Thursday, March 3, 2011
My Thoughts On Charlie Sheen. Sort Of.
Dr. Drew Pinksy (of Celebrity Rehab) was questioned about Sheen's claim, and his response was, "He's got a point. "[AA's] success rates aren't that great. But the fact is, it does work when people do it."
I'm not going to address Charlie Sheen's credibility, but the fact is that all this recent press has people talking about Alcoholics Anonymous. I find it all fascinating.
The recent press about AA has got me thinking. If you're looking closely you will note that I've never even typed 'AA' in any post on this blog. This will likely be the only post where AA is mentioned.
The reason I don't speak publicly about AA is that I believe - strongly - that no individual should present themselves as a representative or spokesperson for AA. This issue is addressed directly in AA's traditions (operating guidelines) that members shall "maintain anonymity at the level of press, radio and films", and that "anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities".
I agree with the intent behind these traditions, and I believe vigorously that anonymity is the cornerstone to AA's program of recovery. Every individual who walks into an AA meeting deserves to feel safe, and their identity should be protected.
I also believe, though, that the Traditions were developed when the existence of the internet and the pervasiveness of television couldn't have been imagined. The world is seeing a LOT about addiction (reality TV shows, celebrity train wrecks, news coverage of the detritus of addiction - car accidents, suicides, broken families, crime) but how much are we seeing about recovery?
So Charlie Sheen goes on a rant, spouts off a statistic about AA (which nobody will ever be able to verify or deny), calls it a cult, and overnight AA is being mentioned at the level of press and radio - thrust into the spotlight due to the media storm surrounding Sheen.
People had really strong reactions to Sheen's statements, whether in agreement or disagreement. Debates raged online about AA's effectiveness, and many people took it personally, regardless of which side of the debate they were on.
When asked what I think of all this, my response is this: It doesn't matter.
It doesn't matter what Charlie Sheen, Dr. Drew, or anyone thinks about AA's effectiveness. It doesn't matter if anyone thinks it is a cult. My opinion? If AA doesn't work for you, that's okay. If it does work for you, that's great. Whatever helps you stay sober, and experience personal growth and peace of mind is awesome. Whatever way fills up your mind, body and spirit with truth, compassion and forgiveness and removes your obsession to drink or use drugs - that is a good way.
But here is what Sheen's recent escapades really got me thinking about: I believe a big problem we have today is a lack of discourse and understanding about recovery.
All too often, the world's exposure to addiction is limited to when a celebrity publicly implodes and is hauled off to rehab. The media swarms around a train wreck (and we watch... I do it, too) and then falls away when the antics die down. If the person gets sober there isn't a juicy story anymore.
What happens after all the ugliness? What is their life like on the other side of addiction? You won't see much about that in the National Inquirer or splashed across TMZ.
If they don't stay sober, though, we're going to hear all about it. Train wrecks and relapses are great for ratings.
The media is peppering us with images of addiction, but where is the counterbalancing point? Where are the stories about recovery?
Many people in recovery are reluctant to talk openly about it. They fear judgment and reprisal, and for good reason. The stigma of alcoholism and addiction remains strong. Please note: Breaking your own anonymity is a personal choice. I know that many people can't, or won't, and I completely respect and understand this decision.
Back to AA's traditions, and the concept of maintaining anonymity at the level of press, radio and film, and not putting personalities before principals. The founders of AA knew what they were doing, and I believe their intent is clear: don't speak for AA, and don't jeopardize anyone else's anonymity. Ever.
However, I feel strongly that there needs to be more discourse about recovery. All kinds of recovery. The more the topic is discussed - without jeopardizing anyone's sobriety or anonymity - the more the stigma will be chipped away, the more the silent suffering will feel they can find help, and hope.
I believe a person can be a member of AA and still talk openly about addiction and recovery without running afoul of AA's traditions. How are people in recovery - any kind of recovery - ever going to help other suffering addicts or alcoholics if we can't speak about our journeys?
AA also states it is a program of "attraction, not promotion". I can help attract people to recovery without attracting them to my particular program, and certainly without promoting it.
What works for me may not work for someone else. It's a personal choice when, if and how someone decides to get help. What program I follow doesn't matter at all to someone who doesn't want to get sober. What does matter, in my opinion, is helping someone understand that recovery is possible, if they want it. And that they get to choose how they go about it.
I hope that is what I'm doing here on my little acre of the internet. I will never preach any particular program of recovery. Heck, I won't even tell someone they need to get sober, let alone tell them how to stay sober.
My dream is that there is as much dialogue about recovery, some day, as there currently is about train wrecks. I know - it's a pipe dream.
But I can dream. And I will.