During the Sept. 25 episode of Armchair Expert, the 45-year-old actor shared he'd relapsed and had been taking opioids.
"Eight years into sobriety, I had not done a single shady thing," he said. "I hadn't done anything gray."
At that time in 2012, he had been traveling back and forth to visit his dad, who was undergoing cancer treatment at a hospital. It was around this time that he also suffered a motorcycle accident on his way to the Parenthood set.
"I immediately called my sponsor, and I said, 'I'm in a ton of pain and I gotta work all day. And we have friends that have Vicodin,'" Shepard recalled. "He said, 'OK, you can take a couple Vicodin to get through the day of work, but you have to go to the doctor, and you have to get a prescription, and then you have to have Kristen [Bell] dole out the prescription.'"
Shepard agreed and followed the guidance. However, not long after, he flew back out to see his dad and—because his wife wouldn't be with him—traveled without the pills.
While there, he ended up giving his ailing father some Percocet. For his part, Shepard said he himself took double what his other prescription was. "You know, we had so little in common and so much f--king friction," Shepard recalled. "But the no. 1 thing we had in common was we were both f--king addicts and we had never used anything together. And we sat there stoned and looked at the lake. And in that moment, I felt elation and I was just happy."
Later, Bell surprised him where Shepard was with his dad to offer her support, and Shepard admitted he had relapsed. While she told him he needed to call someone from Alcoholics Anonymous, she knew he had been experiencing a lot of pain from his motorcycle accident and that he'd been dealing with the stress of his dad's health.
"That was eight years ago," Shepard continued, later adding, "I've now had this experience where I did that, I felt bad, but there wasn't any fallout from it. It was like, I felt bad, I said I felt bad, and then I did just move on and it was fine."
After Shepard got hurt again, he was once again administered pills. However, because they kept him up at night, he decided to save them and take them on his own.
"That cycle happens maybe three or four more times," he recalled. "I feel shady, but I don't feel like this is a problem. I didn't desire more when the thing was over."
As life has it, Shepard continued to suffer more injuries, now having undergone seven surgeries. "I go ride a lot," he explained. "After I ride sometimes on the track, I feel I'm entitled to take two Vicodin at the end of the day because I am in pain. That again doesn't feel that crazy."
After his last go-around of injuries, starting about six months ago, he noticed he started "getting shadier and shadier."
"And I've not ever yet bought them," he said. "And then I do...For the last eight weeks maybe, I don't know…I'm on them all day. I'm allowed to be on them at some dosage because I have a prescription. And then I'm also augmenting that. And then all the prescriptions run out and I'm now just taking 30 mil Oxys that I've bought whenever I decide I can do [it]."
Because Shepard felt like he was still managing all of his day-to-day responsibilities, he thought everything was fine. Then, his co-host Monica Padman confronted him—and he started lying to her. "And I'm lying to other people and I know I have to quit," he confessed. "But my tolerance is going up so quickly that I'm now in a situation where I'm taking, you know, eight 30s a day, and I know that's an amount that's going to result in a pretty bad withdrawal. And I start getting really scared, and I'm starting to feel really lonely. And I just have this enormous secret."
And while Shepard created a schedule to start taking fewer pills, he admitted he hadn't been following through. "I now start getting pretty visibly detoxy and withdrawly," he said. "And I lie and start saying I'm having an arthritis flare up."
Then, less than two weeks ago, Shepard and Padman were in the car and he knew he had to tell her the truth. "I'm gaslighting you and I know I am," he told her, recalling his behavior. "And I'm making you feel crazy and I'm making Kristen feel crazy."
So, he called them together and told them everything. He also apologized to them for lying and asked for help. "My fear was that if I have one day, I'm going to drink and I'm going to do coke," he said. "I haven't drank a beer in 16 years and I haven't snorted a line in 16 years. And if I have one day, then I might as well f--king have what I really want and then start over. And my fear of that is if I do that, it may take me three years to get that back in the cage and I may die."
"I just know what I'm like on those two things," he admitted. "And again, it's very hard for me to know what part of this is, like, my addiction and what great stories I tell myself of reasons why I can't just be f--king humble and say I failed. I think I have a very legitimate fear that I would drink. And also I think my addiction is smart enough to say you can't do that or you'll drink."
His next step: Shepard went to an initial meeting and then to a second smaller one with friends. "I cop to a lot of it," he said. "I basically cop to getting a couple of prescriptions that Kristen didn't know about, which again is not the full story."
He later called his best friend, who told him he needed to be humble and tell everyone. "That was terrifying," he said. "That was so terrifying and yet I couldn't deny that that was the real antidote."
As he began withdrawing, he admitted the symptoms physically hit him hard. "I'm sweating bullets; I'm jerky; my back kills. It's terrible," he said. "I've never detoxed from opiates, and I have so much compassion for these junkies who have like f--king cycled through this 20-30 times."
Shepard had celebrated 16 years of sobriety earlier that month. Bell had marked the big day with a touching Instagram tribute on Sept. 1. During the interview, Shepard recalled being high at one meeting where people were congratulating him on the major milestone. As he said on the podcast, "It was the worst hour of my life."
In a later meeting—then off of opiates for a full 24 hours—Shepard laid everything out on the line. "It turned into the most incredible, like, 90 minutes I've ever experienced, where there was just so much love and so much understanding and kindness and unconditional love," he said. "There's probably been many others, but it's the only experience I can remember having that was just grace, the definition of grace. And it was very emotional. It was a really, really surreal kind of experience."
After the meeting was over, Shepard said he felt optimistic for the first time in a long time.
"For…a long time, I've known intellectually that things are going to get worse," he said. "That each encounter with it had gotten more shady and more dangerous and I recognize that the next go-around would be, 'Oh I can't get pills. Let's snort heroin.' And you know, I've had a lot of friends that I've watched go through this whole cycle, and I finally have the humility to say I will not be any different. I won't be special. I won't be smarter. I will be exactly like everyone else."
Near the end of the podcast, Shepard, who has been open about his journey in the past, apologized to Padman and also said it wasn't fair that his wife would be asked about this in interviews. However, he looked forward to the future. As he put it in the episode, recorded Sept. 21, "Today, I have seven days."