Monday, March 7, 2011

No Holds Barred

by Blair Sabol

It has been a week of mainlining nonstop hypermania what with Charlie Sheen, Gaddafi, and designer John Galliano (and throw in Christina Aguilera) all appearing unplugged and on constant primetime loops.

HIGH is back as the new high. At one point I couldn't keep their individual rants, abuses, and indulgences straight. Weren't they all one and the same person?

Our culture is not only addicted to celebrity but now to their perpetual "fall-from-grace" stories of addiction. By now "bipolar" and "narcissism" are as acceptable as hypoglycemia and high cholesterol. Yet every creative person I have ever met is bipolar and/or a narcissist ... it's what makes them talented.

We might as well make all addiction "legal" in our society. At least give it its own 24/7 TV network and be done with Dr. Drew and his Celebrity Rehab. Speaking of rehab ... whatever happened to the days of doing a stint at Betty Ford and coming out clean and "cured."

Now it seems as if many people are doing multiple rehab visits (like spa vacations) and no one seems "over it." As one tried and true X-addict friend of mine confessed; "There are rehabs and there are rehabs.Some are valuable and not every place is $30,000 a week. Others are as meaningful as a shopping spree." Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy, a memoir of mania and now a mental health advocate, explains after years of addiction and therapy: "At this point all I want from people is to respect my insanity. Personally I never bought into real recovery as a possibility."

For me there are important coping skills. Whether it is medications, meditations, or nothing. It is all highly individual. I think this subject has been addressed a lot and in particular in "DRY" by Augusten Burroughs, where AA meetings, the mental health system, rehab clinics, and self help techniques were all examined harshly inside and out.

Some time ago I spoke to Carrie Fisher, who is now a "spokesperson" for bipolar disease. (She also put addiction "Lit" on the map with her biographical novel Postcards From The Edge and now her one woman show Wishful Drinking). "I'm not sure I'm ever completely sober. Sometimes I am ... sometimes I'm just a work in progress." Now she is into electroshock therapy and Jenny Craig.

Lately I have been wondering if some people are merely "unrehabable" (I had heard that meth is truly hard to ever recover from). Particularly when all you see are these celebrities stuck in their arrogance and going round and round the revolving door of rehabs and relapses. And though I have deep respect for the recovery community you can understand my confusion with the whole rehab roulette. Many of my AA pals who have remained successfully sober have admonished me with the awareness that no one is ever "unrehabable". As one AA sponsor told me: "They just need to do 'the work.' Plain and simple. And extremely hard."

ENTER CHARLIE SHEEN! He managed to blow the lid off traditional public "meltdown." He came into our living rooms with his brand of hot mess explosion that polarized the collective. While some people found him an insane mental case, others found him fascinating with his refreshing one liners and honest chaotic delivery.

He was doing it "his way" ... now deal with it. In 48 hours he made TMZ more important than 60 Minutes and exploited the media better than the media could exploit any other personality. Who was screwing whom? I did find it brilliant that he dumped his PR flack and went straight to the media outlets himself (and Twittered to record breaking numbers of followers) while putting every reality show to shame.

Charlie was a whole new train wreck. Up until now all we had were the likes of Anna Nicole Smith who were merely sad lost lumps of self destruction. I never understood what Anna Nicole actually stood for. Who was she? Just like I don't quite get (or can't remember) what Lindsay Lohan's talent is. Does it have something to do with what she wears to her court hearings? And though Heath Ledger's early death was indeed tragic, I get confused when I hear people say (and this is a constant refrain for many overdosed deaths) "what a loss ... he didn't get to live up to his potential." Who can honestly say that?

Maybe he, indeed, gave us his potential and that was that. But Charlie Sheen is delivering his unraveling with a far edgier slant. Is he really on the road to death? Hardly. My 88-year-old mother gave Charlie and his hookers a complete pass last Fall. Talk about addiction — she's been seriously hooked on Two and a Half Men (many elders are ... go figure) for some time and feels: "He's just playing out his character. Enough already. I want my show back." Many people do.

And herein lies the difference. Charlie Sheen is a business story. Sure he'll make the National Enquirer cover for the next year but The Wall Street Journal will be covering CBS's settlement with him as well. And few celebrity addicts could get that kind of ink. He will get back on the air with a larger audience and will be making more money.

Then again we will have to see. Just like we did with Robert Downey Jr., who also presented his addiction with a wild and creative brilliance. He was given up for dead and now he has made THE comeback of all time. Even though he has given many interviews as to how he did it (hard work and a great marriage), it remains a mystery.

Obviously Sheen has raised a whole new bar for outrageous behavior because he CAN. And don't give me the complaint of how Haiti, Darfur and the Middle East are far more important stories. Of course they are. But our culture (and the media) thrive on this. It is a "sexier" story and it has become the "way we roll." Take it or leave it.

I figure the worst that can happen to Charlie Sheen is that he ends up becoming the new Hugh Hefner with his house of "goddesses" and his own kind of "bring it" philosophy. But never mind his own level of overdosing ... I certainly OD'ed on his two days of machine gunned "Charlie-ism." ". And while he came out "winning" I ended up feeling exhausted and abusively spent kinda like a cheap whore (and no money to show for it) from listening to it all.
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