‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert on What Convinced Her to Get Sober: ‘I Have a Problem’

Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert has spoken about her former alcohol use in the latter years of her career, but perhaps most openly in her 2009 memoir, Prairie Tale. In the book, Gilbert writes about the exact moment she knew she needed to make a change and how she got help.

A close-up of Melissa Gilbert at the Award Of Excellence Star Is Presented To Screen Actors Guild
Melissa Gilbert | Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

When Melissa Gilbert realized she had a dangerous relationship with alcohol

One night, Gilbert and her then-husband, Bruce Boxleitner, had a friend over for dinner. His name was Archie and he had been Boxleitner’s double while filming House of Secrets.

“Neither Bruce nor Archie drank that night, but I had my glass of wine, which I secretly topped off throughout the evening until something happened,” wrote Gilbert. “It was like a switch flipped; I don’t even remember. From what I have since been told or put together, I put Michael [her son] to bed and joined Bruce and Archie in the family room. I sat down on the dog bed in the middle of the floor, began talking to them, and then fell asleep. ‘Fell asleep’—that was denial talking. I passed out facedown in the dog bed.”

Boxleitner wasn’t able to wake his wife up to say goodbye to their guest when he decided to head home.

“[Boxleitner] made an excuse about me being tired; he may have believed it, too,” wrote Gilbert.

Then the How the West Was Won actor attempted to help Gilbert to bed.

“Apparently I went off on him for waking me up and struggled as he helped me up the stairs,” she wrote.

‘I have a problem’

When Gilbert finally woke up, she was in the guest room and Boxleitner was staring at her.

“I have a problem,” she told him.

“Yeah, you do,” he agreed.

So she booked an “emergency session” with her therapist and explained everything.

“My situation was dire,” she wrote. “I felt like it was life and death. Certainly, my marriage and ability to mother was on the line. I couldn’t remember putting my kid to bed the night before. I had called my husband terrible names, words that had never come out of my mouth before. I had blacked out.”

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She told her therapist that she had “a drinking problem,” but that she didn’t want to go to rehab because she didn’t want anyone in the facility to notify the tabloids.

So Gilbert and her therapist made a plan for the actor to get sober at home.

“We agreed to try rehabbing at home and if it got to be too much, I would check myself in somewhere,” she wrote.

Gilbert learned that her therapist was 28-years sober herself. She felt she was in good hands.

Melissa Gilbert felt ‘present’ for the first time in a long while

“I stopped drinking that day for almost the last time,” she wrote.

Gilbert was given specific instructions to aid with her cravings.

“To offset my body’s craving for sugar, she had me eat a spoonful of honey every hour till I went to bed starting at 5:00 p.m., the time I normally poured my first drink,” she wrote. “I also drank fruit juice. My juice of choice was white cranberry peach. It took me almost two years to get off that stuff! But it kept me from having horrible physical withdrawals.”

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What Gilbert really had a hard time with was facing her emotions head-on. In her memoir, the actor says she’d been drinking as a way to drown out her feelings. But actually experiencing her emotions allowed Gilbert to work through things she had been struggling with.

“As I got into the second and third month I embraced my newfound clarity as a blessing,” she wrote. “I didn’t enjoy all the difficult emotional crap I had to feel, but I took ownership of my life.”

“I was present for my kids, present in my marriage, and present in my life,” Gilbert continued. “And that was a good thing, too.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.