The Restaurateur and Writer Making Recovery Comebacks
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The Restaurateur and Writer Making Recovery Comebacks


An addict’s brain is hard-wired for obsession. When guided towards the proper channels, this single-minded focus can take the form of unparalleled tenacity. In recovery, addicts’ relentless drive can propel them towards professional rebounds on par with their personal comebacks.

Take Mike Solomonov. The Philadelphia restaurateur behind the acclaimed Zahav and  just opened a new hummus joint called Dizengoff last month to much anticipation. As if that weren’t enough, another Solomonov eatery, Abe Fisher, will debut September 2. But these new restaurants are opening under very different circumstances than Zahav faced when it opened in 2008—and not just because Solomonov’s reputation has outgrown Philadelphia’s Israeli community. Five years ago the chef was burning the candle at both ends, smoking crack and heroin even as his fledgling business flourished.

It wasn’t Solomonov’s first bout with addiction. He’d dropped out of college and become a dealer to fund his habit until a Xanax overdose temporarily put him on the straight and narrow path—which in his case led to culinary school. But the sudden loss of his younger brother, shot down by snipers on the Lebanon border while fighting in the Israeli army in 2003, sent Solomonov reeling. His grief became the perfect justification for his addiction to resurface, and he plunged back into substance abuse.

Over the next five years, Solomonov’s addiction escalated until he was sneaking crack breaks into his workdays. Finally, his wife saw through him and staged an intervention with his business partner. After a stint in rehab and a regimen of daily 12-step meetings and random drug testing (courtesy of his wife), Solomonov managed to stay clean.

Through it all, the Israeli restaurant that could have collapsed instead caught fire, earning him national recognition. Now instead of getting loaded to numb his loss, Solomonov honors his late brother through his dedication to serving the community—by serving up an exquisitely crafted culinary tribute to their shared heritage.

Like Solomonov, Kevin Sessums possesses an internal drive that has endured his battles with addiction, and he’s staging a comeback of his own. Sessums made a name for himself as Vanity Fair’s celebrity profiler in the 90s, when magazine journalism was at its glossy height. Sessums so adored his famous subjects that their glitz rubbed off on him. He became embedded in celebrity culture, living large and partying up a storm with the contact list he commanded.

But the times were changing. After Graydon Carter succeeded Tina Brown as editor of Vanity Fair, Sessums found himself being phased out. His personal style didn’t gel with Carter’s vision for the magazine. His 15-year relationship with the magazine ended in 2004, just as print journalism was getting eclipsed by the world of social media and reality TV. The tweet and selfie culture was on its way in; long form and glamour shots were out—and suddenly, so was Kevin Sessums. While he continued to freelance for Brown, their relationship became strained and full time work eluded him. His drug use snowballed until he was shooting up crystal meth. Eventually the former Chateau Marmont patron found himself living on food stamps.

Despite his addiction and the discovery that he was HIV positive, Sessums endured. He left New York to get clean and spent time volunteering in a soup kitchen while going to 12-step meetings. But it was only after relapsing, when he had to place his two beloved dogs into foster care, that he was able to truly surrender. From that point on, he slowly began to rebuild his life.

Just as the newly sober Sessums resumed the hunt for fresh work in the publishing world, the LGBT social network was seeking an Editor in Chief to launch its print magazine, FourTwoNine. With his talent, pedigree and far-reaching web of celebrity contacts, Sessums fit the bill and got the job. FourTwoNine has been running for almost a year, and Sessums has been sober more than two. With one foot still in his old domain of print and the other in the brave new world of social media, he’s well positioned for a resurgence. “I feel blessed that someone is giving me a second chance,” he told The New York Times.

That gratitude is another thing Sessums shares with Solomonov, who also counts himself as incredibly lucky. With their battle scars, their perseverance and their impassioned work, these two comeback kings epitomize the unique resilience and creativity of recovering addicts.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.