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Margaret Cho: How I Overcame Childhood Trauma, Disappointments and Addiction

Margaret Cho: How I Overcame Childhood Trauma, Disappointments and Addiction

When you think of Margaret Cho, you probably don’t think of her as having to overcome addiction. Many comedians will tell you that they’re funny as a way of masking their past hurt. This is equally true for those with remarkable careers in life. Margaret Cho is no exception. From being molested for years as a child to becoming addicted to diet pills, Cho’s past is anything but a laughing matter.

All-American Girl, Margaret Cho

Margaret Cho always had issues about her weight growing up. ABC developed and aired a sitcom based on Cho’s stand-up routine. It was called ‘All American Girl’ and was the first network show based on an East Asian family. It was a ground breaking show and Cho was the star. The network later decided that Cho wasn’t the right representative of ‘Asian.’ The TV sitcom was about a rebellious daughter of a Korean family. In a sense, her real life was quite similar to this made up version of her life for TV. The network executives had a problem with Cho’s weight and criticized her for being heavy. The network had a problem with the fullness of her face and her overall weight. She was determined to keep the show so she took extreme measures.

Addictive Weight Loss Pill and the Pressure of Hollywood

Cho was 23 during this big break in her career. It was a time of insecurity in her life. She took the networks’ opinion about her and began to seek out ways to lose weight. Fast pills to help you lose weight was one of the ways she would accomplish this. A trainer was hired and would work her out for 4 hours, 6 days a week. A nutritionist was also hired and she would eat only what was given to her. Margaret lost weight through diet, exercise and fear. She took drugs to lose weight. They were legal at the time and known as Phen-Fen. These drugs were similar to speed so she wasn’t eating and was constantly exercising because she had so much energy. Dietary supplements and the long term effects were not known before. Cho says she still has problems keeping her weight stable from that time in her life.×600.jpg

The Downward Spiral of Weight Loss Pill Addiction

Margaret Cho became obsessed with her body image. The dieting obsession caused her to lose 30 pounds in just two weeks. This lead to a secret emergency hospitalization due to kidney failure, which is one of the diet pill overdose symptoms.

Weight Loss Effort Continued After Hospitalization

Once she got out of the hospital, she was afraid to stop working out. The show had been on hold waiting for her to get out of the hospital. She finished taping the episode of the show and waited to see if this pilot show would become a series. It did become a series which lead to her obsession with fitting into the Hollywood scene. She looks back and says this time in her life was driving her crazy. She didn’t have time to work out while filming the show so she used diet pills. This is how she became addicted to fen-phen.

Fen-Phen Addiction

Fen-Phen is a combination of fenfluramine and phentermine which are both anorectics. Fenfluramine is a serotonin releasing agent and phentermine releases norepinephrine. The drug was an anti-obesity medication that would increase serotonin in the body. Norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter in the brain would be released too. This causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. It causes glucose to be released from energy stores and increase blood flow. The result was a feeling similar to speed. Due to the health issues associated with it such as heart damage and raising serotonin to unhealthy levels, the drug was later discontinued.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction after Cancellation of the Show

Despite her efforts, the show was canceled after 6 months which caused a further downspiral for Margaret. She became depressed, anorexic and began abusing alcohol and drugs. In her stand-up comedy routine, she spoke about what it meant to be accepted. Having her pilot show become a series felt like acceptance for her. The disappointment of the cancellation lead Cho down a dark path. She became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Cho talks about putting money through mail slots and getting a baggie in return during her drug addiction phase. She wasn’t just into one drug, she was addicted to many drugs. In Margaret’s words, any drug was the right drug.×683.jpg

Drug and Alcohol Addiction in Lieu of Food

Cho went back to doing stand-up comedy but was traumatized by the sitcom experience. This was one of the main causes of drug and alcohol addiction for her. She said she fell apart after the cancellation and had lost her identity. She felt like a failure. She said this is when she became an alcoholic. Instead of eating, which was her true addiction, she used alcohol and drugs. Her primary drug of choice was speed because she was trying to prevent herself from eating, making it a complex co-occurring disorder.

Avoiding Reality Through Drugs

Drug addiction facts tells us that much of the time, an addict is numbing pain. Cho was promiscuous to avoid loneliness and drank to stop feeling anything. Though she doesn’t talk much about the connection of her early childhood abuse and her substance addictions, it was likely a major contributing factor. Cho was molested by a family friend from the age of 5-12. Later on in life, she was raped as a teenager multiple times. All of this and she wasn’t able to talk about it within her family due to her Korean roots.

Getting Sober

She found a boyfriend who was an alcoholic like her and they fed off each other’s addiction. She realized the problem was too big to ignore when her and her boyfriend woke up in a puddle of urine. She realized that she didn’t want to die because of the disappointments that lead her to the rock bottom point. She has since rehabilitated from her drug and alcohol problems only to be revered as a comedic icon. In her film, “I’m the One that I Want,” Cho sheds light on this part of her life.

Finding Therapy Through Action

While Margaret Cho did seek out addiction therapy and treatment, she also proactively started a campaign for survivors of sexual violence. Talking about her molestation and rape experiences has helped her to heal. She has also found an outlet in music where she can write songs about her experience.×600.jpg

Margaret Cho on Addiction to Substances

Cho says that alcohol and drugs doesn’t deliver what an addict hopes it will. Drug addiction facts don’t seem to have a powerful enough message to negate the false information an addict has before becoming addicted. It doesn’t create love or make dreams comes true like you think it will. It is the exact opposite. You lie to the people closest to you and even strangers. You self-create a disease within yourself because you’re not willing to see the truth about your life. While being sober is hard because you live in your own reality, at least you’re living a life of truth. She says that she is still an addict and will use whatever is put in front of her face. That no longer includes drugs or alcohol however.

Margaret Cho and Her Tribute to Carrie Fisher

Cho wrote a tribute for People Magazine about Carrie Fisher who did succumb to her co-occurring disorder of addiction and mental illness. Perhaps Cho was so easily able to encompass Fisher because she understood what it was like being an addict in Hollywood. “Carrie wasn’t just a movie monarch. Her unbelievable courage made her the true, true princess of another kind of royal family, one made up of people who suffer from addiction and mental illness. I deal with my depression and addiction issues by talking about them, making comedy about them, and that’s what Carrie did, not just with mental health but with everything we experience as women: the way we are judged for our weight, appearance, our age…” “By making people laugh you bring strength to suffering, but first, you have to lean into the pain. That’s where our truth comes from. Creativity is the flower, but it has to be slathered with manure if it’s going to bloom!”