I got sober in December of 2018. I was in a deep, dark cave of depression and eventually got honest about the fact that my alcohol use was only making things worse. But quitting drinking wasn’t the hardest part; staying sober was. I used the winter as an excuse to hibernate at home, away from all of my old boozy spots and drinking buddies. I left only to go to work or to occasionally grocery shop but, if it wasn’t necessary, I wasn’t leaving the house.
With that said, I took in a lot of media in those months: Books, TV, movies, podcasts, you name it! If it could distract me from the pain of being, I was in. But what I saw over and over was how wrong most media gets addiction and recovery. In movies and television, the person with the drinking or drug problem is often the antagonist in dramas and the butt of the joke in comedies. However, there were several shows (comedies, to be precise) that portrayed addiction and recovery in a way that I found to be realistic. They avoided the extremes of glamorizing or demonizing alcohol and drug use and, in fact, the person’s addiction was rarely even a major plotline in these shows. If you are new in sobriety or feel alone in your recovery, give one of these shows a try.
Catastrophe, which was created by and stars comedians Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, is about an American man (Rob) who meets a woman (Sharon) while he’s in the UK on business. Shortly after he returns to the states, he learns that she’s pregnant. Determined to do more for his child than his absent father did for him, Rob moves to London to begin a relationship with Sharon and to eventually raise their child together. We learn very early on that Rob is in long term recovery from alcohol addiction. We see him attending AA meetings and even using recovery jargon with a friend of his who decides to get sober.
But the great thing about Catastrophe is that Rob’s addiction and recovery rarely take center stage. He is simply a person who was addicted to alcohol and no longer drinks; it has no real moral implications for his character. Without giving too much away, Rob’s addiction does become an important plotline in a later season. However, the portrayal of the realities of long term recovery and the nature of addiction is realistically and thoughtfully handled.
He is simply a person who was addicted to alcohol and no longer drinks; it has no real moral implications for his character.
It helps that Rob Delaney has been in recovery from alcohol addiction since 2002 and speaks and writes about it openly. He credits his sobriety with helping him get through the trauma of losing his young son in 2017 to a rare form of brain cancer. This past February, Delaney shared a post on Instagram about reaching 17 years of sobriety and included, “This has been a brutal year for my family and me. Our first year without our son and brother Henry. Had I not been sober, it would have been far worse. As it was, I squeaked by. Sobriety allowed me to be a reasonably good dad, husband, and worker through it all. (If you average it out. I think.) Sobriety allows me to grieve fully, and grief is an expression of love.”
Catastrophe is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Maron is a semi-autobiographical comedy that chronicles the life of comedian and podcast host Marc Maron. Like Catastrophe, Marc Maron (the person and the character) is in long term recovery from drug and alcohol addiction yet this is really only a piece of knowledge for the audience rather than a dramatic plotline. Often, when Marc’s addiction or recovery comes up, it’s through a comedic lens. Take for instance an episode in the first season where Marc agrees to sponsor a man named Manny (through Alcoholics Anonymous). Manny (played by Danny Trejo), who Marc excitedly agrees to sponsor after a meeting, has just been released from prison and wants to dive headfirst into recovery, beginning with “righting” some wrongs.
Often, when Marc’s addiction or recovery comes up, it’s through a comedic lens.
Manny asks Marc to drive him on some errands, which Marc hesitantly agrees to, beginning to grasp that he may be in over his head. These errands include the very bittersweet delivery of a pinata to his estranged granddaughter and the less endearing task of beating a man who ratted on him, which resulted in him being sent to prison.
Maron also explores a topic that many in recovery know well: Strained familial relationships. Marc has the prototypical overbearing Jewish mother. She still asks him about his ex-wives and criticizes his eating habits (which we learn has manifested in some disordered eating). His father, on the other hand, was largely absent from his life as a child and mostly shows up at the most random and inopportune times. While the series delves into some difficult topics like trauma and addiction, it does so with a comedic lightness that is hard to replicate. Perhaps that’s what makes it so great.
Maron is streaming on Netflix.
Love differs from Catastrophe and Maron in that its glimpse into addiction and recovery goes beyond substances. Mickey (played by Gillian Jacobs) plays a thirty-something radio show producer who is still trying to figure out how to be a functional adult. Mickey meets Gus (Paul Rust) with whom she clumsily vacillates between friendship, dating, and not speaking to for most of the series. Mickey shares with Gus that she struggles with addictions of all sorts. She is a sex and love addict as well as an alcoholic (her term).
Love shows Mickey in various states of use, misuse, and recovery with all of her addictions. We learn that Mickey has had a traumatic upbringing which we can intuit has kept her from learning healthy coping mechanisms and, instead, turning to substances, sex, or relationships to deal with life’s difficulties.
It also helps illustrate that recovery isn’t a linear process. I appreciate the fact that throughout the series we see Mickey have many “day ones” after a relapse.
So many of us who find ourselves in recovery have some underlying trauma that predisposed up to wind up dealing with issues like addiction. I’ve found Love’s brutally honest portrayal of addiction and recovery to be a helpful tool for those without addiction to understand the seemingly erratic behavior of those who struggle with addiction or are in recovery. It also helps illustrate that recovery isn’t a linear process. I appreciate the fact that throughout the series we see Mickey have many “day ones” after a relapse. Recovery can look beautiful and simple on social media but what is often glossed over are the gritty realities — like that relapse is a part of recovery for most people.
Love is streaming on Netflix.
Addiction and recovery can be lonely and isolating. Even when you do your best to participate in a recovery program and interact with other sober people, there are times when you are forced to be alone with yourself. Television is no replacement for a recovery program and the community that comes with that but watching a show that portrays addiction and recovery in a realistic (and even slightly comedic) way might just be enough to ease some of your discomforts.