Mackenzie Phillips’ ‘One Day at a Time’ Family Once Helped Her Fight Chronic Subtance Abuse

While battling addiction, Mackenzie Phillips was fired twice from the “One Day at a Time” show. Her heart-wrenching experience stems from her father’s influence, who taught her how to experiment with cocaine from a young age. 

American Actress Mackenzie Phillips had a traumatizing childhood. She says she does not even recall the heartbreaking, intense situations she had to endure while making a living as a teenager due to the severity of her experiences.

During a Utah videoconference in March, Phillips noted that survivors of severe traumas do not have memories. She recalled an instance when a movie producer reminded her of details she experienced as a 12-year-old starring in a Hollywood film years later.

(L) Actress Mackenzie Phillips signs copies of her new book “Hopeful Healing: Essays On Managing Recovery And Surviving Addiction” at Barnes & Noble at The Grove on February 28, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (R) Publicity portrait of the cast of “One Day at a Time” on set in 1977, Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

The singer spoke frankly about the addiction that formed after her troublesome childhood during the annual Conference on Addiction at Utah Valley University.

She revealed that she learned shocking details of her youth during her attendance at a screening for the 1973 rom-com, “American Graffiti,” in which she starred at age 12. The circumstances had been completely wiped out from her memory.

“One Day at a Time” cast member Mackenzie Phillips as Julie Cooper on January 1, Los Angeles, California | Photo: Getty Images

At the time of the screening, Phillips was a mother in her thirties. A producer from the film asked her whether she remembered getting off a plane alone while carrying a “fake leather suitcase” to shoot the movie. She recalled:

“And we said to you, ‘Where’s your guardian? You’re only 12. You can’t be all alone.”

She shared that her heart started pounding, and her hands started to shake at that exact moment. In addition, she found out that the producer had to find ways to become her legal guardian for the movie’s duration, and she ended up living with his family. Of the shocking details, Phillips said:

“I had no recollection, and I still don’t to this day. I tell you that story because it gives a realistic representation of how trauma lives.”

Although she does not recall some of the happenings, the 62-year-old has symptoms she said have affected her throughout her life. These include restlessness, insomnia, and irritability.

With that said, that was just one example of her childhood with parents who suffered addiction. Additionally, she had an incestuous relationship with her father, John Phillips, and dealt with public family disputes for ten years.

Most notably, Phillips’ instability resulted in her becoming a “baby addict” as she developed drug addictions throughout her teenage years.

At one point, she hitchhiked around Los Angeles, stole, lied, and was even assaulted. The Virginia native later secured a role on the popular sitcom “One Day at a Time” and discovered a haven and sense of belonging among her colleagues, including Norman Lear, who hired her.

Yet her addiction crept on her again and derailed her success, leading to her getting fired. Phillips noted that today, actors are given a chance to work on their addiction and that often, shows temporarily write out their characters while they get help.

In turn, this allows them to make a return. Phillips added, “We are chipping away at the stigma. We are chipping away at the shame.” The aforementioned is why she insists on sobering up publicly to help reduce the stigma surrounding addiction.

The “So Weird” star eventually got off drugs for years but ended up relapsing. The turning point was when the former child star got caught with heroin in 2008 at an airport while on her way to make an appearance on the “Rachel Ray Show” with her “One Day at a Time” costars.

It dawned on her to help others overcome addiction during that period, and she decided to go back to school to work in a treatment center.

For the past several years, Phillips has worked at Breathe Life Healing Centers in Pasadena, California. Speaking on the experience in its entirety, she stated:

“I’ve found a second representation of that kind of family I felt I had when I started working on ‘One Day at a Time.’ A safe family, a wonderful family.”

In July 2016, she appeared on “Oprah: Where Are They Now?” and disclosed the several factors contributing to her issues. Phillips revealed she came from a long line of undiagnosed mental illness, alcoholism, and rampant addiction.

The star credited her genetic traits for her addiction, including being introduced to those behaviors from a young age. When Phillips was ten years old, her father, John (of The Mamas & Papas), taught her how to roll a joint.

At 11, the mom of one had her first encounter with cocaine. She was arrested for the first time while still a minor, a week before her 18th birthday.

Phillips shared the behavior did not seem out of the ordinary because she was already used to witnessing out-of-control behavior. Seeing adults around her doing drugs and engaging in dangerous behavior made her think that all adults acted that way.

At some point, Phillips questioned if somehow, she was responsible for the ordeals in her life, thinking there was something wrong with her or was being punished. 

“At that moment, the genetic monster inside wakes up and goes, ‘Oh, man, I’m hungry.’ I fed the beast, and the beast was the shame. The beast did not understand the neglect, did not understand the abuse,” she explained.

She recalled that she sincerely believed something was wrong with her when she was younger, but nobody told her. Consequently, that confusion led to her feeling lost throughout her childhood.

In an exclusive interview with Variety in November 2019, Phillips openly talked about her sobriety. When asked what motivates her to stay sober, she said being resilient does the trick.

Moreover, the author divulged that she never expected to live until 60. She added that she is fortunate to have the chance to see life through her only child, son Shane Baraka, 34, who notably does not have an addiction problem.

Phillips said she found it somewhat shocking that Shane did not go through the same struggles but emphasized how blessed she was about that.

Moreso, she was asked how she finds a balance between being a counselor and an actress. Phillips shared she is passionate about her work at Breathe and is lucky to be employed by people who want her to be self-sufficient, be it in writing books or doing films and television.

Although she gets to do many things, she is mindful that her recovery program at Breathe and her family take priority.

In March 2021, Phillips and Brandon Lamm launched a recovery-themed podcast. While she grew up with addiction struggles, Lamm is an interventionist who spends his days on the front lines of addiction relief.

Since the beginning of the ongoing pandemic, the two discovered that people had become addicts more than ever.

With that in mind, Phillips said their program would allow them to reach those struggling with substance abuse to let them know that they are not alone.

Apart from helping those in need, Phillips has come a long way in finding herself since her addiction. She even managed to return to “One Day at a Time Reboot” in December 2016.

The Hollywood Reporter revealed that the franchise was streaming on Netflix at the time. However, Phillips did not return to reprise her role as the rebellious eldest daughter Julie in the CBS original.

Instead, she is guest-starring as Pam, a psychologist, and a female veteran’s therapy group leader. Her casting reunites her with Lear, who had to fire her twice previously.

The comedy show was an instant success. Everything went according to plan until the third season launched. Phillips got arrested and lied about the incident on her uncredited appearance on “Dinah and Her New Best Friends” in 1976.

Things went further downhill during the run of 1979-1980, where she started getting tired and showing up late for rehearsals. She gave the team a hard time, and producers decided to afford her a six-week leave of absence.

She got relieved from the series in 1980, went to rehab, and later returned in 1981. Still, Phillips got in trouble again after falling asleep during rehearsals in 1983.

Producer Patricia Fass Palmer requested she take a drug test, but she refused and chose to leave instead. Irrespective of the bad experiences, she has recovered and returned to acting.

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