It must be one of the hardest things anyone can ever do: to admit to the world when you’ve reached rock bottom. Most of us, if we were to do it at all, would likely shroud ourselves in secrecy; pray that far fewer people than we know would find out, let alone see a snapshot of us there, desperate, hoping to find a foothold with which to pull ourselves out. Not so, Jessica Simpson.
In an astounding act of bravery, maturity and defiance, the US starlet – who grew up in the same era of pop as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, before making her feature film debut as Daisy Duke in The Dukes of Hazzard – has shared a candid photograph of her lowest ebb in 2017.
She posted the picture on Instagram, alongside this moving caption: “This person in the early morning of Nov 1, 2017 is an unrecognizable version of myself. I had so much self discovery to unlock and explore.
“I knew in this very moment I would allow myself to take back my light, show victory over my internal battle of self respect, and brave this world with piercing clarity. Personally, to do this I needed to stop drinking alcohol because it kept my mind and heart circling in the same direction and quite honestly I was exhausted. I wanted to feel the pain so I could carry it like a badge of honor. I can’t believe it has been 4yrs!”
And Simpson, who’s now 41, bravely addressed the negative perceptions of addiction that still exist. “There is so much stigma around the word alcoholism or the label of an alcoholic,” she said. “The real work that needed to be done in my life was to actually accept failure, pain, brokenness, and self sabotage. The drinking wasn’t the issue. I was. I didn’t love myself. I didn’t respect my own power. Today I do. I am free.”
As anyone who’s ever cared about someone with addiction issues – or who has been in recovery themselves – will know, secrecy is sometimes the hardest obstacle of achieving solace through sobriety.
Where there is secrecy, there is often shame: and shame is what can keep people grounded, rooted to the spot, unable to find a break in the clouds. It takes enormous strength to recognise you’re struggling, to speak your truth and to admit you need help – especially in front of strangers. In sharing this singular image, Simpson has smashed open the shackles of stigma that can feel so restrictive – and she should be rightly praised.
She has written about her addiction before, in her 2020 memoir Open Book, in which she said she believes that experiencing the trauma of childhood sexual abuse led to her dependence on drugs and alcohol. The memoir also reveals she took diet pills for more than 20 years. But now, as she says in this latest post, she has “made nice with the fears and... accepted the parts of my life that are just sad”.
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I recently had dinner with a close friend who’s battled with an alcohol addiction for decades – I’ve watched him go through repeated stints in rehab, experience multiple rock bottoms, slip all too easily back into routine. This recent meeting was different. Like Simpson, it feels like he too, has chosen this moment to finally break free.
“I have a sense of calm within myself,” he told me over sips of water. “I had to find my own way and to do it for me – and it’s working, for now. It’s been 90 days.”
As I watched him “speak his truth”, clear-eyed and coherent, honest and defiant (I also sought his permission to write about it here), I realised that this is where true strength lies: in owning your story, warts and all – in looking back not with shame, but with acceptance, compassion and self-love. Just like Simpson has owned hers.
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