Several emails touching on the most recent round of news reports on the celebrity beat -- from jail sentences to vehicular manslaughter charges -- all of which seem to be, to varying degrees, alcohol and drug related. I will say here what I have often said when the topic comes up over coffee: It was hard enough for me to get sober period -- I can't imagine trying to do it under the hot and unforgiving glare of media and internet scrutiny -- what a circus of sabotage that would be. Some might argue that "they asked for it," either by a choice of profession in the spotlight, or through foolish mistakes made in very public ways. I guess that's true, but I've asked for a lot of stupid things in my time, and I'm grateful that I didn't get them to the degree I might have -- let alone with the world watching -- so I just don't feel comfortable judging those that have and did.
It can be a strange thing to sit in an AA meeting with someone famous in the room -- I will admit that. It has happened to me a number of times in the course of my sober adventures. If they are a 'regular' attendee of the meeting, they rapidly just become a part of the group -- AA is nothing if not well practiced in assimilating very different people into a cohesive and loving whole. If they're not one of the regulars then it can make for some surreal moments, but the overwhelming majority of the time I have seen the meeting go on without too much drama -- people behave and anonymity is respected. Breeches in this certainly happen, but in my experience far less than one might think. Most everyone in the room understands that, for the space and time of the meeting, we are all just a group of people with the same disease trying to live in our common solution.
A few of the emails I received asked some specific questions, and I started several different responses -- none of them satisfactory to me, because the truth is, I think what I wrote here before is my best comment on it.
So, with some few additions and alterations, here is "celebrity sobriety and rehab" -- redux:
My alcoholism makes me believe that people are thinking about me... talking about me.
How much harder must it be, when reality and alcoholism blend together, and sometimes a lot of people actually are talking about you. A very famous person sitting in an AA meeting has a somewhat different experience of anonymity and the 12 Step environment than the rest of us -- especially when there are photographers literally outside the door of the meeting, waiting to take a picture as they leave -- I've seen it first hand.
My heart goes out to the many foolish and damaged personalities who must play out their addiction and recovery before the cameras, and in the cruel kangaroo court of the internet.
I think secretly many of us believe that, should we be given some of the material success and acclaim that these public train wrecks have received (and more often than not earned, we should probably remember), we might do a bit better.
Perhaps so. I think in my own case, if, as a young alcoholic I was surrounded by people who always told me yes, and I was made to feel extra important, and given license to spend without restraint, I would have become first a monster, then a joke, and finally a statistic.
(In fact I have often thought, sitting in meetings and hearing people share, that I am very grateful I got sober before everyone had a phone with a camera in it, and with the touch of a few buttons my pathetic, revolting blackout behavior could be uploaded for the world to see, making me an overnight global YouTube punchline.)
The press reports, with varying degrees of slant, when someone famous "goes to rehab."
Rehab is not Alcoholics Anonymous. (Nor is it any other 12 Step Program.)
Rehab is, to varying degrees a hospital setting, where salaried individuals work to help addicts get initially clean from "what ails 'em." I'm grateful for the rehab industry -- the book "Alcoholics Anonymous" (AA's Big Book) suggests that "we favor hospitalization for the man who is jittery and befogged." (And please, can I someday be in a hospital with the words "Jittery and Befogged" written across my chart?)
What rehab does is medically supervise a detox, and begin to begin to help lay a foundation for some ongoing after-care -- whether that model is 12 Step based or not. Generally most folks agree, a stay in a rehab with no follow up is not a good way to go.
I once knew a gentleman who sent his wife to rehab for 30 days. When the Mrs. showed up at the front door on day 31 she was drunk, having started right in again on the flight home. (Atta girl! You are my kind of drinker.) He called the rehab and demanded his money back. You can imagine how that went, but I always admired his spunk. It served him well later, when drunk she fell down the basement stairs and struck her head so hard it resulted in ... a sad ending to her story.
Rehab is not AA.
But tonight, reflecting on how many people I know who have relapsed over the years, I welcome anything -- anything -- that helps people get and stay sober.
And as for the famous and infamous, I imagine some of them are using rehab as a dodge -- the cynical assume so. But I've seen enough people come to AA on a court card and though judgmental and insincere at the outset, discover something they identified with and that eventually actually helped them. Hopefully for anyone "performing" their rehab for an audience at large (and I am genuinely not inferring anything about anyone), clearly somewhere along the way they got off track, and though their original motives may be mixed, perhaps they too will discover something in recovery which helps them.
For those of us already in the lifeboat, the challenge becomes not buying into the cynical interpretation of this -- but just to stay ready to offer anyone who comes to AA our open minds, hands and hearts, without judgment or agenda.
Even if you didn't much care for their last performance.