Thursday, March 10, 2011

Enablers R Us

I'm freakin' sick of hearing and seeing Charlie Sheen. He's no different than a thousand small-time addicts I knew while working at the Sheriff's Department and the Prosecutor's office. They all had enablers without whom they couldn't function at even a minimal level. The only difference is that Charlie is a celebrity so his level of being enabled is so much higher, and that's to his detriment rather than his benefit. People like Charlie (see: Elvis, Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith, Lindsay Lohan.....) are surrounded by sycophants whose success is tied to their own and so, cater to their every whim - mansions and luxury cars and twin Goddesses and new roles and publicity and as much alcohol and as many drugs as their addicted little hearts desire (often right unto death).

Most alcoholics and druggies are anonymous to all but law enforcement and the judicial system and what family still sticks with them and the few friends who tolerate and/or share their addiction. Unlike Charlie, the only times their names are in print is in the "Arrests" section of the local paper. Unlike Charlie, no interviewer records their every raving word, allowing them to humiliate themselves for all the world to see.

But those penny-ante addicts do have their own enablers. When siblings and employers and friends give up, it is often Mom who makes excuses for them and bonds them out of jail yet again, sometimes to the resentment of her other children who don't understand that, in her eyes,  it is her black sheep who needs her the most. If not a parent, then it is a partner who puts money she can't really afford into his commissary account and stands waiting in the lobby to take him home when he's released, even though she may still have the bruises from his last bout with drunkenness. He loves her, don't you know, it was only the booze that made him do it.

So, with every drunk driving arrest and overdose, the addict loses a few more former supporters who tried over and over to get him to see the light, but there are always the enablers who hang in there no matter what, allowing him to carry on. There was a movie line once - "love is never having to say you're sorry". But I think love is more likely to be "sorry, but saying your sorry isn't enough".

Alcoholics and other addicts tend to be charming and creative. I often wondered if charming, creative people were more prone to addiction or if the addiction taught them to be charming and creative as a survival technique. In jail, they could construct tattoo needles out of radio parts and weave cigarette wrappers into elaborate picture frames and braid a thousand strands of dental floss into a rope strong enough to pull a baggie of marijuana in through the screen of the exercise yard. They drew beautiful pictures and wrote wonderful poetry and sculpted perfect figurines out of  dampened bread. They devised elaborate hiding places in the bare space of a tiny jail cell and made hootch out of bizarre combinations of unlikely ingredients. They could spin funny, colorful stories as long as you would listen.

They were all a little bit Charlie Sheen and it was hard not to warm to them even when you knew that all you could ever ultimately expect from them was betrayal. Not betrayal to you so much as to themselves and their own potential.

I know of what I speak because I was married to an alcoholic. An addictions counselor once illustrated for us enablers what we were doing. She had someone stand on a three-legged stool while another person placed themselves in front so the person on the stool could rest their hands on her shoulders. With this support, the one on the stool was able to keep from falling.

"Now step away," said the counselor.

When the person in front moved away, the one on the stool immediately fell.

"That's you," the instructor said. "You allow your addict to remain on the stool but he/she won't get better until they fall and have to learn to stand on their own."

But if the addict is addicted to drugs or alcohol, the enabler is addicted to the addict. They can't bear to step away.

The best thing we could all do for Charlie Sheen is step away....but, of course, that won't happen. For some he's a meal ticket, for some he's worth his weight in entertainment value, for some getting his story is a job, for some he's a loved one. Whatever our reasons, we'll probably just watch as he continues his spin into self-destruction - the old, sad dance of addict and enabler.