I woke up this morning to a new podcast episode from Dax Shepard titled simply, “Day 7,” and it had no guest. Curiosity piqued, I clicked only to hear Dax Shepard reveal that his 16 years of sobriety had ended. He’s now 7 days sober. The story itself is not that unusual or really all that surprising for an addict: Dax got in a motorcycle accident (which he devoted much of a podcast to in and of itself), and he was prescribed pills for the pain. He started saving them in order to take two at a time in order to get high, and eventually, he began buying pills to augment his prescription. Over the course of that period, which began early in the pandemic (March/April), he was lying to his wife, Kristen Bell; he was lying to his podcast producer, Monica Padman; and he was even lying to his AA group (he confessed that he accepted the cake for his 16th year of sobriety while high).
Ultimately, Dax came clean on the podcast because, he says, his show is about “transparency,” and it’s about “honesty,” and he didn’t want to lie to his listeners anymore, even if that meant risking his show.
The name of Dax’s podcast is “Armchair Expert,” and when you name a podcast that, you will invariably invite other people to Armchair Expert your personal life, especially when Dax Shepard’s personal life is such a huge part of his podcast. He and Kristen obviously do not allow images of their children on the Internet, but that’s about the extent of the privacy wall. Everything else — from parenting to sex to their careers — has been put on display on this podcast. We know when Kristen and Dax are fighting (and the first weeks of the pandemic put a huge strain on their marriage), and we know when things are going well.
It’s a lot. We also know — and this is crucial — that Dax suffers from some form of narcissistic personality disorder. This is not unusual in the podcast world (both Dax and Marc Maron will concede as much, while the worst of them — Rob Lowe — would probably deny it and say he’s incredibly humble). The addiction and the narcissism are probably related, but what it also means is that his sobriety — and his relapse — become more opportunities for him to talk about himself. And boy, does Dax Shepard like to talk about himself.
I’ve been listening to Dax since the beginning. I don’t really know why. At first, it was a fascination with Dax and his family, but lately, it’s more about his guests, so I will only listen if I’m interested in his guests. In that time, you get to know a person. Our relationships with podcast hosts are often like relationships with family members: You stick with them whether you like them or not, because you are invested.
In any respect, during that time, the thing with Dax — and Kristen — that has often felt most uncomfortable to me is their relationship with Monica Padman, the producer of Dax’s podcast, a woman Kristen has described as her “chief of staff,” and someone who has contributed or assisted in a number of their creative projects. She also used to be their babysitter. And then their nanny. And now she’s a creative partner, and she lived with them for the quarantine.
Now, this brings me to Dax’s podcast confession. He does it alongside Monica. Monica has suspected Dax fell off the wagon for months, dating back to early on in the pandemic, because she was in charge of administering Dax’s pain pills, and she noticed that some pills were missing, because she was counting the pills. At that time, Dax had broken his hand and was basically out of commission; Kristen thought she had COVID, so she had quarantined herself, and Monica had been left to take care of the kids. She was freaking out, and at one point, she confessed in a text to a mutual friend of theirs that she thought that Dax was taking extra pills, not realizing that it was part of a group chat between Monica, the mutual friend, and Dax Shepard. Ooof.
Meanwhile, though Monica has had her suspicions, she didn’t want to say anything, and she didn’t want to tell Kristen and get Dax “in trouble.” While Monica is incredibly supportive of Dax’s sobriety here, she is also supportive of Dax’s narcissism. I might even say that she enables it. And maybe that’s fine in a vacuum, but Monica’s livelihood also seems to be very tied up into the livelihood of Dax and Kristen, and so there are professional incentives mingled with Monica’s personal life with Kristen and Dax, as well as her relationship with their children. She’s basically a member of their family. But they are also her boss. And that means that Monica takes care of the kids, administers Dax’s pills, and produces the podcast, where Monica also happens to be Dax’s confidant. That’s the thing that struck me the hardest about this confession: It’s that it sounded so conspiratorial, like it was between Monica and Dax, and Kristen was an off-screen third party. In fact, I couldn’t believe that, when Dax decided to confess that he’d been taking Oxy, he sat Monica and Kristen down at the same time to have that conversation. I repeat: He confessed to Monica and Kristen at the same time.
Dude: Kristen Bell is your wife. Monica Padman is your nanny/personal assistant/professional partner. And here’s where Dax’s narcissism comes in. While talking about his relapse, Dax also confessed that he thought he could handle it at first, that he thought he could outsmart the system, that he was “smarter than the average junkie,” and that he could create essentially a way to cheat his addiction. His narcissism got the better of him, but eventually, he had to admit that he wasn’t smarter than his addiction.
I think that Dax (and Kristen, for that matter) need to also admit that they’re not smarter than whatever it is they have with Monica. There are no boundaries, and right there is a huge disaster waiting to happen. When you toss in addiction and relapse? You’re basically throwing a match on top of a pile of gas-soaked tires.
I’m glad that Dax came clean, and that he’s getting help, and that he’s 7 days sober again. He probably should not have made that an element of his program this early on because shit could easily fall apart, and he doesn’t need to add one more element of stress to the equation. The expectations of his listeners are not something else he needs to add to the pile of tires, although of course his narcissism — his need to make everything all about him — has forced him into doing just that, and — as his producing partner — Monica has an incentive to also make the podcast about that.
So here is my advice to Dax Shepard: Sort your shit, man. Set some boundaries. It’s good that you have a “soul mate” in Monica Padman, and that she lives with your family, and goes on vacations with your family, and spends more time with you than your wife, but also: Maybe recognize that this scenario is doomed to fail, and with it, perhaps, Dax’s sobriety, Monica’s career, and, along with them, that perfect Shepard/Bell family with their game nights and their adorable fights and their picture-perfect Samsung commercial.
If you are struggling with addiction or in need of recovery support, please reach out to Alcoholics Anonymous, SAMHSA’s National Helpline, or visit Recover Together, which provides links to a number of other trusted resources for recovery, treatment, and prevention..