The Rev. Dr. Neil O’Farrell sees the elephant in the room when it comes to Weiner’s behavior, and he thinks Weiner should too.
Anthony Weiner, now running to be the next mayor New York City, said last May in a news interview that he had “checked into a Houston psychiatric clinic to have his behavior evaluated—but ‘it wasn’t an addiction thing.’” He was talking about his sexting on the Internet behavior.
The first step of a 12-step recovery program says, “I admitted that I was powerless over [my addiction]—that my life had become unmanageable.”
The former congressman had said that his sexting was behind him, and now he was focusing first on repairing his marriage and being a good dad to his toddler child, and on his campaign for mayor. He made similar protestations in the past, but the sexting behavior continued, including nude photographs and an expressed desire for a sexual assignation. Clearly, he’d not stopped his inappropriate behaviors.
Now, I don’t care what he does with his cell phone, his computer, his email account, his Twitter feed, or really much of anything else he does. After all I’m not a resident of New York City, considering whom I want to vote for mayor, I’ve never met him and am not likely to, and frankly, I have a lot of other things in my life that keep me more than busy.
All that having being said, that crucial first step—being powerless over a behavior—and Weiner’s contention he’s not an addict, is a phenomenon that every addict knows well, both in and out of recovery. You may not like the word “addict,” you might not like your weakness in the face of compulsions you’ve said publically you don’t have any more. If you have to make continual apologies for hapless behavior—well, you can’t describe that as not “an addiction thing.”
That he thinks we believe his assertions, and that none of us sees the elephant in the room, is also clearly addictive behavior. For a non-recovering, non-self-admitting addict, there is always an elephant in the room. If you can’t see it, out of willfulness, hopefulness, or thinking you’re smart and everyone else is dumb—if you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
I think he’s a good man, as most non-recovering persons generally are. I think, again like many addicts, he’s highly functioning. I certainly have always agreed with his politics, and I enjoyed his scrappy style of sparring with his opponents. He’s trying, as good men do, to be a loving, supportive husband and father. I genuinely he is a young man of great talent and promise. All of that is true.
None of that obviates the simple fact that for countless persons, when he says his sexting, for example, is not an addition thing, he’s not credible. Like many addicts, he’s continuing to lie to himself, to his family, his colleagues, and now, the entire electorate of New York City. That makes one pretty breathless when considering the scope of having convinced yourself, “it’s not an addiction thing.”
Let’s for a moment consider it’s not an addiction. Then what is it? Is he merely a philandering husband using social media to be unfaithful? Does he have a multiple personality disorder, or another diagnosable mental illness? Is the devil making him do it?
Actually, what he doesn’t know and most active addicts don’t realize, is a truth that is very old. We know this truth on a deeply internalized level, but in 1852, a definition was put forth, known as Ockham’s Razor. This insight comes from time immemorial. It is a truth known by every student of philosophy, mathematics, and police officers on the street. One way of describing it is “that among competing hypotheses, the hypothesis with the fewest assumptions should be selected. In other words, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.”
In Weiner’s case, the simplest explanation is not some tortured logic, or a twisted psychological etiology, but rather he is suffering from addictive behavior he can’t control. Like many addicts, not only is he out of control; he’s dragging a lot of people and achievable life aspirations down the drain with him.
So, what did a very wise man tell me at a very low, very complicated point in my life? He said sardonically but very seriously, “Get thee to a meeting.” I hadn’t hit bottom (I would suspect if Weiner hasn’t, he’s very close), but it was the right advice to me at the right time. Just to make sure, he took me personally.
Weiner needs to quit calling press conferences, issuing press releases, standing at podiums with his suffering wife beside him, and being interviewed for glossy personality profiles (which turn out to be false) in People magazine.
He needs to open his eyes, see the elephant, admit the hard truth, and find some 12-step meetings. He can quit using his computer for sexting, and instead Google the location for 12-step program meetings in his neighborhood. I know he will find some.
It’s not easy, God knows it isn’t easy. But it’s what a good man—a good husband, a good father, and a good politician—would most certainly do.
photo: AP /Charles Dharapak