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Mackenzie Phillips Opens Up About Addiction

Posted on September 23, 2009 in Cocaine

When Mackenzie Phillips was 10 years old, her father, John Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, taught her how to roll a joint. She first tried cocaine when she was 11. One week after her 18th birthday, she was arrested for the first time. Now, at 49, Phillips is revealing the most shocking part of her past for the first time: she was raped by her father and then began consensually sleeping with him.

While talking to Oprah on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” Phillips read a page from her memoir, High on Arrival, aloud:

"I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my own father. I don’t remember how it started or, thankfully, how it ended…Was it the first time? Had this happened before? I didn’t know and I still don’t. All I can say is that it was the first time I was aware of it. For a moment I was in my body, in that horrible truth, and then I slid back into a blackout. Your father is supposed to protect you.”

Phillips told Oprah she was 17 or 18 the first time she remembers being raped by her father. At that time, she was best known as the young star of the sitcom One Day at a Time, but no one knew the dark secret she was hiding.

In 1981, Phillips went on the road with her father and their band, the New Mamas & the Papas. By this time, she was addicted to cocaine. “We’re touring, and I begin waking up after drug-fueled events with my pants around my ankles and my father sleeping beside me," she says. "Again, [I thought]: ‘Don’t think. Don’t look. Just keep going.’ And this happened over time. It didn’t happen every day. It didn’t happen every week, but it certainly happened," she said.

Their sexual relationship continued for 10 years. Phillips says she can’t explain why it went on for so long, but she believes drugs and alcohol were partly to blame. “My father was not a bad man. He was kind of a testament to what drugs and alcohol—in huge quantities—can do to a person’s priorities. Their motives," she told Oprah. "I don’t hate him. I understand that he was a very tortured man, and he sort of passed that torture down to me."

She also admitted that her father taught her how to shoot up cocaine as a teen, and that they often got high together. "What you’ve been taught is what you know, and that was kind of like it for me," she said. "I didn’t have very good role models."

After she landed the starring role on One Day at a Time alongside actress Valerie Bertinelli, Mackenzie’s life began to revolve around drugs. She freebased cocaine, popped pills, and dropped acid. Then, two years after Mackenzie’s first arrest, she was fired from One Day at a Time.

Over time, Mackenzie says drugs changed her and her father’s perceptions of the world. Society’s rules became warped and twisted. "It’s sort of the Stockholm Syndrome, where you begin to love your captor," she said. "And I felt great love for my father."

In 1990, Phillips said she had an awakening, realizing that what she and her father were doing was wrong. In High on Arrival, she describes the moment:

"The Mamas & the Papas had several gigs in Hawaii, and Dad and I had adjoining rooms. But I don’t think I went to my own room the whole time. Dad had brought tons of pills, and I found us some coke. We were lying in bed, in a stupor, when Dad said: ‘We could just run away to a country where no one would look down on us. There are countries where this is an accepted practice. Maybe Fiji.’ Then he said, ‘We can take Bijou and Tam and Shane and raise them as our children.’ My father was completely delusional. He was fantasizing about living with me, as man and wife, and raising my siblings, his children, as our children. The moment he tried to make it romantic, I had a visceral reaction. ‘No,’ I thought, ‘We’re going to hell for this.’"

At the time, Phillips was also in a relationship with another man, the father of her son, Shane. She says her boyfriend had no idea what was going between her and her father. After she became pregnant for the second time—and didn’t know whether the father was her boyfriend or her father—she had an abortion and never let her father touch her again.

She said that after the abortion, she vowed to give up alcohol and drugs and became sober for the first time in years. She encouraged her father to do the same, but she said he resented her sobriety. In 1992, he had to undergo a liver transplant due to his alcoholism, and he passed away in 2001 at the age of 65 from heart failure.

After her father’s death, Phillips had trouble coping, and started using cocaine again. She hid away in her Los Angeles home and even allowed drug dealers to sleep in her son’s room. In 2008, when she was invited to be part of a One Day at a Time reunion on The Rachael Ray Show, she was arrested on her way to New York City for possession of heroin and cocaine.

"That was one of the most terrifying moments of my life," she says. "I cried. I was just weeping. All I could think of was my son. All I could think of was Shane, and God bless him, he is the loveliest person. I’m so lucky to have such a great young man."

Phillips was charged with two felony counts of possession of narcotics, and she’s serving 18 months of informal probation. Since her arrest one year ago, Phillips says she’s been clean.

When asked why she wrote her memoir, Phillips said she believes she survived years of addiction, overdoses, and near-death experiences to share her story. “I think the universe shows us some sort of purpose for our lives when you think there’s no hope left,” she said.

"In the finding redemption and freedom for myself, maybe I’m going to be giving a little piece of it to somebody else to hold onto," she says. "Having this type of story, and still being here to tell the tale, tells me that I’m still here for a reason."

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