Lena Dunham on the "Magical Things" She's Experienced Since Getting Sober

Lena Dunham
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Lena Dunham is tackling a new role Saturday night, playing virtual emcee on behalf of Friendly House during the recovery center's online gala.

David Lynch, Katey Sagal, Russell Brand, Amber Valletta, Margaret Cho and William Shatner will also appear during the 31st annual gala, which raises funds for the Peggy Albrecht Friendly House, a destination that provides women seeking recovery from alcohol and other substance use disorders with a safe home-like environment.

The showing is the latest collaboration between Dunham and Friendly House. She was honored at the 2019 gala and also once opened her home for an intimate afternoon fundraiser that drew Brad Pitt, Jenji Kohan, Spike Jonze, Sagal and other Hollywood insiders. Dunham has been a champion of Friendly House but also one of the town's newest and most outspoken proponents of recovery since revealing a pill addiction in 2018.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Dunham to discuss how to write and hit the right tone as an emcee during a devasting pandemic, what she's learned about herself during lockdown and how she feels about her sobriety now, almost three years in on her recovery journey.

As this year’s emcee for the Friendly House benefit, you’re returning to the fold one year after being honored. Why did you say yes to helping out?

Friendly House is more than just a cause for me — they're family. Monica Phillips, the executive director, is a huge part of my sober tribe and when she let me know they were going to find a new way to make the gala happen I was thrilled to have a role. Being involved with Friendly House is a way for me to give back some of the gifts I've received in my sobriety, but also to stay educated about the latest tools and concepts in keeping women sober and therefore keeping communities healthy and stigma-free.

How does one go about writing a program or preparing remarks at this time and making it entertaining and/or impactful — especially in a virtual world?

It feels like this is a perfect time for honesty and being utterly earnest and luckily, those are my two go-to modes. Snark and blinding wit can be fun, but who has time at the moment? So this was an opportunity to open up about what sobriety means to me at almost three years clean and what Friendly House has meant on that journey and on a larger scale the impact of the current mental health crisis and how diligent we have to be in battling it. Living in Los Angeles, the homeless population is growing visibly every day; we can't ignore it. This is deeply tied to issues of mental health and substance misuse disorder. The support just isn't there, which is why Friendly House remains such a rare organization — no woman is ever turned away for financial reasons.

During last year's event, you said you love Friendly House because they don’t discriminate and they help women who need to recover. What else have you learned about their work and the need for services since getting more involved?

I love that Friendly House uses many modalities — talk therapy, transcendental meditation, creative arts, more classic 12-step — to help women find a center of peace without drugs and alcohol. They're always on the lookout for new ways of bringing calm and hope to their patients. They remain open to every aspect of healing, and I really believe we don't heal without a huge arsenal of tools. I sure didn't.

You also said your recovery has led to “living a life that’s beyond my wildest imagination. I’ll put my money on a sober woman any day because a woman who has overcome an addiction can do f—ing anything.” How is your sober life today? What have you learned about yourself amid the pandemic?

Becoming sober is quite simply the best choice I've ever made for myself. It has given me a level of steady focus and presence of mind that I never had even before I knew what drugs and alcohol were, when I was just an anxious kid, because getting sober forces you to face so much of your inner life and how you really are programmed, and to get comfortable with who you are on a base level.

I actually like myself, which is a pretty surprising discovery for a chubby Jewish writer with OCD and chronic illness. The pandemic has brought a whole new layer of anxiety, and also a whole new mode of needing to sit with myself. It's like hitting a new level in a video game and having to battle different goblins, but it's proved possible, and on some days even lovely. Being a writer, I am pretty accustomed to long stretches of time with just my dog and my thoughts and the clacking of computer keys, and I feel very blessed doing that with only the buzz of coffee.

What's the best thing that's happened to you in your sobriety? 

So many magical things have occurred, in work, in travel, in health. Maybe they're miracles, maybe I just didn't notice this stuff before. But the very best thing is how so many of my relationships have strengthened themselves, even certain ones that seemed beyond repair for whatever reason. I've been able to show up as an adult to these dynamics, and they've been able to see me show up, and the love just flows.

To those reading this who want to help, what can they do? 

It's really scary to ask for help. It's scary to admit you need it, maybe even scarier to admit it to yourself than it is to admit it to somebody else. But the moment you ask, a lightness really does appear. An amazing place to start is to call the SAMSHA national helpline at 1-800-662-4357. Someone will speak to you, in English or Spanish, and offer referrals on mental health and substance abuse issues. Just hearing a human voice and knowing there are options is a massive relief and a brave step. It sounds so trite, but there are a lot of sober people just waiting to love you exactly where you are right now.

Interview edited for length and clarity. More information about the event can be found here.