“The person I always knew was in there,” says Kevin McEnroe about his mom’s sobriety, after she struggled with drug abuse for years
Tatum O’Neal’s son Kevin McEnroe is deeply proud of his mother.
“I can’t believe I get to see that person,” he says of how she’s changed in the last three years since her near fatal drug overdose and stroke. “The person I always knew was there.”
On May 6, 2020, O’Neal overdosed on a combination of drugs, including morphine, and ended up in a six-week coma. “I had a gnarly stroke,” O’Neal says. “I almost died.”
To read more about Tatum O’Neal’s journey toward recovery, pick up the latest issues of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
But over the last three years, the 59-year-old actress, who was diagnosed with aphasia, an injury to her brain that affects spoken and written language, has been rehabilitating, working with a speech therapist to restore her vocabulary and ability to read . She’s also fighting for her sobriety.
Now she and her three kids, Kevin, 37, Sean, 35, and Emily, 32, are sharing their stories in this week’s PEOPLE. “It’s a story of redemption and survival,” says Emily. “I hope this can help someone else, someone who’s struggling or someone who has shame or doesn’t know how to move forward.”
“That she has survived against all the odds,” says Emily, “That’s what I want to convey: how far she’s come, how far we’ve come. And I think that is healing.”
Seeing their mom’s decades-long struggle with drug addiction left a deep imprint on all three kids. (Their dad is the tennis great John McEnroe who was married to O’Neal for eight years.)
“There were times growing up where she’d get sober, but it was never sustained,” recalls Kevin. “As her child, I felt like I was convincing her for 20 years: You should want to live. it’s not that bad.”
“But she didn’t see it that way, or she couldn’t see past her pain — emotional, physical, spiritual,” he says. “But she’s able to see it now.”
Related: Tatum O’Neal Reveals She Had A Near-Fatal Stroke: ‘I Overdose and Almost Died’ (Exclusive)
“I remember telling her, maybe you should give sobriety another go,” Kevin continued. “And I hadn’t said that to her since I was 12 because I didn’t think she was ever going to try again, and she did. And so to me, this is a miracle.”
Says Tatum, who takes part in a twelve-step recovery program, “’I’m living one day at a time. Every day I’m getting better.”
“I think what’s helping to keep her going was the hope she could recover, and so she’s gained a community and that’s beautiful,” notes Kevin. “She is making an enormous effort to embrace the lifestyle that is being in recovery, and that’s all I could ask for. She could stumble and fall forever for all I care, but as long as she gets back on the horse, that’s all it takes.”
Related: Tatum O’Neal On Her Near-Fatal Stroke: ‘I Woke Up From a Coma Without Any Words’
“She’s the mom I always wanted,” he says, “the mom I knew I had. Full of love, full of heart but she couldn’t get out of her own way, and I feel like she’s able to do that today. We are a family again and I’ve never been more proud to be her son.”
There have been small surprises along the way, including a new granddaughter, born to her son, Sean, and his wife Niamh.
As he reflects on his mom’s story, Sean says, “It is a testament to my mom’s unconquerable nature, you’d never think something this tragic could turn out so well. It was a double miracle. Not only did she survive and do better than the doctors thought possible, [but] it’s also taken away the darkness.”
“She’s filled with life and spirit,” he adds. “Our family is the healthiest it’s ever been.”
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