“Drinking and free-basing crack cocaine just doesn’t scale as a way to get ahead in life,” I heard a guy say at a meeting in Church basement this morning. I chuckled to myself. My two worlds—a venture capitalist, a recovering drunk—collided in that one sentence. Businesses growth is often referred to as “scaling.” Addicts are constantly looking for the next high. What he was saying is that you can’t grow personally, or find any real happiness, if you’re chasing after booze, drugs, hookers, or whatever your vice of choice might be.
You got that right, I thought, nodding in grim acknowledgment of the many times I personally crashed trying to take an addiction and scale it into a successful life.
In looking back just a few weeks later on the the columns I wrote about Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen, the first thing that comes to mind is, where are they now? Tiger still hasn’t made a putt that counted; Charlie Sheen can’t sell a ticket to his circus act. No one gives a shit.
That’s the thing about addiction-fueled success, at least in my view. It’s like the parable about Icarus flying too close to the sun with wings held together by wax. You reach amazing heights. But you will fall. And when you do it’s quick.
Drinking, free-basing cocaine, and chasing hookers don’t scale. For Tiger, Charlie, or guys like you and me.
Responses to Will Tiger Ever Make Another Putt?
Genius is rarely recognized for what it is. I’m a literary guy so I tend to think first of literary examples. Lord Byron partied like a rock star; he made Mick Jagger and Martin Sheen look like devout nuns. Today we’d urge him to enlist in a support group, push some pills down his throat, and treat him for an addiction. All it would cost us is some poetry. In industry, we’d be telling Henry Ford that his obsession with efficiency was unhealthy and unrealistic, and his unhappiness was not worth the invention of the assembly line. All we’d lose is the automotive industry. We’d be sitting in the dark explaining to Thomas Edison that a year of experiments to find a longer-lasting incandescent filament was an unseemly addiction, a pursuit of perfection that everyone knows does not exist. Come on, Tommy, get out of the lab! Get some sun! Light a candle and stop cursing the darkness!
Like you, Tom, I’m in recovery. My drinking and using burned me through three marriages before my 35th birthday. I broke a lot of hearts, wore my share of handcuffs, was in and out of rehab and psych wards,, and put my life in very serious jeopardy. Along the way I got a Ph.D. and held down a tenured professorship, keeping my using secret until it caught up with me.
But I’ve been much more successful and infinitely happier in sobriety. Once an addict, always an addict — we just have to take that restless madness and direct it in positive, life-affirming, world-transforming ways.
What if the problem was that Tiger really should never have been married? What if his sexual adventures with all those women actually helped him blow off some steam and helped his confidence? Certainly trying to maintain a particular image of a faithful, devoted, chaste family man added incredible stress to his life. Perhaps if he would just embrace his true, horny, adventurous self he could be an even better golfer than he ever was before.
What is possibly missing is the recognition of serious psychiatric disorders at work. A friend of mine (no really, a friend – a man and a father) is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict who defines himself as Bipolar I. He has said that the drinking and cough medicine etc, were mere symptoms, not the actual disease. He was self-medicating because it helped slow down his thought process. The problem was when the mania stopped and he couldn’t crawl out from under a blanket. So for him, and probably for many others, the answer is in brain drugs, but also in the support that my friend still gets from AA and NA and his meetings with his psychiatrist. His openness and honesty is awesome. But I think even he believes that those addictions wouldn’t be under control without the chemical realignment in his brain – and the addressing of the social dynamics he grew up with. And so I believe that what’s most tragic about CS is how the modern day media is not only watching but ENJOYING this slow motion crash. It’s horrible to watch. The mania is frightening and the delusions only growing. I feel really sorry for him and his children.
It is truly amazing how many takes we can have on the whole classic story of human suffering which is ultimately what all of this Sheen drama is about. It is about suffering and rising above the suffering – which is the greatest human story every told. We love to watch our heroes fall and we also seem to love for them to rise again – better and bigger than ever. Robert Downey, Jr anyone? We love that they have fallen because it proves they are human and no better than us. And they rise again to show us that we, too, can be that person.
And the second greatest story is our ability to find out who we really are through the ashes of it all. Who knows who Sheen will become should he find recovery. I am rooting for him just as I am rooting for Tiger and Lindsay. Just as I never stopped rooting for Robert Downey, Jr either. But maybe because I have been given the same gift and am still trying to figure out who I am.
I like to think of it as there being two paths to clear thinking – which is necessary for success. One is narcissism, where you deny or suppress your feelings, see others as objects and focus single-mindedly on your sport or art or business or whatever. The other is to use your whole brain or whole self in your actions; you process your thoughts and your feelings, you interact with others rather than seeing them as objects (and negotiate with them, including about rules for competition) and then you have the peace of mind to focus and concentrate on playing a good game or singing an authentic song. It is true there is less space for an aggrandizing “me”, but there is more space for an authentic “me.”
I suspect that Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods have little ability to feel real pleasure and won’t acquire that until they look at their suppressed emotional lives from trauma in childhood (often from being socialized into “masculinity” or because they had “bad – unempathetic – dads” or because the conflict that patriarchy places men and women in got in the way of their mothers connecting and empathizing with them or other reasons like this.
I definitely agree that we fear success. I struggle with this 20 years sober. But I think in the instance of Tiger and Sheen that they are two different animals. Whereas Tiger may have an addiction, Sheen is creative first, and may have an addiction second. Creativity and addiction are strange bedfellows.
Responses to: Are We Addicted to Charlie Sheen?
Tom, You sound like Carrie Bradshaw in this opening.
He is an addict, and anyone who wishes to be him is nuts. He is chasing coke, is unable to stop chasing coke. There is nothing glamorous or enviable about it. It is a horrible way to live, no matter how many ways he might say he is normal. He reminds me of Dicky eklund in the fighter- anytime I see an addict portrayed in a movie, I think- I am so happy that’s not me…..And charlie is not in a movie, playing Dicky, he is Dicky. That’s no way to live.
Frankly I don’t care that people are taking advantage of his addiction. He’s a grown man bringing it on himself. I’m not going to feel bad for him. I’m going to watch him, laugh and be grateful I’m not that much of a clown.
Being a recovering addict/drinker like yourself Tom, I would think you’d be a lot harder on Charlie Sheen for mocking AA, and rejecting the people PAID to help him.
I really feel for Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. They seem such decent people and it must be so tough watching Charlie fame out in public.
The wives and husbands and fathers and mothers and sons and daughters of addicts and alcoholics are not addicted to Charlie Sheen.
They will change the channel or turn off the radio. They don’t click on the link to that story—the story whose ending they already know, too well. The story of unchecked disease. Of permanent organ damage and liver failure and the attendant brain damage caused by ingesting, injecting, drinking and snorting too many toxic substances for too long. Fame and money delay the bottoming out for so many people. That’s not a blessing. That’s a curse. Charlie Sheen is a winner? His wife and family and children and anyone who has ever truly cared for him are the losers.
As someone who recently had checks stolen and forged by the son of my best friend to buy drugs I’ve become void of sympathy. He rummaged through my things and took seven checks, forging my signature and over-drawing my account. I did not press charges since he was already under arrest for possession and my charge would send him to prison. His father has repaid me but it was truthfully scary and shocking. He is enabled on every front which is disturbing to witness. I however do not know what I would do if it was my son…a tough question for any parent to answer.
We love to watch train wrecks and car crashes – watching Charlie Sheen or any addict fulfills this need.
After the TMZ interview a coupla days ago in which he proclaimed that he was a winner over and over and that he owned Babe Ruth’s W Series ring b/c he was a winner and that “winners own cool shit,” I’ve intentionally stepped away from it. kinda hard though b/c i have to somewhat stay abreast of what’s going on. But it’s so sad, Tom.
Yet, the saddest thing of all is we, the people who empower this fiend. you NAILED it when you said: “He’s a garden-variety addict with a big-ass wallet, to make matters a lot worse.”
—John Cave Osborne
The media reports on what the public craves. The media has ratings, and in order to bolster their ratings, they go after stuff the public wants. So it’s not the media. It is us that’s lusting after Charlie Sheen and exploiting a rock-bottom man.
Forgive me, but I feel it’s a bit sensationalist, and a tad awful to use Sheen’s clear addiction and the tragedy of his condition and of his family and those who love him in this way and to phrase the question as though his addiction were in question. I was repulsed by that wording begging to be considered clever. He is clearly, sadly, awfully addicted and spiraling down. Let us have the decency to unplug from that.
Your main point (I think) about our (or the media’s or both’s) addiction to broadcasting his tragedy is very well taken. I watched in person as Anna Nicole was paraded in front of cameras by purported human beings milking her like tragedy for their benefit and our “entertainment.” She limped through in a state that for any of the rest of us would have gotten us hospitalized or bed ridden … certainly let go from our jobs. It was overwhelming, surreal, Fellini-esque and immediately disgusting to me. Had I the power, I would have stopped the whole scam right then for her sake.
There are these parts of our society we let do this to our people in trouble. We feed our … what … entertainment? narcissism? morbid fascination? ignorant bliss? blood lust? … with the lives of those we had looked to as heroes or celebrated. Up or down, good or bad, we suck off them as long as their art or antics make us “feel something.”
May more of us know how to feel on our own. And then, how to stand up for common decency when someone is obviously in trouble.
This is great. Not the fact that he’s a addict going down in flames, but we get to see these interviews as he goes down in flames. How many people’s stories do we never hear? He’s not ready to face facts and he doesn’t want help. It’s sad, it’s a warning, it’s of prurient interest, but it’s not boring. People like to know famous people are fallible. It makes them feel better about themselves.
American media does a great job of glomming on to the unfortunate shortcomings of men (and women), obsessing most on those who resemble slow train wrecks. Robert Downey Jr. comes to mind as well. We have also been treated to more brief houndings of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Pheonix, hoping to see either of them nose dive into the deep end of public humiliation and failure.
In the process we get collectively stupid about the fact that these are people with problems and tend to watch their lives circling the drain as though we are expecting, no HOPING, for a tragic end.
Charlie Sheen is often very charming and funny. He is an entertainer and compared to most more entertaining. Being a train wreck is not enough. He is often compelling compared to most other boring addicts and his raw energy is interesting. His condition is not surprising or worth watching but his ability to improvise is.
We watch Charlie Sheen because he is Charlie Sheen not because he is an addict.
Charlie Sheen has all the makings of an on-screen mega meltdown: he comes from an illustrious media family (Martin Sheen), made some kick ass movies (Platoon, Wall Street) and for many of us who grew up in the 80′s, he was a glamorous guy, the kind of man who showed up in GQ.
Now he’s sick–clearly so–and his meltdown is made intensely public by all the media focused on him. It seems like Americans are fascinated not only by a rags-to-riches story, but better still, a riches-to-the-gutter descent.
His ravings on the radio aren’t funny or entertaining- they’re crazy. This man needs help.
If, growing up, we wanted to be like Charlie Sheen, then when he flames and burns, there is certainly the element of ‘there for the grace of God” go I. Or an “I” that was an adolescent fantasy. Sheen is a poster child of what happened to the 80′s, and that’s why we like to see him burn.