Addiction, Jennifer Garner and that back tattoo: The truth about "sad" Ben Affleck.

The first time Ben Affleck encountered Alcoholics Anonymous he was just a boy. His father had a crippling addiction — “bottom of the barrel, terrible”, Affleck’s brother and fellow actor, Casey, once described it.

To help them understand, their mother sent them to Alateen; workshops for young people affected by a relative’s drinking. In dark, damp church basements in New England, Ben and Casey talked through what was happening with strangers and other kids who could understand.

Watch: Ben Affleck is among the celebs who have been forced to work with an ex. Post continues after video.

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Their father ultimately became sober after two years of homelessness and divorce from their mother, and the boys became men. Men with alcohol addictions of their own.

In a New York Times profile published this week, the 47-year-old offered a rare reflection on his struggles with booze, the role it played in the breakdown of his decade-long marriage to Jennifer Garner, and what sobriety looks like when Alcoholics ‘Anonymous’ simply isn’t possible.

“The older I’ve gotten, the more I recognise that my dad did the best he could,” Affleck told the publication. “There’s a lot of alcoholism and mental illness in my family. The legacy of that is quite powerful and sometimes hard to shake.”

Here’s how Affleck got to this point; from the defining relationships to the watershed moments.

Ben Affleck’s relationships: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Garner.

In 1997, two young actors named Ben Affleck and Matt Damon stunned Hollywood with a screenplay that would become one of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year. It won them an Oscar the following March.

Throughout it all, Affleck was dating another young star, Gwyneth Paltrow. Their stop-start relationship included their roles in the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love, before it eventually fizzled out in 2000.

Two years later, Affleck started dating singer Jennifer Lopez, whom he met on the set of the critically panned movie, Gigli. The pair became engaged within months, and for the next year-and-a-half were Hollywood’s super couple. Their relationship is even credited with kick-starting the hybrid celebrity couple name, courtesy of their now-iconic portmanteau: ‘Bennifer’.

Bennifer at the Oscars in 2003. Image: Getty.

But in 2004, days before their wedding, it all fell apart. Lopez later described the split as her "first real heartbreak" and both cited vague reasons about tabloid scrutiny and public pressure as the cause of their downfall.

Asked about Bennifer's relationship troubles the previous year, ex Gwyneth Paltrow told ABC News that she wasn't surprised: "Ben makes life tough for himself," she said. "He's got a lot of complication, and you know, he really is a great guy. So I hope he sorts himself out."

Marriage and divorce from America's sweetheart, Jennifer Garner.

A year later, after a friendship cemented on the set of Daredevil, Affleck started a relationship with Jennifer Garner, the woman who would become his wife of ten years and the mother of his three children: Violet, Seraphina, and Samuel.

The pair eloped to Turks and Caicos in 2005. A friend officiated the ceremony and his partner was the only guest.

From the outside at least, their relationship was a constant among the fickle, fragile unions of Hollywood elite. It established a new image for Affleck, too; from the star and red-carpet staple with slicked-back hair to the humble, bearded, director/producer dad who accepted the Best Picture Oscar for his 2012 film Argo.

But by 2015, the illusion was shattered.

“I drank relatively normally for a long time. What happened was that I started drinking more and more when my marriage was falling apart," Affleck told The New York Times. "This was 2015, 2016. My drinking, of course, created more marital problems.”


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He and Garner separated, though he continued living in the family guesthouse. Meanwhile, the tabloids were filled with rumours that Affleck had a relationship with his children's nanny.

Speaking to Vanity Fair in February 2016, Garner confirmed it, but stressed that she and Affleck were separated for months before she learned of the situation.

"She [the nanny] had nothing to do with our decision to divorce. She was not a part of the equation," she said. "Bad judgment? Yes. It’s not great for your kids for [a nanny] to disappear from their lives."

But the ordeal played out beyond the walls of their home, too.

"I have had to have conversations [with the children] about the meaning of 'scandal,'" Garner said.

Around that time, paparazzi photographed Affleck with a large, lurid tattoo of a phoenix spanning most of his back. At the time, he told Extra it was fake for a film role, but two years later, in 2018, he was spotted with it again.

He'd lied, he told the Times, partly because he got a kick out of fooling the tabloid show, but also because he felt like his privacy had been invaded.

Note: Mamamia doesn't participate in the paparazzi economy, so we won't publish the photographs of Affleck's tattoo. But here's a bloke who got it printed on a t-shirt... You get the picture.

After all, as he told Ellen DeGeneres last year, the ink was "meaningful" and "represents something really important to me".

Garner wasn't prepared to read much into it, though.

“You know what we would say in my hometown about that? ‘Bless his heart.’ A phoenix rising from the ashes. Am I the ashes in this scenario?” Garner told Vanity Fair, apparently with a wink.

“I take umbrage. I refuse to be the ashes.”

"Sad Affleck".

After the 2015 separation, the media reduced Affleck to a paled, whimpering version of his former self.

Tabloids published photos of him sitting alone in his car, eyes closed, vaping.

Then, there was the viral clip chopped from an interview with Yahoo!UK about the lacklustre critical reception for his movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As his co-star, Henry Cavill, danced his way through a diplomatic response, Affleck stared at the floor, hollow-eyed.


A YouTuber uploaded the footage with a Simon and Garfunkel score sliced beneath.

"Hello darkness, my old friend..."

Watch the clip...

Forty-eight hours and more than a million views later, the actor had become a meme: "Sad Affleck".

It wasn't that far from the truth.

In the New York Times profile, Affleck said he still feels guilty about the breakdown of his marriage, which was legally finalised in 2018, but he's managed to shirk the other overriding emotion he felt at the time. Shame.

“The biggest regret of my life is this divorce,” he said. “Shame is really toxic. There is no positive byproduct of shame. It’s just stewing in a toxic, hideous feeling of low self-worth and self-loathing.”

#MeToo, relapses and sobriety.

The Golden Boy sheen was well and truly fading by the time his name surfaced during the 2017 #metoo movement.

When he expressed his anger towards the culture of rampant sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, a Twitter user publicly reminded Affleck of his role. She pointed to video footage from a 2003 Total Request Live appearance in which he "tweaked" actor Hilarie Burton's breast.

The One Tree Hill star, who was 19 at the time of the incident, thanked the Twitter user for speaking up, adding she was "a kid" when it happened.

"I had to laugh back then so I wouldn’t cry," she added.

After copping widespread criticism, Affleck issued an apology on Twitter. He's said little of it since.

As it is for many suffering addiction, help-seeking has been a constant process for Affleck. He first became sober in the 90s, then entered rehab in 2001, 2017 and finally in 2018.

Paparazzi photographs of his ex, Garner, driving him to a treatment facility in Malibu were everywhere for the latest admission. His face could be seen in the back of the car — puffy, red and seemingly tear-stained.

“Relapse is embarrassing, obviously,” he told the Times. “I wish it didn’t happen. I really wish it wasn’t on the internet for my kids to see. Jen and I did our best to address it and be honest.”

But still, he acknowledged that little good can come from obsessing over and punishing himself for his failures.

“I have certainly made mistakes. I have certainly done things that I regret," he said. "But you’ve got to pick yourself up, learn from it, learn some more, try to move forward.”

Feature image: Getty.