In the relentless grip of a nationwide fentanyl epidemic, the devastating impact of this lethal drug hits home in the most personal way for me. The statistics are chilling – fentanyl claims an American life every seven minutes, its potency surpassing heroin by at least 50 times. For my daughter, Lola, the journey from a life of privilege, academic success, and artistic triumph spiraled into chaos with the intrusion of this perilous substance.
Once a kind and charismatic individual, Lola's descent into the clutches of fentanyl unfolded rapidly. Despite her upbringing in private schools, academic honors, and a successful career as an artist, she found herself entangled in the dangerous allure of this drug. As a parent, I've been forced into a role I never anticipated – bailing her out of drug-related arrests, confronting dealers in midnight alleys, and chasing down a meth-crazed, gun-toting addict who stole her wallet on the chaotic streets of Hollywood.
The relentless battle against fentanyl's grip involves navigating the complex web of interventions, Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings, legal consultations, and the constant anxiety of monitoring secretive text messages. In the face of well-intentioned advice to "let go and let God" or "detach with love," I've chosen a different path – one of intervention and vigilance, fueled by the belief that with fentanyl, there's no option but to interfere. In the realm of this lethal drug, there is no rock bottom; it's a myth, and the ultimate bottom is death.
Fentanyl's threat extends beyond its lethal potency, creating two distinct scenarios. Casual users, the "party people," risk their lives unknowingly when cocaine or heroin is laced with fentanyl. Then there are the hard-core addicts like Lola, confident in their ability to navigate the dangers until confronted with the grim reality of friends lost to overdoses.
Reflecting on a Vogue piece from September 1999, titled "Daughter Dearest," where I mused about Lola entering her teenage years, I'm confronted with the stark reality of the present. Fentanyl has permeated every facet of Lola's life, transforming what began as a teen's journey into a horror story – a terrifying ordeal not for her, but for me. In the face of this pervasive and insidious threat, the battle to keep Lola alive becomes an all-encompassing struggle against an adversary that offers no mercy – only the haunting specter of death.
Amidst the tumultuous narrative of the past 24 years, it's essential to acknowledge the intermittent bursts of brilliance and grace that have illuminated Lola's journey. A shining moment arrived when Lola discovered an exceptional mentor in the late Robert Graham, sculptor and husband of Anjelica Huston. Transferring from Chicago to Los Angeles to be his part-time assistant, Lola's graduate show unfolded as a spectacle of artistic prowess. Her compassionate nature shone through as she dedicated herself to caring for her ailing grandmother, sleeping on the floor until her grandmother passed away in her arms.
Lola's creative spirit extended to moments of joyous play with her adopted brother, Nick, and manifested in the form of unique, massive flower sculptures commemorating her grandmother's ashes being released into the sky. These glimpses into Lola's character underscore the depth of her empathy and creativity.
Yet, the tapestry of Lola's life is woven with contrasting threads, as evidenced by an incident 18 months ago when a local beauty supply store owner revealed that familial connections were the only shield preventing legal action after Lola attempted to use counterfeit $100 bills.
Reflecting on the unconventional union between Lola's parents, I recall marrying Chris Thompson, a renowned TV comedy writer known for discovering Tom Hanks and creating the breakthrough sitcom "Bosom Buddies." Our whirlwind romance unfolded in 1987, just three weeks after Chris emerged from a hospital post-cocaine binge. Despite warning signs, the allure of his humor and charisma prevailed. A plumber-turned-stand-up comic, Chris was the funniest and highest-paid presence in any writers' room.
The swift transition from meeting Chris to a wedding procession, pregnant and accompanied by a gospel choir in a celebrity-packed Westwood church, unfolded seamlessly. Even as Chris nearly missed the ceremony due to a drug-fueled bachelor party hosted by Timothy Leary, the festivities continued with a star-studded cast, including Tom Hanks, Richard Lewis, and Bill Maher. The humorous chaos captured on film, with Robin Williams, Jack Nicholson, and Lauren Hutton in the background, encapsulates the whirlwind that characterized that momentous day.
In the midst of these highs and lows, Lola's journey unfolds as a complex tapestry, each thread contributing to the narrative of resilience, creativity, and the unyielding grip of addiction.
Amidst the scenic beauty of Tahiti, the honeymoon bliss with Chris was ephemeral. A few months post-childbirth, the cracks in our marriage widened as Chris, far from achieving sobriety, engaged in an affair with the lead actress from his TV sitcom. Despite my efforts to salvage the relationship while juggling a busy career in directing – from music videos to Saturday Night Live comedy shorts and Paramount features – Chris walked out for good when Lola was just two.
Embarking on a seven-year liaison with Al Pacino, I ensured Lola maintained a connection with her bipolar-diagnosed father, who struggled with serious alcohol and cocaine issues. Lola grew up aware of her father's demons, living in constant fear of losing him. Yet, Chris, riddled with guilt, opted for a friendship rather than a paternal role, spoiling her and evading the responsibilities of parenting.
When, at 15, Lola faced an "after-school rehab" stint for smoking pot, it was met with skepticism from Chris, who believed I was overreacting. Unfortunately, Lola's exposure to older peers in rehab contributed to a downward spiral, and by her mid-20s, she had already ventured into heroin use. Meanwhile, Chris faced professional setbacks, getting fired from the TV series "Shake It Up" due to on-set drinking.
A glimmer of hope emerged when Chris secured a gig reworking an Israeli comedy for Amazon, but the joy was short-lived. On the brink of discussing Lola's need for treatment, a tragedy unfolded. Two days before his Amazon pitch, Chris succumbed to the allure of a bar, martinis, and drugs, resulting in a fatal outcome. The dreaded call confirmed his demise, shattering Lola's longstanding fear of her father meeting such a fate – and on her birthday, no less.
Lola, shining brightly at her father's memorial, carried a painful secret. A glimpse into her bag revealed the presence of drugs and paraphernalia, foretelling the challenging journey ahead. The night of her father's memorial marked not only the loss of a troubled soul but also the beginning of a tumultuous ride for Lola, grappling with grief, addiction, and the shadow of a father who could never overcome his demons.
In Lola's determined attempt to break free from the clutches of heroin, she insisted on a cold-turkey approach. However, the harsh reality of the journey took its toll, bringing my own life to a standstill. One such endeavor led to a chaotic scene, involving police and a psychiatric-evaluation team, as physical altercations erupted with Lola's questionable "friends" who brought ketamine to ostensibly "cheer her up."
Driven by her art and the vibrant energy it infused into her life, Lola navigated the challenging landscape of heroin withdrawal. Despite the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, mirroring her father's struggles, Lola's artistic endeavors flourished. Long nights of painting until dawn paid off, culminating in her inclusion in her first group show, followed by more group exhibitions and ultimately her first major solo show. Lola's provocative nude watercolors, accompanied by her witty captions, resonated with audiences. Prolific and possessing a sharp, edgy sense of humor inherited from her father, Lola ventured into naughty poetry and participated in readings throughout the town.
Yet, grief lingered, and Lola sought solace in an escalating cycle of drug use. My efforts to secure medical assistance for her led to visits to doctors and grief therapists. Eventually, I compelled her to a bare-bones rehab facility near Palm Desert. However, access to healthcare, especially for addiction, proved challenging without financial means or robust insurance. Despite the hardships, I committed to maintaining her health coverage, navigating the complexities of a system that often falls short, even in the so-called greatest country on Earth.
The rehab facility, surrounded by barbed wire and resembling a women's jail, traded traditional therapy for menial tasks like cleaning toilets and doing laundry. Despite the tough conditions, Lola succumbed to peer pressure, succumbing to meth use orchestrated by a group of court-ordered individuals. Faced with this setback, we sought another rehabilitation option, this time in Tijuana, Mexico, suggested by Giles, Lola's new art director boyfriend. In a controversial move, Lola underwent ibogaine therapy, a psychedelic derived from the bark of the iboga tree, known for potentially reducing opioid dependence. This unconventional path proved successful, keeping Lola clean for a remarkable four months.
As the narrative unfolds, disconcerting developments cast a shadow over Lola's life. Her apartment metamorphoses into a disconcerting haven, a "trap house," where drug use transcends the boundaries of time. A Midwestern college grad named Jane introduces a perilous element – fentanyl, the trendy street drug that gains popularity when heroin becomes scarce. Fentanyl's allure lies in its affordability and ease of production, making it a favorite among drug cartels and dealers. Its addictive nature amplifies its appeal to users like Lola.
In the midst of this disarray, a glimmer of hope emerges unexpectedly. Lisa Gorman, an Australian fashion designer, stumbles upon Lola's Instagram posts and recognizes the potential in her "exceptional art." This collaboration propels Lola into the fashion world, with her art featured on clothes to launch Gorman's first American store. Lola orchestrates her most impressive solo art show to date at a Hollywood gallery, showcasing monumental watercolors and exquisite oil paintings of flowers and plants. However, this ephemeral brightness is overshadowed by the persistent darkness of addiction.
Despite the success in the art world, Lola grapples with overwhelming challenges. The crippling weight of self-loathing, grief, and shame intensifies. Fentanyl becomes a crutch, providing a fleeting escape from pain and a semblance of happiness. Meanwhile, her relationship with Giles, her art director boyfriend, unravels as he quits their shared studio and places her paintings in storage. His departure leaves Lola unmoored, drifting further into the perilous depths of addiction.
A disconcerting revelation surfaces when Lola inadvertently leaves her phone unattended during a rare visit. Messages from sick dope addicts begging for more of her product expose her descent into drug dealing. A FaceTime call inadvertently captures the dark reality as Lola engages with a network of drugs, tattooed individuals, a formidable bodyguard, and scales. The shocking scene unfolds as Lola inquires about "Midnight Special" and the quantity of fentanyl available.
The disturbing episode underscores the gravity of Lola's situation, revealing the extent of her involvement in a dangerous world. Simultaneously, Lola's friends gravitate toward the narrator, seeking refuge and support. The complex web of addiction tightens its grip, compelling the narrator to extend assistance – providing shelter, facilitating health insurance, aiding in abortions, securing food stamps, offering financial support for essentials, and ferrying many to rehabilitation centers. The turmoil continues, painting a poignant picture of the relentless struggle against the throes of addiction.
Amid the chaos of Lola's spiraling life, desperate measures become the last resort. Multiple interventionists balk at the mention of Lola's tumultuous existence, marked by counterfeit money and associations with friends armed with guns. The situation takes a darker turn when a friend reveals that Lola was extorted at gunpoint by a gang, compelling me to reach out to Sean Penn, a well-connected old acquaintance familiar with the struggles of addiction.
In a calculated move, Sean proposes an unconventional intervention involving an undercover cop. An elaborate plan unfolds, with Sean orchestrating a dinner meeting at a classic Santa Monica Italian café. Lola, unaware of the impending intervention, is instructed by Sean to pack a bag and avoid her apartment due to an imminent threat. As Sean arrives to pick her up, her seedy roommates are astonished to see "Spicoli" from Fast Times at Ridgemont High escorting her to dinner.
At the café, the stage is set with the undercover cop, Joe, Sean's girlfriend, and two additional individuals waiting for Lola. Sean, the orchestrator of this intervention, finally appears with Lola in tow, who seems on the verge of fleeing. Joe begins a stern speech, emphasizing the severe consequences Lola faces, including potential imprisonment and the grim reality for a young woman in such a predicament. The narrative of danger and urgency unfolds as Sean reveals that he has arranged a private jet to transport Lola to any rehab facility of her choosing the next day.
Amid the chaos and emotional turmoil, Lola agrees to take control of her destiny. The immediate task at hand is disposing of her drug inventory and burner phones. The next morning, the wearied, frightened Lola locks herself in her room until I intervene, breaking down the door. The journey to Burbank airport ensues, where a private jet awaits. The airplane staff assists with her luggage, and amidst the turmoil of addiction, Lola appears remarkably well-groomed.
As we bid farewell at the tarmac, emotions overwhelm Lola. In tears, she expresses a profound sense of undeserving gratitude, acknowledging the profound generosity of this unexpected lifeline. The journey to rehabilitation unfolds against the backdrop of chaos and despair, offering a glimmer of hope in the face of addiction's relentless grip.
The path of addiction is one fraught with despair, resilience, and unrelenting hope. Unexpectedly, Sean Penn's extraordinary and generous gesture opens a window of opportunity for Lola's recovery. The initial plan proves successful, with Lola spending 32 days in rehab. In our conversations during this period, her tone shifts, mirroring the Lola of old – deliriously happy, grateful, and proud of her progress. However, a seemingly harmless joke about the chef quitting and Subway sandwiches triggers an unexpected turn of events. Lola is abruptly expelled from rehab, as corporate-run facilities do not tolerate even joking references to suicide.
The news reaches me 24 hours later, and my anxiety mounts as Lola goes off the grid in Tucson. Fearing the worst, I initiate a frantic search – contacting hospitals, morgues, police stations, and even reconnecting with Sean Penn, who deploys ex-Navy SEALs to assist in locating her. Eventually, Lola returns to LA on her own accord, but the clutches of addiction persist, fueled by the destructive force of fentanyl and meth.
Two more arduous years unfold, marked by the relentless descent into addiction. Despite the odds stacked against her, Lola miraculously survives. I refuse to surrender to despair, understanding the formidable combination of mental illness and addiction steeped in shame. The front-row seat to Lola's struggle persists, but my empathy remains boundless. She is an addict, grappling with an inherited affliction, and I count myself fortunate that she is still alive.
In the face of this ongoing battle, my commitment to Nick and Lola, the loves of my life, remains unshaken. Lola embarks on multiple rehab journeys, each fraught with setbacks, but I refuse to relinquish hope. Sharing this raw and unfiltered account is an attempt to dispel shame and isolation for other parents and addicts. The pivotal role of honesty in navigating the treacherous path toward sanity and a drug-free life is emphasized.
As the narrative unfolds, a glimmer of hope emerges amid the turmoil. After a harrowing Christmas marked by uncontrollable addiction in Sydney, Lola finally agrees to an extended trip to a South African rehab. Despite my reservations about potential arrests due to holding drugs during the 40-hour journey, Lola takes this crucial step toward recovery. The journey is far from over, but the resilience and determination within Lola spark a newfound optimism, offering a testament to the enduring power of hope and the relentless fight against the clutches of addiction.
In the ongoing saga of Lola's tumultuous journey through addiction, a glimmer of hope emerges as she completes a transformative four-month stay at an illustrious South African rehab. Her recovery journey extends to London, where the nurturing environment of Start2stop becomes a vital backdrop for her continued healing. Astonishingly, Lola celebrates nine months of sobriety, defying the odds in the face of the insidious grip of fentanyl.
Petersham Nurseries recognizes Lola's artistic prowess, appointing her as their artist in residence. In this newfound role, Lola crafts exquisite watercolors of flowers that will soon grace the shelves of the nursery's shop. The beauty and enchantment of her work attract commissions for larger pieces, showcasing the remarkable resurgence of her artistic talent.
However, the specter of fentanyl looms ominously, with its notorious 93% relapse rate. The uncertainty and fear persist, but Lola's poignant acknowledgment that her mother saved her life becomes a beacon of strength. The vigilant journey continues, grounded in prayer and an unwavering commitment to Lola's well-being.
The narrative takes a sobering turn as the devastating impact of fentanyl is underscored. President Biden addresses the grave issue in his State of the Union speech, highlighting the alarming statistics of over 70,000 fentanyl overdose deaths reported in 2022 in America, with anticipated higher figures for 2023. Fentanyl's destructive potential encompasses a myriad of health complications, from brain damage to hormonal imbalances, making it one of the most perilous drugs in history.
As Lola's story unfolds, the unpredictable nature of addiction is starkly evident. The relapse risk is ever-present, emphasizing the need for continued awareness and caution. The hope is tempered by the acknowledgment that a mother's love, while powerful, is not a panacea for the complexities of addiction.
In the concluding notes, a plea for Lola's continued survival echoes, recognizing the fragility of her journey. The imminent change of circumstances hangs in the balance, reinforcing the unpredictable nature of addiction. The prospect of raising awareness persists, with the creation of a TV series documenting this harrowing journey. Lola's paintings, a testament to her resilience, are now available for sale at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, providing a tangible representation of her triumphant return to the world of art. For those eager to explore more of Lola's artistic endeavors, her work can be found at lolarosethompson.art or by following @lolarosethompson on Instagram.
In conclusion, Lola's harrowing journey through addiction unfolds as a testament to both resilience and the relentless grip of substances like fentanyl. Despite the turbulent roller coaster of relapses and recoveries, a glimmer of hope emerges with Lola's transformative stay at a South African rehab and subsequent nine months of sobriety. Her artistic talents, recognized by Petersham Nurseries, provide a new avenue for expression and healing.
However, the omnipresent threat of fentanyl, with its staggering relapse rate and devastating consequences, remains a looming shadow. The broader context of the fentanyl epidemic, highlighted by President Biden, underscores the urgent need for awareness and solutions in the face of rising overdose deaths.
The narrative concludes with a poignant plea for Lola's continued survival, acknowledging the unpredictable nature of addiction. The journey is far from over, as the ever-present possibility of relapse lingers. A forthcoming TV series aims to shed light on the complexities of addiction, serving as a cautionary tale and a source of awareness for others.
Amidst the uncertainties, Lola's paintings stand as symbols of her resilience and triumph over adversity. Available for sale at Petersham Nurseries, they provide a tangible representation of her journey and newfound purpose. As the world awaits Lola's continued path, the concluding notes emphasize the need for unwavering vigilance, a mother's enduring love, and the collective efforts to address the pervasive challenges posed by addiction.