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Lena Dunham’s rehab recovery story about pain and shame is surprisingly empowering

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Hollie Richardson
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Lena Dunham

Actor and writer Lena Dunham has given a candid and empowering speech about her rehab recovery journey, thanking the female allies she made in rehab.

Lena Dunham has always been an open book about her personal life, especially when it comes to coping with mental health issues. The writer and actor has candidly talked before about living with anxiety, depression and OCD. And now, the star has revealed her addiction recovery story after she stopped taking anti-anxiety medication in 2018.

Dunham has received the Woman of the Year award from Friendly House, an American residential programme for women recovering from alcohol and drug abuse. While accepting the award this week, she talked about her own experience with the programme and described her recovery. 

Acknowledging her privilege, she explained the importance of how the organisation doesn’t “turn women away because of income bracket, because they bring women together who are from really different paths of life and allow them to connect through the miracle of recovery”.

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The actor revealed that she “thought it was the end” of her life when she was first dropped off at rehab. Things were so bad that she kept repeating the phrase “I just don’t see a place for myself in the world anymore”. 

She explained: “Seemingly overnight I had lost almost all of what I held dear. My relationships, my body and my career were in relative shambles from decisions I had made and things that had happened. Well, I was under the influence of pills that I thought dulled my pain, but actually created it. I kept repeating the phrase ‘I just don’t see a place for myself in the world anymore’. And that wasn’t suicidal ideation, exactly. I had simply edged myself out of the picture. Like I was a Polaroid that wouldn’t develop.”

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham.

Dunham also said that it was the support of fellow female residents who helped her on the path to recovery, saying: “I allowed myself to be loved by a group of people in recovery who showed me that I was worth saving and worth loving no matter what metaphorical and sometimes literal alleys I had wandered down.”

Before finishing the speech, she also touched on the “shame” that she felt when reconnecting with her public life after leaving rehab. 

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“Not just the shame of facing decisions I didn’t like in my recent past,” she explained, “but the shame of this new title ‘drug addict’, couldn’t you call me something cooler? Like, Oxycontin expert? That’s close to being a doctor. But even as a chronic oversharer I lived in fear of anyone finding out this fact of my life.”

Dunham then ended by saying: “After much contemplation, moving further through my journey of recovery and talking to other sober women, I realised being me has hurt and sometimes it hurt so much that I couldn’t bear it. But being me is also a super power. And it’s the same for all of you.”

Dunham has just spent the summer living in Wales to work on a new TV project

In an unexpected and highly relatable Guardian essay about reality dating show Love Island, she talked about how watching the programme while living in the UK helped her to deal with her breakup from Jack Antonoff. 

“I am asking myself the same questions they ask themselves on Love Island, really,” she wrote. “Can you love again after hurt? What does partnership mean? And what does it mean to know someone if you don’t know yourself?”

Dunham ended the essay, penning: “I hope I meet someone who is OK with an infertile, chubby, controlling fantasist who has made a lot of mistakes but can’t stop trying. I hope I can show my children what it means to love with intention, without losing oneself.

“I hope the villa is always full of smiling faces, hopeful hearts, tearful losses and ecstatic gains. I hope we can keep cracking on, into the future forever. I hope that summer never ends.”

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Even though summer has ended, it looks like Dunham is continuing the work on her most important relationship: the one with herself.

Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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