Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Celebrities Need Privacy in Dealing with their Addictions

Some people have found the stance in my editorial about Whitney Houston to be "peculiar" or "surprising" coming from me. The idea is that I am a muckraker who once blogged about Rick Scott's hypocrisy in demanding that Florida State employees submit to regular and random urinalysis for possible drug use.

Let me clarify - Politicians who demand sobriety from the rest of us (and thereby a breach of privacy) are in the wrong... especially when they exempt themselves and those closest to them. It is in the spirit of democracy that I try to bring them down a notch or two. The only thing I apologize for there, is invoking Charlie Sheen in the subheader... He (like everyone else) deserves to be known for his achievements and not just his struggles.

With entertainers, artists and celebrities I feel that our tendency toward supermarket tabloid journalism has gone a bit too far and we actually prevent these struggling people from acheiving the one thing that we seemingly demand of them... sober perfection.

One only needs to peruse this list of 16 celebrities who have died from overdoses to see how this strange phenomenon has held a grip on our most beloved. The list stops short of including Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson but does list Brittany Murphy (all of whom died with legally prescribed medications found in their rooms or in their toxicology reports).

12 step programs (also known as the "anonymous" programs) advocate that their members keep a low profile for their own good. This is across the board - not just for celebrities. The reasons are numerous and practical. An addict will most frequently "relapse" to their drug of choice as a response to stress. A sinking career and horribly unflattering photos in supermarket tabloids are most certainly stress-inducing. They would be hard for anyone to deal with, let alone those whose careers depend on a positive public image.

If I could tell struggling celebrities only one thing, it would be that "You are NEVER alone." Many of your peers deal with the same issues even if they are unwilling to discuss the matter. Another thing that they might need to hear is that fans are fickle... They might turn on you today but come back with flowers in hand tomorrow. A bad hair day or a rough interview with Diane Sawyer is not the end of your world.

One person that I admire in this department is a supermodel who fought back against the tidal wave of nasty paparazzi who made every sober day a challenge for her... The story of Naomi Campbell's groundbreaking lawsuit against the Daily Mirror made the UK recognize a virtual "right to privacy" that celebrities previously didn't have. The lawsuit dealt with photos of the supermodel leaving a building known to house Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other 12 step meetings.

Perhaps we should also mention here that the street goes both ways. Certain entertainers have also been a bit too forthcoming with their "recovery" in the media and made attempts to capitalize on newfound respect for their courage in the face of struggle. Although 12 step programs are not the "authority" on addiction recovery, many PIO's (public information officers) within the 12-step programs warn against this too. Anonymity is the foundation of these programs for a reason - the realization that addiction (in the disease model) strikes without prejudice for class or social status.

A former PIO in "CMA" (Crystal Meth Anonymous) tells me that he has frequently warned his sponsees and other program members not to seek media attention during the recovery process by appearing on television shows like "Intervention". The problem, he says, is that "when you're new to recovery, you get excited about your new possibilities and want to share them with the whole world. But what you don't realize is that there are hidden challenges that surface later and the group has not selected you, specifically, to represent all of us to the world. Your recovery is private and personal - you might relapse and if you do, it will be easier to hop back on the wagon if you haven't already portrayed yourself as a know-it-all."

"Also," says my source, "a lot of addicts find that excessive controlling behavior from their friends, family and coworkers are a source of many of their problems. They lose their sense of personal identity and these reality shows feed into that process."