As Jodie Sweetin, child star of the popular 1987-95 television hit “Full House,” approached the podium Tuesday night, she took a picture of the crowd.
“I’m going to take a picture of you guys for my Twitter page,” she said.
An eager crowd of approximately 500 in the Givens Performing Arts Center of UNC Pembroke were drawn into the heart-tugging story of a child star gone bad.
“My life has not been a perfect ‘Full House’ episode,” she said.
Sweetin, famous for her one-liner “How Rude!” began her story with the reminder that experience, strength and hope brought her here today.
Now 28, Jodie Sweetin was born to an alcoholic mother and a drug addicted father and was adopted soon after birth. As a child, she never felt accepted in many ways, she said.
A bubbly attention getter, Sweetin loved to perform. At the tender age of four, she had already appeared in a variety of advertisements including an Oscar Meyer commercial.
Joining the cast of “Full House” at the age of five, Sweetin said she was “a person who was in the right place at the right time.” With her career gaining momentum, she said school became an issue for her.
The attitudes and treatment she received from her peers due to her new-found fame made it difficult for her to enjoy her youthful years as a student. To add insult to injury, her pre-teen years took a turn when “Full House” was canceled.
Because of her constant struggle with acceptance, the show’s cancellation made matters worse.
“I wanted to go into a room and blend into a wall,” she said. “I was looking for something, a key that would make me okay.”
At the age of 13, and after eight years of “Full House, she arrived at a “quarter-life crisis.”
“When the show ended, I was faced with a crossroad of what to do,” she said. “I never felt right in my skin.”
Sweetin described her introduction to alcohol at age 13 and her early struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. She described her first taste of alcohol as a “moment of clarity that was the release I needed.”
Sweetin said she “blacked out” during her first drinking experience.
“I have always been a black-out drinker who always wanted to drink to oblivion,” she continued.
“Constantly looking for the next high,” Sweetin experimented with marijuana at 15. Her adventures of drinking and smoking marijuana before, during and after school slowly began to destroy her family relationships, she said.
Sweetin painted a picture of her downward spiral as a first-year college student. She began cutting herself and gravitating toward heavier drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy.
“My favorite activity while drinking was driving,” she said.
After many wake up calls, she began to regain control of her life by trading drinking for smoking. Sweetin said she “didn’t know if she would make it.”
As matters got worse, Sweetin said she experienced a breakdown, leaving school to return home with her parents and boyfriend to try and make a change. Her attempts to clean up were like “a band aid on a big gaping wound,” she said.
At 21, she became engaged. She stopped drinking and using drugs and returned to school, graduated and married.
She began drinking again on a moderate level and spending time with friends who used crystal methamphetamine. Sweetin began experimenting with the drug.
“Soon, I found myself using every day and living a double life,” she said. “Acting to keep my husband and parents from knowing about it, I did this for two years. I acted as two different people.”
In a dark moment, Sweetin ended a night of partying in a hospital with alcohol poisoning and severe heart arrhythmia. Her double life came crashing down.
“I was a raw bundle of nerves and had to learn how to live again,” she said.
Entering rehab again and relapsing again, Sweetin described the end of her marriage and the realization that she needed help. She said spending Thanksgiving in rehab was a low point.
As time passed, her new-found sobriety didn’t last. She partied hard and had little contact with family and friends.
Sweetin married again in 2007, and during the early months of her marriage, she said “finding out I was pregnant brought everything to a screeching halt.”
After her daughter was born, Sweetin started drinking again and “things got really ugly - not pretty, not fun.”
Going back to rehab in September 2008, Sweetin said her wake up call was the realization that she had become just like her biological parents.
“It was an uncomfortable feeling,” she admitted.
Now 16 months sober, Sweetin works “to try and be an example for others.”
“I’m good with me today,” she said. “I have made some mistakes. I’m not perfect. I wrote those mistakes down in a book, and it’s not so scary anymore.”
Several students shared their thoughts on Sweetin’s story.
Senior broadcasting major Cassi Vinson said: “I felt this was very insightful. She made college students get serious and rethink drug and alcohol usage. Many people could relate to her.”
Kyra Lowry, a sophomore psychology major, said: “Jodie Sweetin was inspirational. She gave hope and offered understanding for those who are enduring struggles in life.” Junior art major Corey Howard said: “I thought her response was genuine. I appreciated her passion and honesty.” Jordan Young, a junior business management major, said: “I was speechless, I grew up watching her on TV. You could really tell she was sincere about her life story.”
Sweetin appeared at UNCP as the last installment of the 2009-10 Distinguished Speaker Series.
Justin Walker is a senior mass communication major at UNCP.