapsed several times. When hiding her drinking became too difficult, she switched to cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine -- stimulants that kept her happy, yet coherent. She couldn't live like that forever, and eventually, she gave up.
"I got so tired of the looks of disappointment in people's eyes when I couldn't get it together," she said. "I resigned myself to be an alcoholic... By the age of 26, I was positive I wasn't going to make it to 30."
Eventually, however, Sweetin was able to pull herself out of her addiction. Through years of counseling, support and 12-step programs, she's learned to be okay with being sober and in pain, to be able to sit with herself in quiet and uncomfortable moments, to be content with who she is and to live life without expectations. She became a mother of two, earned her certificate in drug treatment and travels the country to share her story with others, hoping her message might be heard by someone in a similarly dark place.
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Sweetin recognizes that heavy drinking and drug use is common and even normalized on college campuses, and she encourages students to reach out to their peers if they are concerned about their behavior. If someone is isolating themself, or if they are prioritizing drinking and drug use over their friends, that might be a sign they have a problem. Though they are the only ones who can decide to get help, friends can help by reaching out and letting them know they are concerned.
"As much as an alcoholic or an addict hates to have their covers pulled, once they are, there is a sense of relief," she said.
At the end of the night, Sweetin took questions from the crowd, and one student asked what advice she would give to her 14-year-old self.
Sweetin repeated the question, then paused in silence. Finally, she answered.
"You're better than you think you are," she said. "I still have to remind myself of that sometimes today."