In a seven-page letter, that was typical of the pressure I was under from those closest to me, my dad wrote:
"So you smoke pot -- big deal -- do you understand you are just starting a career and by checking into a hospital, can ruin your life…. Don't go to the Betty Ford clinic. You have something going for you -- don't throw it away -- don't waste it. You missed a lot in life but maybe this little bit of fame can make up a small portion of what you missed."
This letter came as a follow-up to a huge fight my mother and I had over my decision to go into rehab. Even Jack, who was spending hours a day with me interpreting interviews and meetings, thought the timing was wrong and the problem wasn't that severe.
But it was. Consider January 9, 1987, one particularly memorable day of my life on drugs.
I was in Chicago at my parents' house and due to fly to California the next day to be with Bill at Betty Ford during Family Week as part of his rehab therapy. I knew deep inside that during the counseling sessions they would bust me about my drug use, so I tried to finish everything I had.
Here's an inventory of that day: I had a gram of coke, a half-ounce bag of pot, a pipe, rolling papers, and a bong. All by myself, I finished the coke but couldn't finish the pot, though I really tried, there was just too much. That doesn't even touch the emotional issues I had that were fueling my drug use.
I remember cleaning up my desk in a haze, finding anything that I could that was drug related and throwing it all away. It was in my gut that this would be the last time I would ever use. But I knew, no matter how determined I was to keep drugs out of my life, I needed help.
Looking back on it now, I realize everything in my life up to that point-- my childhood, my family, my deafness, the obstacles, the opportunities, the friends and lovers, the molester and the abusers, the doctors and the teachers, and always the acting-- had all meshed to buy me a ticket on that forty-eight hour rollercoaster ride in1987. Forty-eight hours that delivered an amazing, drug-free high at the Golden Globes and an immeasurable low as I faced the entrance to Betty Ford and the hard work I knew I had ahead of me if I was to build a life of sobriety.
The intersection of these two events would change the way I would navigate life -- and the life I would have to navigate -- forever.
IT ALL BEGAN for me on August 24, 1965, at 12:03 a.m. when Marlee Beth Matlin came screaming into the world. I was not then, nor was I ever, a quiet, retiring child. As my mom describes it, "None of my kids were quiet, they cried, they screamed--they were anxious to get grown, Marlee most of all."
My family lived just outside of Chicago in Morton Grove, one of a string of upper middle-class suburbs filled with newly minted bilevel homes to accommodate the growing families with disposable incomes who wanted a comfortable lifestyle, separated from the poverty of the city. My mom and dad, Libby and Don Matlin, definitely wanted to put the grit, grime, and hard times of their childhoods growing up in Chicago behind them.