Jamie Lee Curtis says she managed to keep a 10-year-long opioid addiction hidden from everyone she loved—until she had to confess about it to her older sister. Her sister’s reaction? Simply to tell her she loved her but couldn’t watch her destroy her life.
The Halloween star, 59, opens up to PEOPLE about her secret opioid addiction and how she got sober nearly 20 years ago. Though her addiction started in the late ’80s, Curtis recalls how her sister Kelly, now 62, visited her in the summer of 1998 and brought with her prescribed painkillers for a rib injury.
“I knew she had them in her suitcase in our guest room closet,” says Curtis, starting to cry at the memory. “I basically took all her opiates. When she was leaving I knew she would pack her suitcase and find her pills missing. I knew I had to acknowledge to her what I had done, and so I wrote her a note and left it on her suitcase. I came home that day, and she put her arms around me and told me she loved me and she was concerned about me and she was unwilling to watch me kill myself.”
After her sister found out and reacted with love and support, Curtis found an article in Esquire by writer Tom Chiarella titled “Vicodin, My Vicodin” that she completely related to. It led to her going to her first recovery meeting and opening up about her struggle to the rest of her family, though she admits it was hard to get to that point.
“The shame involved with it is tremendous,” she says of addiction. “I have worked very hard to remove the shame of it and just acknowledge I’m human. What makes recovery so special is that it’s one addict or alcoholic talking to another. It’s really about letting go of the secret in a safe way and then finding treatment programs that work for you.”
Curtis went to her first recovery meeting on Feb. 3, 1999, and says she’s been sober ever since. And though it’s been almost 20 years, the actress says she still attends meetings to maintain her sobriety and be a source of help for others struggling with their addictions.
“In recovery meetings, anyone who brings up opiates, the entire room will turn and look at me, because I’ll be like, ‘Oh, here, talk to me. I’m the opiate girl,’” she says.
She adds, “We’re here to relate to each other,” she says. “We’re human. We’re all trying to figure this out—all of us.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, PEOPLE.