Oprah Talks to Bobby Kennedy Jr.
Bobby: Listen, one out of every six American women has so much mercury in her womb that her children are at risk for a grim inventory of health issues, including autism, blindness, mental retardation, and heart and kidney disease. I had my levels tested recently, and they were more than twice what the EPA considers safe. Dr. David Carpenter, a national authority on mercury contamination, told me that a woman with my levels would have children with cognitive impairment—a permanent neurological injury and an IQ loss of about five to seven points.
Oprah: I know you became an environmental advocate after beating a heroin addiction. How did you get hooked?
Bobby: Pretty soon after my dad died, I started taking drugs. I was part of a generational revolution that looked at drugs almost as a political statement—a rebellion again the preceding generation, which had opposed the civil rights movement and promoted Vietnam. At the time, I don't think any of us were aware of how damaging drugs could be.
Oprah: When did you first know you were in trouble?
Bobby: When I was a kid, I'd always had iron willpower and the ability to control my appetites. At 9 I gave up candy for Lent and didn't eat it again until I was in college. After I started taking drugs, I earnestly tried to stop. I couldn't. That's the most demoralizing part of addiction. I couldn't keep contracts with myself.
Oprah: I think every addiction is a cover for an emotional wound.
Bobby: I'm not sure if I agree with that. I don't know whether addiction is principally genetic, a result of emotional injury, or a combination of both. But all that matters is what I do today. Insight doesn't cure the addict any more than insight cures diabetes. You may understand perfectly well how diabetes works, but if you don't take your insulin, you're dead. The same is true with addiction. It doesn't matter what got you there; it's how you conduct yourself today, day by day.
Oprah: Once you broke the habit, did you still crave heroin?
Bobby: No. I've been sober for 23 years, and I'm one of the lucky ones: I've never had a single urge since. Once I completed a 12-step program, the obsession I lived with for 14 years just lifted. I would describe it as miraculous.
Oprah: I've heard that you carry a rosary in your pocket. Do you use it?
Bobby: Yes. I say the rosary every day.
Oprah: I know that you have a genetic neurological condition called spasmodic dysphonia, which is straining your speech. Does it hurt when you talk?
Bobby: No, but it's an effort. The disease didn't hit me until I was about 43. I used to have a strong voice.
Oprah: So you just woke up one day and your voice was different?
Bobby: It began as a mild tremble for a couple of years. After people would hear me speak, I'd get all these letters, almost always from women: "I saw you on TV and you were crying—it was so good seeing a man share his feelings!" I'd think, Oh God. I knew for every woman who wrote, there were ten men saying, "Look at this friggin' crybaby!" [Laughs]