A good friend of mine recently directed me to a clip on YouTube from Craig Ferguson's late night program. I must admit that I am no lover of talk shows and have therefore never before seen said program. On the particular evening of this show, Mr. Ferguson forewent his opening monologue , generally peppered with witty one liners fashioned from the previous day's current events, for something with a touch more weight. He chose to spend over twelve minutes on the way in which our society makes light of the substance abuse issues of those in Hollywood. After breaking his own anonymity (declaring himself an alcoholic), he zeroed in specifically on the continuing difficulties of Britney Spears to get sober and find some semblance of peace. The thrust of his words centered around the idea that the tabloids, and therefore the public, seem to view Ms. Spears as some sort of spoiled buffoon; rather than a sick and suffering alcoholic (and/or drug addict). Now, let's get something straight. The tabloids are about sensationalism, and can certainly write and photograph whatever they choose. The public has their own minds (although it often seems otherwise), and can choose to see Ms. Spears in whatever light they want. Further, Brittany chose to be in the limelight and, consequently, must lie in the proverbial bed that she made. And yet I am bothered. Perhaps it has something to do with my own alcoholism. Ten years ago, i was blessed with recovery from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body; and so, I suppose, the subject hits close to home. Though, I think there is more to it than that. I don't know. I am loathe to admit that I am, at times, a tabloid reader. In my own defense, I don't seek out these rags. Though, the magazine racks at my gym always seem to have a plethora of them, and I find my hour of cardiovascular work is made easier by a magazine that demands few brain cells and has nary an article longer than one half of a page. Clearly, I have a fair amount of shame over this. Anyway, suffice it to say, I have perused my fair share of issues of In Touch, US, The Star, etc. And so, there I am, sweating like a horse, and reading light and fluffy (and sometimes humorous) articles about the various addictions of the aforementioned Ms. Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Mary-Kate Olson, Mel Gibson, Billy Joel, Courtney Love, etc.; and I wonder, have we become such a media-laden society that any shred of compassion or empathy we might manifest as a people has evaporated? Have we become so desensitized by the glut of the information age, that everything has summarily become nothing more than fodder for chit-chat? Perhaps the more pressing question is, "Do people really understand the disease of alcoholism?" It is a disease, you know. So says The American Medical Association anyway. Therefore, should we not treat it like any other disease? Do these untreated alcoholics deserve the same empathy that we afford Michael J. Fox and his battle with Parkinson's or Melissa Ethridge and her bout with breast cancer? I don't think we would ever see the plights of these stars made light of in the media. Is that fair? I am not sure. Maybe some further information on the disease of addiction would prove useful. And since this is my forum, I am going to provide some. To relay the nature of addiction, I am going to use alcoholism as a frame of reference. Most addictions essentially follow the same model, so feel free to substitute whatever you wish (drugs, food, gambling, sex, etc.) First and foremost, I have often found that most people seem to believe that alcoholism is predicated on how much or how often a person imbibes. These things have zero to do with whether someone is an alcoholic. There are alcoholics who drink twice a month. On the other hand, there are those who drink a fifth of scotch every day who are not alcoholics. So what are the common attributes of a true alcoholic? Essentially, there are two main components. The first, is what Dr. William Duncan Silkworth called "the phenomenon of craving." Another term for this is "the physical allergy." And so, an Alcoholic is allergic to alcohol. An allergy is simply an abnormal reaction to a substance. Each allergy has its own manifestation. For example, the manifestation of an allergy to strawberries is hives. The manifestation of an allergy to peanuts is the constricting of the throat. The manifestation of an allergy to alcohol is such that when an alcoholic takes a drink, he/she has no ability to determine how many drinks will follow that first one; might be two, might be twenty. This is a phenomenon that never occurs in the average drinker. For example, my wife is not an alcoholic. That means that she has NEVER had the experience of deciding to have two drinks, and then had five. The alcoholic can never safely determine what is going to happen once they take that first one; it is always a game of Russian Roulette. Now, if the alcoholic had nothing but this physical allergy, they would not need outside help to solve the problem. Mainly because the answer to the physical allergy is unbelievably simple; DON'T DRINK. This, by the way is why there is no Strawberries Anonymous. Think about it. A man eats some strawberries and breaks out in a rash of itchy hives. He goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, this is horrible. I never want to have this experience again. Might there be something you can recommend so that this never happens again?" The doctor responds, "Yes, don't eat strawberries." The man follows the advice and never eats strawberries again. Case closed. Now, take the alcoholic. He wakes up with his head against the toilet after a two day binge and says to himself, "Damn. Every time I drink, I cause havoc and wind up feeling horrible. He then comes to the same conclusion as the doctor. He says to himself, "The problem is, the way in which I respond to alcohol. That's it. I'm done. No more alcohol for me." Unfortunately, unlike the guy with the strawberries, he is drinking later that day. What's that about? Is the allergy to alcohol more intense than the allergy to strawberries? No, an allergy is an allergy. The answer, is that the alcoholic has more than just a physical allergy. His physical allergy is compounded by, what Doctor Silkworth called, a mental obsession. The mental obsession is such, that when an alcoholic stops drinking, they soon find themselves restless, irritable and discontented (another way of saying that they cannot live inside their own skin.) This does not happen when someone who is allergic to strawberries stops eating strawberries. This restlessness, irritability and discontentment will then grow more uncomfortable and more painful until the alcoholic finally turns to the only thing he knows of that will quell the pain; alcohol. As soon as he takes that first drink, the physical allergy kicks back in and he is off to the races. A couple of days later, he wakes up with his head against the toilet again, vows to quit again, becomes restless, irritable and discontent again, and drinks again; and so on. The physical allergy gives way to the mental obsession which gives way to the physical allergy which gives way to the mental obsession; and the alcoholic is doomed to repeat this pattern until it kills him. The only answer that has ever been found to genuinely allow an alcoholic to recover, is a program of spiritual action. A book called The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions states, "It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of providence could remove it from us." Put simply, it is hard to own that, through our own choices, we have dug a hole so deep, that the only shot we have at a livable life is an act of God. In layman's terms, that's a bitch. I can guarantee you that the acceptance of that reality (which is the first step in recovery) is difficult for ANY human being. I can only imagine that it's got to be all the more difficult when you are constantly ensconced by fans and reporters and handlers screaming for your focus and attention. How many of these stars are surrounded by people who really tell them the truth? I know that when my own recovery began, I had the luxury of hunkering down, making my life really small, and concentrating solely on getting well. Further, I had the support of my wife and family who wanted nothing more from me than my recovery. For a Brittany Spears or a Lindsay Lohan, the pressure on them to perform and succeed is enormous. There are literally hundreds of agents and managers and executives and label owners and movie producers who count on them to make a living. How much more difficult does it then become to breath and focus on yourself? I don't really know that answer. I can only guess. What I do know is that these individuals are more than court jesters who perform for our amusement. They are people... people in pain. I can only share that remembering that, and praying for them rather than mocking them, allows me to draw closer to the human being that I strive to be.
God bless you,