With new confidence in his sobriety, Matthew Perry is ready to share his story.
His new memoir, Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing (available Nov. 1) chronicles his journey in life — and his harrowing battle with addiction.
“I wanted to share when I was safe from going into the dark side of everything again,” Perry, 53, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s cover story. “I had to wait until I was pretty safely sober, and away from the active disease of alcoholism and addiction to write it all down. And the main thing was, I was pretty certain that it would help people.”
Brian Bowen Smith
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Perry opens his book with a frightening drug-related experience where he was hospitalized for five months after his colon burst.
“I thought it would be grabbing. Especially to people who have this problem, and how dark it can get,” he explains. “The doctors told my family that I had a two-percent chance to live. That’s the time I really came close to my life ending. I was put on an ECMO machine, which does all the breathing for your heart and your lungs. Every doctor says it’s a Hail Mary. No one survives that. So the big question is why? Why was I the one that survived? There has to be some kind of reason.”
The actor was in a coma for two weeks. “I woke up and realized I had a colostomy bag,” he recalls. “They said, ‘It’s all too messy down there. We can’t do surgery. But in about a year you can reverse that.’ It was pretty hellish having one because they break all the time.”
Brian Bowen Smith Matthew Perry
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The experience led Perry to one of his greatest resolutions — to stop taking prescription opioids.
“My therapist said, ‘The next time you think about taking OxyContin, just think about having a colostomy bag for the rest of your life,'” he says. “And a little window opened, and I crawled through it, and I no longer want OxyContin.”
Brian Bowen Smith Matthew Perry
Perry was also able to quit drinking after he had an experience in his kitchen where he believes he sensed God.
“It was this bright yellow object that became all-encompassing. I couldn’t see the kitchen anymore,” he recalls. “It was just this light, and I felt loved and understood, and in the company of God or whatever. My dad was right next to me and we were holding hands and I was praying when it started, which is something I rarely did. It was like God showed me what’s possible. And then said, ‘Okay. Now you go learn this.'”
While he prefers not to disclose how long he’s currently been sober, he does still count each day.
“It’s important, but if you lose your sobriety, it doesn’t mean you lose all that time and education,” he says. “Your sober date changes, but that’s all that changes. You know everything you knew before, as long as you were able to fight your way back without dying, you learn a lot.”
When it comes to gratitude, Perry has learned that “everything starts with sobriety. Because if you don’t have sobriety, you’re going to lose everything that you put in front of it, so my sobriety is right up there,” he says.
“I’m an extremely grateful guy. I’m grateful to be alive, that’s for sure,” he adds. “And that gives me the possibility to do anything.”
For more on Matthew Perry, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing hits bookshelves Nov. 1.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.