It’s been more than 25 years since Michael J. Fox had his last drink, but it’s a moment that he’ll remember for a lifetime.
One morning in 1990, Fox woke up and noticed his left pinkie twitching uncontrollably. On a rainy afternoon in 1991, a Manhattan neurologist gave him the diagnosis: He had young-onset Parkinson’s.
After receiving the life-changing news, Fox went home, led his wife, Tracy Pollan, to a quiet hallway and broke the news. They held each other and cried, but “it’s a weird diagnosis,” Pollan tells PEOPLE in the cover story for this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday. “You’re not any different than you were yesterday. It’s kind of easy to forget because nothing’s changed.”
He tried to forget the diagnosis, and against his wife’s advice, “I took every job I could get,” shares Fox, 57.
In an attempt to numb the pain, Fox, who who had cut back on his drinking when the pair married in 1988, turned to alcohol, hiding empty bottles from his wife at home.
“I was isolating myself from my family,” says Fox.
And it took a toll on the young marriage. “It was scary because you just don’t know how it’s going to turn out,” says Pollan, 58. “You’re obviously not going to live like that for the rest of your life.”
Following a night out drinking with pals in 1992, it all changed for Fox, who came home late after Pollan had gone to sleep and passed out on the living-room sofa, a can of beer spilling on the rug next to him. The next morning Pollan and their then 3-year-old Sam found him there.
“I did a slow scan up from her feet to her face, expecting to find her really angry,” Fox recalls. “She wasn’t. She was just bored.”
“Is this what you want?” Pollan said to him. “This is what you want to be?” Before he could answer, she walked out the door.
From that moment on, that beer would be his last drink.
Fox got sober and began seeing a therapist, who helped him accept life with Parkinson’s.
“Acceptance isn’t resignation,” he says, describing the change in his thinking. “Now I can move on. I can start the [Michael J. Fox Foundation]. I can work with other patients. I can be with my family and allow them to worry about me.”
Following Fox’s decision to get sober, three new blessings entered his and Pollan’s lives: Twin daughters Aquinnah and Schuyler arrived in 1995, and Esmé came along in 2001.
“It’s very easy to be optimistic. This is my life,” says Fox, who celebrated his 30th wedding anniversary with Pollan in July. “What is there to complain about?”
- With NATALIE STONE