Howard Breuer
April 07, 2014 12:00 PM

Mackenzie Phillips breezes into the Pasadena Recovery Center through the staff entrance, settles into a chair at the front of the room and prepares to lead a counseling session for 30 or so addicts. A few minutes in, a meth addict who was admitted to the center only a few days earlier insists he’s ready to go home. “Mack,” as Phillips is known to her clients, looks him in the eye and urges him to avoid the “overconfidence” that can accompany early recovery. “You’re just a young guy who’s got his whole life ahead of him,” she says forcefully. “I’m a 54-year-old woman who wishes she had this guidance when I was 21. God knows what a difference that would have made.”

It’s a role reversal the former sitcom star – who detailed her lifelong struggle with drug abuse in her blistering 2009 memoir High on Arrival – often dreamed about during her four-decade battle with addiction. After 11 stints in rehab and a humiliating 2008 arrest for cocaine and heroin possession, Phillips has been proudly sober for nearly six years – and she is eager to share her hard-fought perspective with others fighting the same battle. “She really identifies with the patients, and they identify with her,” says Mike Bloom, director of the PRC, the private inpatient facility where Phillips completed a 2009 stint for VH1’s Celebrity Rehab under the supervision of Dr. Drew Pinsky. “She has a deep understanding of sobriety, having dealt with addiction her whole life,” says Pinsky. It’s that firsthand experience that resonates with patients. “Through her story, I realized I can pick myself up,” says PRC client Justin Lopez, 30, a recovering alcoholic. “If she can walk away from the party, I can walk away from the party.”

The party started early for Phillips, the daughter of John Phillips, the lead singer of the ’60s group the Mamas & the Papas, and his first wife, Susan Adams. By age 10, Phillips was rolling joints for her dad, and by 11 she had already tried cocaine. Looking back, Phillips says that her early encounters with the reckless conduct of many of the adults who surrounded her planted the seed for her current work. “I saw a lot of people behaving in ways they shouldn’t behave in front of children,” she says, “and that fascinated me.”

As her own drug abuse spiraled out of control – she was famously fired from the hit 1970s show One Day at a Time because of her cocaine addiction – Phillips repeatedly tried and failed to get sober, even as her life descended into darkness. In a shocking revelation from her memoir that stunned Hollywood and fractured her family, Phillips alleged that when she sang with the New Mamas & the Papas in the 1980s, intense drug use led to repeated incidents of incest with her father, who died in 2001. The claims prompted skeptical family members, including her half sisters Bijou, 34, and Chynna, 46, to stop talking to her. “I love them, but I don’t get to see them,” Phillips says tearily. “That’s painful for me. But I will always meet their judgment with love and acceptance.”

That peace has been key to her ongoing sobriety – and her transformation into a solid symbol of hope for other addicts, says Glenn Scarpelli, her longtime friend and former One Day at a Time costar. “The only way you can help others is when your cup runneth over, and for many years, her cup was empty,” says Scarpelli, 47. “A lot of us never thought we’d see Mackenzie alive 30 years later, much less in this phenomenal place of helping others.”

Phillips says her 2008 arrest proved to be a turning point. “I thought, How many more times does the universe have to knock on the door of my consciousness and say, ‘Hey Phillips, wake up’?” she says. These days she leads twice-weekly counseling sessions and is in the process of completing her state certification to provide individual counseling. Currently single, she lives with her son Shane, 27, whose dad is Phillips’s ex-husband, guitarist Mick Barakan. “I have lived a life of incredible abundance, and every door that has been opened to me by grace I have slammed shut right behind me,” she says. “It’s time for me to get grateful for what I have and share my recovery with other people. This work is icing on a really beautiful cake.”

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