Read Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing Online
Authors: Matthew Perry
The UCLA hospital was giving me opiates for my fake stomach pain, but I needed more, so I called a drug dealer. But I was on the fortieth floor of that building in Century City, and that meant that I had to figure out a way to go down forty floors, give the dealer the money in an empty cigarette packet, and get my pills. Then I had to get back
to the fortieth floor unnoticed, take the pills, and I would get to feel good for a while.
Now, I had to do this with a sober companion, a nurse, and Erin all living in the apartment. Turns out I was terrible at itâI tried four times and got caught exactly four times. The UCLA doctors were not pleased with this and said I had to go to rehab.
I had no choiceâI was addicted to everything they gave me. Had I just said, “No, fuck off,” it might have been a glorious moment, but then the drugs would stop, and I would get crazy sick. I was put in the rather strange position of choosing where I'd be locked up for monthsâgiven the choice of New York or Houston. Maybe somebody more capable than me should be given that decision? I, being the least qualified to make any decisions, picked New York.
I was high as a kite and fakely clutching my stomach when we arrived at the recovery center in New York. Even though the place resembled a prison, the people in there were all smiles.
“What the fuck are you guys so
about?” I said. (I had a tendency to be a bit grumpy.) I was on 14 milligrams of Ativan and 60 milligrams of OxyContin. I had a colostomy bag. I asked where I could smoke and was told there would be no smoking here.
“I can't stay here if I can't smoke,” I said.
“Well, you can't smoke here.”
“Yeah, I heard what you said. How in the world am I supposed to quit smoking on top of everything else?”
“We'll give you a patch.”
“Don't blame me if I smoke the actual fucking patch,” I said.
It was agreed that they would keep me on the Ativan, put me on Suboxone, and I could smoke during the detox, but not when I was on the main unit. This meant that I could smoke for four more days. When I wanted to smoke, the staff member would escort me outside and stand next to me while I puffed away.
That was relaxing.
Three nights went by, and then I met a very pretty, extremely smart nurse. She took very good care of me, and I flirted with her as much as you can flirt with someone who is changing your colostomy bag on the reg. The dreaded day where I would have to quit smoking was looming, so I was allowed to walk out with the wonderful nurse to get coffee. Accordingly, my mood lifted a bit. I made jokes, I flirted, in that “we're all in rehab so nothing-can-really-happen” way, and we returned.
Back at the center, the nurse said, “I need you to do something for me.”
“Whatever you need,” I said.
“I need you to stop trying to fuck the hot nurse.”
She was referring to herself.
“I thought we were both flirting in a safe, never-going-to-happen way,” I said.
I was there for four more months, and I never flirted with her again. Nor did she flirt back at my nonflirting, perhaps because she'd seen me covered in my own shit multiple times.
I moved up to the unit, met therapistsâBruce, Wendy, whateverâwhom I wanted nothing to do with. All I wanted to do was smoke. Or talk about smoking. Or smoke while talking about smoking.
Everyone just looked like a giant cigarette.
I rarely left my room. The bag kept breaking. I called my mother and I asked her to come save me. She said that I would smoke if I left and that would be awful for the coming surgery. I called my therapist, begged her to get me out. She said the same thing my mom had.
I was fucked and stuck.
Panic set in. My bag was full. I was not high. There was nothing separating me from me. I felt like a little kid scared of monsters in the dark. But was
I found that stairwell. The nurse? Nowhere to be found. Therapy? Fuck therapy. I hit those walls with my head just as hard as Jimmy Connors used to hit his forehands down the line. Lots of topspin. Right on the fucking line.
I'm this close to dying every day.
I don't have another sobriety in me. If I went out, I would never be able to come back. And if I went out, I would go out hard. I would have to go out hard because my tolerance is so high.
It's not like the Amy Winehouse story, where she was sober for a while, and then the first drinks she had killed her. She said something in that documentary that is true for me, too. She had just won a Grammy and she said to a friend, “I can't enjoy this unless I'm drunk.”
The idea of being famous, the idea of being rich, the idea of being meâI can't enjoy any of it unless I'm high. And I can't think of love without wanting to be high. I lack a spiritual connection that protects me from these feelings. That's why I'm a seeker.
The first time I reached fifty-five pills a day, like the character of Betsy Mallum in
I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know that I was addicted. I'm one of the first famous people who went to rehab and people
about it. In 1997, I was on the number one TV show in America and went to rehab and it was on the cover of the magazines. But I had no idea what was happening to me. Betsy Mallum in
graduates to heroin, and it's sayonaraâyou see her just kind of nod out, smile, and die. But that smile is the feeling that I want all the time. She must have felt so good, but it
her. But that beatific moment is something I still seek, only without the death part. I want a connection. I want that connection to something bigger than me because I'm convinced it's the only thing that will truly save my life.
I don't want to die. I'm scared to die.
I'm not even any good at finding the drugs. Somebody at one point that I worked with introduced me to a crooked doctor. I would claim that I had migraine headachesâactually, I had maybe eight doctors going for my made-up migrainesâand I would still sit through a forty-five-minute MRI to get drugs. Sometimes, when things were really bad, I'd go to drug dealer houses. The nurse of the doctor took over from him when he died. She had all the pills, and she lived in the Valley, and whenever I wanted to get pills, I would go see her. I'd be terrified the entire time.
She'd say, “Come in!”
“No!” I'd shout, “we're going to get arrested. Just take the money and let me get outta here.”
Later she wanted me to sit and do coke with her. I'd get the pills, and because I was so terrified, I'd take three instantly and drive home and be high to take the edge off the fear, which just meant I was even more arrestable.
Much later, when I lived in Century City, I'd try to find excuses to go down forty stories to score. I was so sick and so injured at the timeâmy stomach hadn't closed yet, I was alone during CovidÂ â¦ I had a nurse on staff giving me drugs, but I wasn't getting high from them anymore. So I would call a drug dealer and get more Oxy. This way, I'd have additional drugs to the ones I'd been prescribed so that I could actually feel them. The street pills were something like $75 per pill, so I was giving the guy $3,000 at a time, many times a week.
But I got caught more times than I was able to pull it off. The UCLA doctor in charge of my case got fed up with me and told me he wouldn't help me anymore. I couldn't really blame himâeverybody was terrified about fentanyl being in the pills and me dying from them. (When I got to the treatment center, sure enough, I tested positive for fentanyl.)
This diseaseÂ â¦ the big horrible thing. Addiction has ruined so much of my life it's not funny. It's ruined relationships. It's ruined the day-to-day process of being me. I have a friend who doesn't have any money, lives in a rent-controlled apartment. Never made it as an actor, has diabetes, is constantly worried about money, doesn't work. And I would trade places with him in a second. In fact, I would give up all the money, all the fame, all the stuff, to live in a rent-controlled apartmentâI'd trade being worried about money all the time to not have this disease, this addiction.
And not only do I have the disease, but I also have it
. I have it as bad as you can have it, in fact. It's backs-to-the-wall time all the time. It's going to kill me (I guess something has to). Robert Downey Jr., talking about his own addiction, once said, “It's like I have a gun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the metal.” I got it; I understand that. Even on good days, when I'm sober and I'm looking forward, it's still with me all the time. There's still a gun.
Fortunately, I guess, there's not enough opiates in the world to make me high anymore. I have a very, very, very low bottom. Things have to get truly awfulâthey have to get big, and terribleâbefore I quit anything. When I was doing the show
I was basically running itâwriting it, starring in it. Then, at home, I was working on notes for a writer on a script that he had written. I had a bottle of vodka next to me. I made myself thirteen, fourteen drinksâbut homemade drinks, so
And after the fourteenth drink, I wasn't drunk anymore. So, I quit drinking.
I think now I'm at the point with opiates where it's the same situation. There are just not enough. I took 1,800 milligrams of opiates in Switzerland per day and wasn't high. So, what am I gonna do? Call a drug dealer and ask for
the drugs? Now when I think about OxyContin, my mind flashes directly to having a colostomy bag for life. Which is something I could not handle. That's why I think it'll be
pretty easy for me to continue being off opiatesâthey don't work anymore. And I could wake up from another surgeryâthere have already been fourteen since the first oneâwith an irreversible colostomy bag.
It's time to figure something else out. (As said, the next level is heroin, and I won't go there.) Me quitting drinking and opiates doesn't have anything to do with strength, by the wayâit just doesn't work anymore. If somebody came into my house right now and said, “Here's a hundred milligrams of Oxy,” I'd say, “It's not enough.”
The problem remains, though:
there wherever I go. I bring along the problems and the darkness and the shit, so every time I leave a rehab, I do a geographic and buy a new fucking house. And then I live in it.
And the first thing I used to do when I looked at housesâwhich is a hobby of mineâwas go through the homeowners' medicine cabinets to see if they had any pills I could purloin. You can't be a dick about it, thoughâyou have to take the right amount. You can't take too many or they'll know for sure. So, you check the date on the pill bottleâyou want something that's sort of out-of-date. If it's been a
time out-of-date, you could take a bunch of them. But if it's brand-new, you could take only a couple. I would hit five open houses on a Sundayâthat'd be my whole day.
At one point, when I was taking fifty-five a day, I would wake up and somehow have to find those fifty-five pills. It was like a full-time job. My whole life was math. I need eight to get home; then I'll be there for three hours. So I need four more. And then I have to go to that dinner party. So I need seven for that.â¦ And all this to just maintain, to not be sick, to avoid the inevitable, which is the detox.
I imagine those homeowners arriving back after their open house and eventually, at some point, opening their medicine cabinet.
“Is it possible that ChandlerÂ â¦ no, not
Surely not Chandler
Now, instead of open houses, I'm having one built. I started the process because about eighteen months ago, I couldn't complete a sentence. Things got so flat, so awful for me. Doctors came in, my mother came in, everybody came in and took care of me because I couldn't talk. I was so out of it. I had to do something.
I had that $20 million penthouse apartment in Century City, where I was doing drugs and watching TV and having sex with my girlfriend of a few months.
One night I was passed out and she was passed out and when we woke up my mother and Keith Morrison were at the foot of my bed. I thought,
Am I in an episode of
? And if I
, why is my
also in it?
My mother looked at my girlfriend and said, “I think it's time for you to leave.”
This saved my life.
My dad has saved my life multiple times, too.
When he helped me get to Marina del Rey (after Jamie Tarses had told me I was disappearing before her very eyes), I was deathly afraid that I would never have fun again for the rest of my life. After about three weeks, I called Marta Kauffman and David Crane to tell them I was sober and could return to
“When are you coming back?” they said. “We need you to come back. It's going to be very work intensive. We have to start in two weeks, or we won't be able to do it.”
But I was still very sick. My father had overheard the tenor of the conversation and called Marta and David back.
“I will pull him off your television show,” Dad said, “if you continue to act this way around him.”
I was so grateful for him for being my dad and doing the dad thing,
but I also didn't want to be the problem. They were just doing their job; they had the number one hit TV show, and two of the main characters were about to get married. I couldn't just disappear. I just wanted everything to be OK. So, then I was moved from Marina del Rey to Promises, in Malibu, and was told I was going to need more than twenty-eight daysâI would need
to get better from this.
Two weeks later, I was driven to the set of
by a technician from Malibu. When I arrived, Jen Aniston said, “I've been