The spectacle of the recent interviews with Charlie Sheen have left me feeling many complex things. More than anything: There but for the Grace of God go I.
I also feel grief, pity and disgust. I feel as though watching the interviews and ogling over the incredibly devastating car wreck makes me part of the problem. He doesn’t need people taking pictures of him as this disaster unfolds; he needs help. And few of the media exploits in the past week have been focused on that. Because our society sure loves its disasters! Sheen’s battle with drug addiction, gambling, and other unhealthy behaviors are legendary. We have been witnessing an addict kill himself slowly for two decades. And the media and his employers (aka CBS and Warner Bros.) have been playing the part of expert enablers for years.
What has struck me the most about the recent events is the word Mr. Sheen has used throughout his interviews: over and over again he talks about “winning.” In his mind, Mr. Sheen is “winning” and is a “winner.” Why does he say that? Because, in his own words: he is a genius actor who has singlehandedly kept CBS and Warner Brothers solvent, has the two “goddesses” (one a “former” porn star and the other a model/marijuana advocate) living in his “Sober Valley Lodge,” the car he drives, and the money he makes. Sound familiar? Look back over the past century and you will see that this resume is not new for any man who has ever tried out for the job of Superman.
The resume Sheen presents to make his case for why he is a “winner” with “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA” are all the same things that we have been told for generations will make us happy and enviable as men. We are told from very early we should fantasize about big fancy cars and homes, sex with two women, and, of course, power and fame. Mr. Sheen has all of these things. I cannot say whether or not Mr. Sheen is content; I can introduce him to hundreds of men who have tried that approach and only found it empty and unfulfilling — in addition to many who almost died trying to fulfill the items on that list.
Is Sheen using at this time? It is not clear. He reportedly passed a drug test for his interview with Radar online. Perhaps, as many experts think, he is having an exceedingly manic episode. Whatever the cause of his erratic behavior, he does seem to be exhibiting the traits of someone who is having some sort of mental health breakdown. What is obvious is that Mr. Sheen is speaking in a way that is beyond grandiose, and I can only imagine the devastating impact it is having on those who love him the most, especially his dad.
If you listened closely to Sheen’s interviews, there is something else there that seems to be underlying his rants about the ridiculousness of AA and the concepts of recovery embraced by many in our field. Sheen’s comments demonstrated what I have heard from hundreds of men struggling with addiction over the years: it’s not that AA didn’t work for them, but that it couldn’t work for them. Tired of being vulnerable and uncomfortable with sharing the deepest parts of their lives and not being able to get sober, they resign themselves to a life of addiction. “I tried it for 22 years,” Sheen said, “trying to do what everyone else wanted me to, and where did it get me?” He did not say it couldn’t work for him, but I have to wonder what is really underlying all the bravado.
Unless he truly is as exceptional as he professes, Sheen is terrified, confused, and ready to give up on the possibility of sobriety because recovery seems so elusive to him. He has to show all of us that he is such a winner because — you guessed it — deep down he fears that he isn’t one at all. There is nothing more awful than having to believe that choosing the thing that is killing you is the only way to live.
I do truly and sincerely hope that Mr. Sheen “wins,” but I have a feeling if it happens that it will not look at all like he thinks it should. And that is a very good thing.
Dan Griffin is the author of A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps. Learn more about his work at: www.dangriffin.com.