I was just talking with my friend Joe about Charlie Sheen and the show he’s putting on. I can’t think of a better example of the reasons for anonymity as the foundation of the recovery process. Let’s take a look at what Charlie is doing to himself and others.

First of all comes what he is doing to himself. People relapse. It happens. Most addicts and alcoholics relapse a couple of times before they “get it,” and of course the majority end up not getting it at all. Those of us who have made it in recovery for multiple years are the lucky ones. We got miserable enough to make changes, heard the right things at the right time, and became convinced that we had to do the work — or else.

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Let’s be honest about it: recovery is work. We don’t just go to detox, treatment, then hang out at AA or NA, drink coffee and schmooze. The people who try it that way are the ones who turn up missing, then maybe drag themselves back a few months later. Maybe that time they get it. And maybe not. It’s mostly a process of weeding out the things that didn’t work, and substituting things that do. We can’t do that if our brains continue to be addled by alcohol and other drugs, and if we never develop the humility to admit that we have to make big changes in our lives.

That’s where celebrities like Charlie seem to blow it. I’ve never been a celebrity, so I can’t say exactly how they blow it. However, it seems to me that a life of privilege and doing as you please outside — and sometimes during — working hours does little toward developing the willingness described above. If anything is the exact opposite of the path to recovery, it must surely be the lives that high-profile people like Charlie have lived and seem to want to go on living.

So what about the anonymity thing? Simple. When someone like Mr. Sheen makes a big deal about being in treatment, being in recovery, being in AA or NA, being in a sober house, and so forth, it gets a lot of attention. And when he falls on his face publicly, makes outrageous remarks on national TV, and seems determined to become the ass of the decade, then folks who know nothing about the complexity of addiction and addicts look at this high profile behavior and say, “See. That rehab stuff, all that recovery stuff, it didn’t help him. It probably wouldn’t help anyone.” Or,worse, it gives them the excuse they need to reject it for themselves.

Try as I might — and I’m very good at feeling compassion for drunks and other addicts — I don’t seem to be able to work up much sympathy for Charlie. He’s hurting a lot of folks beside himself. I feel more sympathy for folks like Lindsay Lohan, because a lot of her publicity was aided and abetted by a press that has no conscience and even less decency. But Sheen is reveling in it, milking it, and not looking for any help at all. Intellectually, I know it’s just the way that particular addict behaves when he’s suffering from chemically-induced insanity, but in my gut I’m having trouble finding the unconditional love that I usually beam on my less-fortunate fellow addicts.

I probably need to talk to my sponsor about that.

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