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‘Full House’ Actress Jodie Sweetin Shares Story Of Sobriety, Setbacks, & Strength

“Full House” superstar actress Jodie Sweetin, also known as Stephanie Tanner visited Penn State on Thursday evening for a lecture about her experience as a child actor, her struggles with drug and alcohol addiction, and of course, quite a few shoutouts to her co-star and everyone’s favorite TV dad, Bob Saget.

Sweetin catapulted to fame in 1987 and held her role as the upbeat, humorous, middle sibling of the Tanner sister trio until the show ended in 1995. However, after the show ended Sweetin was left feeling empty and needed to adjust to a “normal” life, which she had never fully gotten to experience since she had gotten into acting so young.

Although so much of her life when she was young was spent on screen, Sweetin says the relationships built off-screen often stick with her the most.

“The things that I remember the most about growing up on television were not the things that happened in front of the camera,” Sweetin said. “But is really the family and the stuff that we built behind the scenes.”

Sweetin now travels and shares her stories in public settings like the one on Thursday. It took years of building up courage, strength, and clarity in her head, but finally, she has gotten to that place.

“For me, as I shared this story and I got more comfortable with those dark moments, what I realized is all of those secrets and all of that pain no longer had any power over me,” Sweetin said. “So when I get to come and share my story about the things that I’ve been through in my life, it no longer owns me. It no longer is who I’m destined to be. It’s a part of who I was.”

Sweetin’s personal story and struggles literally start right at the beginning of her life. At the age of about 14 months, she was adopted, as her birth parents both struggled with alcohol and addiction. Sweetin was even born as her mother was in prison. Her adoption saved her, but that genetic disposition to addiction would, unfortunately, affect her late in life.

Sweetin’s love for acting and performing sparked the idea in her mother’s mind to get her in for a few auditions, just to see what would happen. Her first commercial at around the age of four was an Oscar Mayer hot dog commercial, jingle included and all.

“From then on I knew what I wanted to do. I told my mom that I wanted to be a ‘modeler’ because that was what I called people who were on TV,” Sweetin said. “So my ‘modelering’ career began to take off. I started doing commercials, but I had never gone out for a television show at the time.”

Her guest appearance on a show called “Valerie,” is what would end up landing her the coveted role as Stephanie Tanner, which she in fact, never auditioned for, but rather was cast specifically for by the mutual executive producer of both shows.

The eventual wild success of the show would change Sweetin’s life forever. Talking specifically about the way it affected her personal and academic life as just a child trying to live a normal life, Sweetin so clearly craved what many other kids take for granted.

“I think the one thing we can all admit to is that when we’re young, or even not so young, the one thing we want to be is just kind of like everybody else,” Sweetin said. “I just want to blend. Let me just fit in, not make any waves, and just be like everyone else.”

The show forced Sweetin into this divide of feeling pressure to outwardly be one person on the outside, and feeling like someone different on the inside. She spent years building a facade to try to protect herself, which, in turn, also meant being forced to keep some emotions in.

“I think everyone in this room can probably think of a time, whether it was middle school, or high school, or today, when they were going through something and didn’t share it. Because they felt like they were completely alone,” Sweetin said. “At a young age, we all feel like we’re completely alone. So I started finding other ways in order to keep building this facade and this exterior of confidence and of normalcy.”

These other ways Sweetin discussed came in the form of just alcohol at first. Sweetin took a sip of alcohol at the age of 13 after sneaking a beer with a friend, and it finally made her feel free. However, this pattern of sneaking, lying, stealing and using led Sweetin through some of the darkest times in her life.

“At that point in my life when I was seventeen years old, I started crossing into the territory of addiction where things get really scary. I crossed over into that place without knowing or ever realizing that I had crossed the line,” Sweetin said. “But I could see it in the looks in the faces of the people around me.”

For years, Sweetin went through denial in thinking that she had a problem. Her self-loathing and self-hatred behaviors destroyed her more and more with each use. A cycle so difficult to get of, Sweetin thought she would never survive. However, some friends in college notified her parents of her behavior and Sweetin ended up going home for a few weeks.

“I realized that at barely 18 years old I had screwed my life up to the point that it was time for me to get sober. That was a really, really, hard decision,” Sweetin said. “Because I had told myself all the lies possible, that I was too young, that I had everything in the world, that I’m too smart to be an addict. Yet here I was faced with the opportunity to finally get sober.”

Over the course of the next few years, Sweetin got married and graduated, but realized that everything she had built was a shell. She was still so concerned about pleasing everyone and about what others spoke about her. Unfortunately, during this time, she relapsed.

“The reason why I tell you all these times I thought my life was over is that I’ve realized so many times along the way we all have those moments where we think, ‘This is it. This is it,'” Sweetin said. “What I realized is that it is not over, but there will be a before and after that moment, and we all have lots of moments like that, the before and the after. They change us and change who we are.”

Still though, the demons that Sweetin was fighting on the inside even after going into treatment after that relapse, lived on. She was certain that at the point of her mid-20s, she would not live to see 30. It was not until the birth of her first daughter that really opened Sweetin’s eyes and changed everything.

“Now all of a sudden there was this little person walking around who had all of my heart and my hopes and dreams and everything in her and yet I couldn’t save her from the world, but I could save her from me,” Sweetin said.

She ended up changing her sobriety date years later due to an addiction she ended up developing after a car accident in 2011 where she was prescribed muscle relaxers. Her addiction came back full force, as well as the stealing, cheating, and lying to herself and those around her.

“From March 23, 2011, on I have worked my ass off. I have worked hard. I have worked to be honest, I have worked to share the things that I’m ashamed of, that are painful, and that are embarrassing,” Sweetin said. “And they’re not so scary anymore.”

She then transitioned into working a full-time job helping patients in recovery and helping them be raw, open, and emotional and come through the darkness of addiction seeing light. It was this job that she was working in when she got the call for “Fuller House.” Going back to the set, she was a completely different person at such a different point in her life.

“It felt so strange, it felt so strange to be back in those rooms and be back there doing this again,” she said. “I walked in and thought, ‘Eh, it’ll happen or it won’t. But I’m good. I’m happy. I’m okay with where I am and who I am.’

“It was the strangest most surreal moment in my life. Not because I didn’t think I could do it, but because walking back into that world after having lost everything. I had no car, I was making about $2,000 a month, barely paying for my own apartment, but I was happy. I was genuinely happy. I could wake up every moment and finally look in the mirror.”

That moment of self-realization struck those in the audience who have come to peace with who they are in their lives and where they are at. For those still struggling, they felt motivated to keep pushing through for that powerful and peaceful moment of clarity.

“Whatever you’re going through, whatever moment you’re experiencing when you think you’ve lost everything, you haven’t. It wasn’t until I got some of those things back that I realized all of the stuff that I thought was important before, meant nothing,” Sweetin said. “The only things that I really genuinely cared about was being of service, being of love, and being a family with the people that I was around. And I get to do that after years and years of working through sobriety.”

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About the Author

Ryen Gailey

Ryen is a sophomore early childhood education major from "right outside of Philly" - or in exact words, from 23.0 miles outside of Philly. She loves all things Penn State and has been a huge Penn State gal since before she could walk. Send her pictures of puppies, or hate mail at [email protected]

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