Issue # 73 - January/February/March/April/May 2013
“Regulars” know this is our “second” job and, well the first one takes precedence. We had quite a Season, which you can read about a few weeks from now at www.DougThorburn.com (hey, at least we survived). On the other hand, you all know how much we LOVE communicating ideas via “strange but true” stories, so we’ll never leave you for long.
There hasn’t been an absence of topics; fortunately (unfortunately?) several of them will be around for a while, so you’ll likely be reading some as “top stories” in future editions. In the meantime, terrorism made a particularly ugly comeback recently and there was a slew of stupid people (aka addicts and likely addicts) doing crazy and awful things. Our favorites this month include the antics and lessons that can be gleaned from George Jones and a review of the movie Flight.
Welcome to the Thorburn Addiction Report in which we interpret the news through the lens of alcohol and other drug addiction. Each month, we bring you several sections, including:
1. Top Story of the month along with runners up, persons under watch, enablers, disenablers and more
2. Review or Public Policy Recommendation of the month
3. Dear Doug in which a recent letter to "Dear Annie" or other "help" column is rewritten, with responses given from the unique perspective that alcohol or other drug addiction best explains the misbehaviors described
4. Alcoholic Myth-of-the-Month
5. Alcoholic Antic-of-the-Month, usually where someone deserves the Darwin Award, but lived.
There is something for everyone!
Addiction Report Archives here
© 2013 by Doug Thorburn
The blog is open to your comments. We’ll be interested in any thoughts you, our loyal readers, may have.
Active Alcoholism Isn’t Required to Foment Terrorism…But a Failure to get Sober May Be
(Or, it Could be Amphetamines)
In a piece written shortly after 9-11, “Micro Terrorism and Macro Terrorism May Have Similar Roots,” I suggested the best explanation for terrorism lays in alcohol or other-drug addiction. While dramatically different in scope, I argue that the underlying cause of a man terrorizing his wife and kids is likely the same as for men converting aircraft into weapons of mass destruction: addiction-fueled egomania, creating a need to wield power over others. James Graham, in The Secret History of Alcoholism, made the indelible point that an alcoholic’s circumstances and environment help to determine his occupation and beliefs, which in turn determine how and where he wields that power.
Where we find a street thug, we’ll often find a teenager or adult who grew up in the ghetto and developed addiction. Where we see a bar fight, look for an alcoholic adult who grew up in a lower-to-middle income family. Financial and other white-collar crimes are often committed by addicts who graduated from private schools. Acts of terrorism are usually committed by young pseudo-Muslims who confabulate their reading of the Koran and think they are God-like due to the particular effect alcohol or other psychotropic drugs have on their brain.
Of the two brothers who carried out the Boston marathon bombings, the younger one’s seemingly innocuous behaviors has everyone fooled. Friends and classmates of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who will be tried on charges stemming from the attack, can’t fathom how the “pot-smoking, party boy” who they knew “enjoyed drinking” could be capable of such an atrocity. Yet the clue is in their words—not so much the “pot-smoking,” even though he “frequently reeked of marijuana,” but rather the “party boy” who had a propensity to “enjoy drinking.” While there may be exceptions, potheads who use only marijuana often under-achieve, readily admit to their use and exhibit few if any signs of an inflated ego; except for short-term memory loss, it appears among the most harmless of drugs. On the other hand, “party boys” and those who “enjoy drinking” are usually heavy drinkers and often alcoholics. Since alcoholism causes an inflated ego and a need to wield power over others, resulting behaviors can include terrorism and despotism.
Dzhokhar’s behaviors clearly indicate polydrug addiction. Psychoactive drugs “potentiate” each other, where one dose of two different drugs packs a much more powerful punch than two doses of the same drug. While “party boys” likely drink plenty of booze to fuel egomania, anecdotal evidence suggests potentiation and worse behaviors may occur by combining marijuana and alcohol in those predisposed to alcoholism.
Evidence also suggests Dzhokhar’s alcohol and other-drug use may have recently ramped up. His college grades took a sharp downturn, with a number of F’s including (ironically) Principles of Modern Chemistry and Intro to American Politics. That’s hard to do, unless alcoholism-induced heavy partying began afterwards.
How could Dzhokhar appear to be such a nice guy and hide his malign intentions? Consider the portrayal of former FBI agent Robert Hanssen in the movie Breach (reviewed in issue # 31 of TAR, which is worth a re-read and re-watch). Hanssen sold far more secrets to the Soviets than any other U.S. traitor. The secrets were estimated to have been worth at minimum tens of millions of dollars and yet he sold them for a mere pittance—a few hundred thousand dollars. One of the arresting agents asked why anyone would have done it if not for the money. Hanssen replied, “It's not so hard to guess, is it? Considering the human ego...can you imagine sitting in a room with a bunch of your colleagues...everybody trying to guess the identity of a mole? And all the while, it's you they're after...you they're looking for. That must be very satisfying, don't you think?” Dzhokhar may well have found his subterfuge equally exciting—his inordinately large sense of self-importance likely inflated knowing his friends didn’t have a clue he was about to become a murderer and terrorist.
And he may have had the perfect Keirseyan Temperament to pull it off. He loved literature, especially studies of his former homelands. His wrestling teammates say they looked up to him as a teacher and motivator. He believed in people. These describe an intuitive-feeler (NF), or David Keirsey’s “Idealist” who, due to an inborn psychological need to help people, frequently develop great communication skills. This compels them to become teachers, writers and actors—and they are the greatest of these. They also are people-pleasers, which is consistent with the idea he would do anything for his older brother, even becoming his accomplice in terrorism. The odds of acting on this were magnified by an alcoholism-damaged neocortex, reducing or eliminating impulse control and self-restraint. (For Myers-Briggs enthusiasts, Keirsey makes a compelling case that Adolf Hitler was an Idealist, specifically ENFJ; Dzhokhar may be INFP because of how intensely private he apparently was—even close friends had no idea whether he had a girlfriend.)
The older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, seemed very different. At 26, he was a community college dropout, married, a born-again Muslim and had sworn off drinking, apparently after being charged with assault of his then-girlfriend (who later became his wife). On the other hand, when he visited his father in Dagestan for six months in early 2012, a family friend noted he “slept a lot” and was frequently absent from helping in the mornings as his father struggled to ready a new business. When asked where his son was, his father would shrug and say he was still asleep. This strongly suggests psychotropic drug use—if not alcohol, then barbiturates, which are often required to offset the effects of amphetamines. And Tamerlan would not be the first or last addict to say one thing and do another. The fact that he said, “There are no values anymore” and worried that “people can’t control themselves,” is meaningless. Robert Hanssen told everyone who would listen that the FBI didn’t allow agents to drink yet almost certainly drank himself to oblivion every night.
When they were younger, the brothers were known for throwing loud parties, grilling and drinking until midnight or later. A neighbor reports screaming coming from the Tsarnaev brothers’ apartment at odd hours, “then a female voice wailing, or a baby wailing.” According to The Wall Street Journal, Tamerlan’s mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, feared that her elder son “was slipping into a life of marijuana, girls and alcohol” and may have been influential in converting her son to Islam. Yet she was arrested for shoplifting twice before returning to Dagestan; there is still an outstanding arrest warrant due to her failure to show for a court appearance relating to the more recent charges (nine dresses taken from a suburban Boston department store). Her hypocrisy and crimes suggest there may have been pills on board; keep in mind, substance addiction is genetic. If Tamerlan is an addict the odds are about 40% that at least one of his parents is as well; if the mother is an addict, the odds are the same 40% for each child.
Some might argue Tamerlan’s likely first drug of choice, alcohol, changed, to the “drug” of religion. Yet religion, correctly interpreted, serves to deflate the ego by recognizing a higher power, reducing if not eliminating a need to wield power over others. This leaves only two best explanations for Tamerlan’s megalomania: either the psychoactive drug may have changed, likely to amphetamines or, if he truly stopped using, he didn’t deflate his ego. In Tamerlan’s case, amphetamine use is the likeliest scenario. Adolf Hitler began using amphetamines by 1936 and, likely, barbiturates—alcohol in pill form for those predisposed to alcoholism—long before. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, was an amphetamine addict. Yasir Arafat (TAR issue # 4) was clearly addicted to amphetamine-like drugs (just look at his pupil size in nearly every photo of him) and suicide bombers (TAR issue # 13) are likely given a cocktail of drugs including amphetamines and tranquilizers before committing atrocities*.
The other scenario is plausible because sobriety requires not just cessation of use, but also ego deflation. If Tamerlan stopped using all psychoactive drugs—doubtful though that may be—he certainly didn’t deflate his ego. Without ego deflation, resentment can become toxic. An uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, a corporate lawyer and executive in Montgomery Village, MD, explained: “Being losers, hatred [is felt for] those who were able to settle themselves” by which he means assimilate successfully as immigrants. Recovering addicts readily admit to having resented anyone and everyone when they were using, for whatever reason (which really never matters). It seems more likely that amphetamine use was the culprit in Tamerlan’s case—but time will tell if toxicology reports become public.
* Those interested in related pieces on terrorism and drug addiction might wish to re-read the Top Stories in TAR issues # 3 (Kim Jong Il, alcoholic), # 24 (a discussion of a potpourri of terrorists from Ivan the Terrible onward), # 42 (anthrax murderer Bruce Ivans, alcoholic) and # 53 (the role of khat in fomenting terrorism in and around Yemen), as well as the top stories on Arafat and suicide bombers.
Runners-up for top story of the month:
The military sexual assault problem, which may be a top story in an upcoming TAR. Let’s just say no one “gets it.” Consider Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, chief of the Air Force sexual assault prevention branch when he was arrested on charges of “drunkenly groping a woman outside a bar near the Pentagon.” Given the fact that Krusinski is 41 and likely triggered alcoholism in his early teen years, he should have been diagnosed with alcoholism long ago—and never have been put in control of a branch of the armed forces that deals almost exclusively with alcoholism-related misbehaviors.
Ariel Castro, 52, charged with kidnapping and imprisoning three young women inside his Cleveland, OH home since the early 2000s. Amazingly, his thuggish brothers, Onil Castro and Pedro Castro, were reportedly unaware of Ariel’s horrific crimes, even though they were not estranged from him. There are no specific reports of Ariel that can be cited as absolute proof of his alcoholism (even if the crime provides all the evidence we need), but his brother Pedro was described by a neighbor as a “cool old guy” who would pedal his bike around the west side of Cleveland, “drinking wine.” Think of all the non-addicted 50-something-year-olds who ride their bikes drinking wine. It turns out both of the brothers have been charged with drug-related crimes. We might suspect that drinking or using has been a big part of Ariel’s life which, hopefully, the trial will bring to light.
Codependents of the month:
Los Angeles Clippers’ owner’s son Scott Sterling, 32, died from a drug overdose. His family released a statement: “Our son Scott has fought a long and valiant battle against Type 1 diabetes.” While the family did not explain what role diabetes may have played in his death, the Los Angeles County coroner said it was caused by a pulmonary embolism and “intravenous narcotic medication intake.” The fact that an injection of ground-up oxycodone (a narcotic) can lead to blood system blockages resulting in a pulmonary embolism suggests addiction as the root cause of his death.
I’ve long suspected that alcoholism is the best explanation for the behaviors of Scott’s father Donald Sterling—a real estate mogul whose smiling face frequently graces the pages of the Los Angeles Times. While he goes by the label “humanitarian,” there are numerous behavioral indications of addiction, including extraordinary overachievement, narcissism-rooted philanthropy, accusations and lawsuits over alleged racism and housing discrimination, sexual harassment and belittling of players. Based on genetics, 40% odds of addiction can be ascribed to each (if a parent has alcoholism, the odds of any one child having this disease are 40%, and vice versa). Mr. Sterling, your “philanthropy” might be better directed at helping addicts get clean and sober. This might be difficult until and unless you admit the truth about your unfortunate son and possibly yourself.
Possible codependent of the month:
Adam Lanza, 20, who shot his mother Nancy Lanza, 54, several times in the head before launching his rampage and then shooting himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. It’s highly unusual for a mass shooter to be a non-addict, but toxicology reports (surprisingly) show no drugs in Lanza’s system at the time of the attack. While it’s possible that he was on something that wasn’t screened, toxicology exams search for hundreds of drugs, from alcohol and illegal drugs to anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. It’s also possible he took himself off drugs just long enough to clear his head and pull off one of the biggest massacres in U.S. history. On the other hand, his mother went to a regular watering hole where she had regular “drinking buddies,” a near-certain indication of alcoholism. The emotional abandonment Lanza likely experienced as a child may have twisted his otherwise socially awkward yet benign personality to create a monster.
Quote of the month:
“Under [my father’s] strong influence, my brother and I steered clear of the alcohol and drugs that seem to have plagued the Tsarnaevs—and might have fueled depression and hopelessness that…twisted their judgment.”
So wrote Kenan Trebincevic, a well-assimilated foreign-born Muslim-American, in “Two Muslim Brothers Who Took the Assimilation Path,” in The Wall Street Journal, comparing the lives of he and his brother with the Tsarnaevs. “There is a well- documented connection between unhappy, disenfranchised immigrants who can’t connect and crime and terrorism….I’m convinced that remaining a close-knit family kept my brother and me saner and safer. The Tsarnaev family, by contrast, seemed constantly roiled—by war, immigration, work and financial difficulties, serious illness and a marriage breakup….We didn’t experience the sort of disappointment and resentment that Tamerlan seems to have endured when his boxing dream went sour.” Except for the fact that Tamerlan’s boxing dream didn’t go sour; he decided boxing conflicted with Muslim values, which teaches that no man should strike another. So, he exited boxing because of its violence yet decided later, confabulated thinking activated, that blowing people up is okay. While Trebincevic understands the effects plaguing the Tsarnaev family (work and financial difficulties, divorce and unreasonable resentments), he doesn’t get the underlying cause: addiction. This article supports the idea that addiction plays a huge but unappreciated role in fomenting terrorism.
Excuse of the month:
An unnamed source claimed that “Reese Witherspoon started drinking to cope with the stress of her parents’ bitter battle in divorce court last year….‘Reese feels she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and she started drinking alcohol as a release,’ added the source.” So wrote an anonymous columnist for The National Enquirer. Such explanations for one’s ability to consume large quantities of alcohol and resulting misbehaviors are incredibly misleading. If Ms. Witherspoon acts badly as a result of drinking, she has the disease of alcoholism—which allows her to drink large quantities and compels her to act badly, at least some of the time, as she did recently when her second husband, talent agent Jim Toth, was pulled over and arrested for DUI. When asked to stay in the car, she got out and began berating the arresting officer. She then told him she didn’t believe he was a real cop and, as many a famous alcoholic has done while being arrested, asked him if he knew who she was and exclaimed, “You’re about to find out!” prompting her arrest. To her credit (and offering a bit of evidence that she may not have alcoholism) she admitted later that same night she “clearly had one drink too many” and apologized to the officer, who was simply “doing his job.” As a very famous “good girl” actress and mother of three, she may simply be in the early-stage “control” phase of her alcoholism. We’ll know for sure in the fullness of time.
Retrospective find of the month:
I’ve found a number of “alkie antics” news stories involving DUIs and rider-mowers, but none involving a rider-mower without a DUI—until reading up on country icon George Jones (see “Sometimes, it takes an addict,” below). His second wife, Shirley Corley (to whom he was married from 1954 to 1968) thought she made it impossible for him to drive to the nearest town, eight miles away, to buy liquor—whenever she left, she took the keys to all their cars. In his autobiography, I Lived to Tell it All, Jones recalls being unable to find any keys, until he looked out the window. The way he describes it: "There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did." Incredibly, that wasn’t the only time he rode his mower over a long distance in his quest for booze. In her 1979 autobiography, country idol Tammy Wynette, his wife from 1968 to 1975, recalled waking at 1 AM to find her husband gone: "I got into the car and drove to the nearest bar 10 miles away. When I pulled into the parking lot there sat our rider-mower right by the entrance. He'd driven that mower right down a main highway. He looked up and saw me and said, ‘Well, fellas, here she is now. My little wife, I told you she'd come after me.’"
Idiot of the month:
Jarad S. Carr, 37, whose scanner-copier-printer broke after trying to print counterfeit $100 bills. Not only did he try to return the printer to Wal-Mart with one of the sheets of fake bills still in the scanner, but he also picked a fight with the Wal-Mart staff after they refused to give a refund (or even half a refund, which Carr pushed for), prompting them to call police. When police arrived, Carr resisted arrest and tried to run. Unsurprisingly, he was already wanted on two felony warrants for armed robbery and burglary. The police chief noted three fake $100 bills found on Carr weren’t even good fakes, although in a dark bar—no doubt where Carr spends much of his time when outside the joint—they might have passed.
Chutzpah of the month:
Father Marek Lacki, who met with “Jane Doe” and her husband at a church retreat, where he encouraged them to drink alcohol with him to celebrate their wedding anniversary and, at the same time, to discuss their marital difficulties. Lacki, who was especially interested in their sex life, learned that Ms. Doe was a victim of child sex abuse and then, through “charm and guile,” got her to divulge numerous details. Following the retreat, Lacki “insisted” that Ms. Doe, who trusted Father Lacki to act in her best interests, meet him at Our Lady of Czestochowa, a popular shrine and retreat house run by the Pauline Fathers monastic order in Doylestown, PA, to visit him for “counseling,” pray and talk in a private room, where she was then preyed upon. Doe testified that Lacki set her up by “grooming” her and then used “physical, intellectual, moral, emotional and psychological force” to sexually abuse and assault her, including digital rape and the smearing of menstrual blood on her face. Doe and her husband reported the assault to the Archdiocese, which notified the Bucks County, Pennsylvania District Attorney’s office. When asked to be interviewed by detectives, Lacki responded that the conversation took place “under seal of confession” and he declined to be interviewed. Incredibly, the DA’s office accepted this answer and did not pursue the case, which allowed Lacki to travel to Poland, where he cannot be prosecuted. Ms. Doe claims that the Archdiocese, Our Lady of Czestochowa and the Pauline Fathers concealed knowledge that Lacki had deviate sexual interests and a long history of concealing sexual abuse by its clergy, and they never forbade or limited the time that un-chaperoned women could spend with priests in private rooms. Wait, is that one “chutzpah” or five record-breaking “chutzpah’s” in one?
Samuel Little, 72, found living in a Christian shelter in Kentucky by Los Angeles cold case detectives after matching DNA from a recent arrest for possession of a crack pipe with DNA collected from slayings of three women in 1989. His 100-page rap sheet (!!!) details crimes in 24 states spread over 56 years for a wide array of criminal behavior, including various drug violations, assault, burglary, armed robbery and shoplifting. Incredibly, the former boxer has been incarcerated for a total of only ten years. LA detectives allege he is a serial murderer, killing by delivering a knock-out punch and then strangling prostitutes, drug addicts and “troubled” women (i.e., generally more drug addicts). He pleaded “not guilty” to the three murders, explaining, “I just be in the wrong place at the wrong time with people.” Yup, except prison. His trial should be interesting, but there really should be a trial of the various law enforcers, especially judges, who let him out each time without at least an ankle bracelet and a promise of re-incarceration should he ever fail random and regular drug tests.
Enablers of the month:
Georgia attorney Jackie Patterson, who asserted that Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow “was not an impaired driver,” along with attorney Antavius Weems, who claimed that “the cars parked on the side of the street may have distracted her,” in explaining why she is accused of running a stop sign and a red light, driving on the wrong side of the road and weaving. The Atlanta police officer who arrested her wrote in his report, “She seemed very distant/out of it and had a very slow reaction” to questions, and “she had glassy eyes and was squinting.” Oh, and she couldn’t figure out how to open the car door; “in fact, she was turning the car on and off in an attempt to exit the car.” We’ve all been distracted by parked cars to the point of running stop signs and red lights, driving against opposing traffic, weaving, and confusing the door handle with a car’s ignition—haven’t we?
Disenablers of the month:
Tyrone Holmwood’s father, who told police that the woman who threw a bucket of chilli flakes at his son’s face during an attempted robbery of a chicken shop in Rosebery, NSW, Australia, didn’t go far enough. “Good [for] them,” he said, but “I would have poured hot fat upon his head.” Holmwood, 24, was easily identified as the would-be robber—he had burns all over his face from the chilli.
Twyla DeVito, a bartender for the American Legion Post in Shelby, Ohio, thought that one of her “regulars” wasn’t fit to drive, so she called police when he drove off. The regular, Mike Ramey, was located and administered a breathalyzer test; he blew a .167, more than twice the per se legal limit, and was arrested. Although fired two days later, she says, “I would do it again.”
Blunt comment of the month:
Twyla DeVito’s boss, who said when he fired her, “If every patron who comes in here has to worry about the cops waiting for them when they leave, the place would be empty.” Yup, so long as you only serve alcoholics. The .167 per cent blood alcohol level at which the patron tested meant he consumed about half a liter of 80-proof liquor over a four hour period (assuming he weighs about 200 pounds). That’s an alcoholic.
Ironies of the month:
Ex-Compton, California fire battalion chief Marcel Melanson, 37, who starred in the BET reality TV program First In, which followed Compton firefighters on emergency calls, charged with arson and embezzlement. Described as “upstanding” and a “role model,” Melanson is accused of setting a fire at the Compton Fire Department headquarters as part of an elaborate scheme to steal communications equipment from the cash-strapped department. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has since recovered more than 50 of the pricey ($2,500 each) radios “from around the world,” many of which were sold on eBay.
Councilwoman Yvonne Arceneaux said “it’s hard to reconcile that man with the allegations he is now facing.” Whenever we hear of such seemingly contradictory behaviors, addiction must be suspected, since alcohol and other-drug addiction is by far the best explanation for behaviors that otherwise make no sense. Melanson was described as “charismatic,” which allows us to double the odds of alcoholism from the 10% we start with knowing nothing about the person. He was featured in the tattoo magazine Inked for the artistry covering his neck, arms and back; this allows an upping of the the odds to at least 30-50% (the more tattoos, the greater the odds of substance addiction). There were IRS and state of California liens for $109,000; based on my professional experience, for someone who was no doubt earning a good income this alone puts the odds of alcoholism at nearly 80%.
When a case is as compelling as this, there is very little likelihood that “he’s just a bad guy” explains “that man.” Ms. Arceneaux, once you understand the role of alcoholism-impelled egomania (see Drunks, Drugs & Debits), it’s not hard to reconcile at all. For more on how our hero can be an anti-hero, read the review of the movie “Flight,” below. You will see a lot of Melanson in Whip Whitaker.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton, who described former Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper’s behavior as “puzzling and baffling.” Harper pleaded guilty to diverting nearly $32,000 of city funds to personal use, including “the purchase of alcohol, restaurant meals and a 32-inch television set.” His lawyer, Robert Del Greco, explained that Harper’s original intentions were good but that he succumbed to an “irresistible temptation.” Harper was also charged with failing to file federal income tax returns for 2008 through 2011, which Del Greco explained was a result of “personal issues” and “procrastination.” Mr. Del Greco described his client as “sad and humbled and contrite.” He could have helped to educate the public by adding that Harper is “a now-recovering alcoholic,” but that might be asking too much because so many people see that as an excuse. It’s not. It is, however, the best explanation for Mr. Harper’s lack of impulse control and the resulting “puzzling and baffling” behaviors.
Sometimes, it takes an addict:
Comedian Jonathan Winters, dead at 87 of natural causes surrounded by family and friends in his Montecito, California home. His ability to create “a cavalcade of charmingly twisted characters,” as the Los Angeles Times writer Dennis McLellan put it, led to Tonight show host Jack Paar to quip Winters was “the 25 most funny people I know.” The son of a down-and-out alcoholic who had trouble keeping a job and often left his young son locked in the car while he got drunk in bars, Winters enlisted in the Marines at 17 in 1943 because, while he wanted to fight, he “mostly…wanted to get away from my parents.” Soon after WWll he met his future wife (to whom he was married until her death in 2009) who encouraged him to enter an amateur talent show; his career took off from there. Having inherited his father’s alcoholism, he was reportedly drinking up to two quarts of liquor a day before getting sober in his early 30s. I haven’t found details of what triggered in him a need to clean up, but his wife likely played a crucial role.
In 1959 and 1961, at the ages of 34 and 36, he suffered two nervous breakdowns, the latter of which kept him in the hospital for eight months. I’ve long hypothesized that not only does alcoholism mimic certain personality disorders, but it also often triggers them (see the discussion in Drunks, Drugs & Debits of Patty Duke, who was likely drinking alcoholically by age 14 and suffered her first bipolar episode at age 19). Among many comedians giving Winters credit for having inspired them was Robin Williams. Winters starred as Mearth in the early 1980s sitcom Mork & Mindy, hatching out of a giant egg as Mork (Williams) and Mindy’s (Pam Dawber) middle-aged “infant” offspring. Williams acknowledged later that “Jonathan’s the source for me, the guy that made it all possible….First he was my idol, then he was my mentor and amazing friend….He was my Comedy Buddha.”
I first saw Winters in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood when I was 10 and last saw him at an antique shop in Montecito, as always “on,” entertaining everyone around, about a decade ago. My wife and I thought he was a nutcase, but long live the nutcase—one of the greatest comic geniuses ever.
Country music icon George Jones, succumbing from respiratory failure at 81. Seeing only headlines—variously describing his “tumultuous life,” that his “songs mirrored [his] turbulent life,” and that he lived “a life of heartbreak, redemption”—and aware such descriptions are always euphemisms for “alcoholism” (or “alcohol and other-drug addiction”), I knew an obit was in order even though I barely knew his name. His is quite the classic case. While receiving two Grammies and putting 167 records on the Billboard Hot Country Song chart, with a record-making 143 in the top 40, he married four times, earned the nickname “No Show Jones” for his numerous failures to appear for scheduled performances and had, by his own account, numerous brushes with death. He credits the last, crashing his Lexus SUV into a bridge abutment near his Franklin, TN home in 1999, resulting in a collapsed lung, ruptured liver and a two-week hospital stay, with the realization he had to stay clean and sober. This time, it seems he did.
In addition to his own self-abuse, Jones financially abused others. He got into legal problems for not paying child support for his daughter to his first wife, with whom he was married for all of one year (1950-1951). His talent, financial rewards and most importantly “friends” helped keep his financial difficulties under control for much of the next few decades. Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash admitted they periodically helped Jones, who became penniless fighting lawsuits for missed performances and arrests over alcohol and other-drug charges. Despite enormous success and making millions, Jones declared bankruptcy in 1979.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that Jones was an entertainer and a country icon—whose personal tragedies and turbulence led an air of authenticity to his music—his alcoholism would never have been so public. Forget about the famous; consider the number of alcoholics engaging in similar misbehaviors throughout their lives who go undetected until it’s too late for their victims. If all we know is someone repeatedly doesn’t show up for work, doesn’t pay child support or that he’s been married four times, using clues from How to Spot Hidden Alcoholics we can ascribe 80-90% odds of alcoholism—and take measures to protect ourselves from the emotional, physical and financial abuse that goes hand-in-hand with the disease.
Slayer’s Jeff Hanneman, who Wikipedia reported was a “reformed cocaine and pill abuser,” dead from alcohol-related cirrhosis at age 49. His friends and family were reportedly unaware of the “true extent of his liver condition until the last days of his life.” We might speculate that Hanneman may have relapsed and that he, like countless alcoholics before him, was an expert at hiding use for extended periods.
And so long too, to movie critic Roger Ebert, 70, sober since August 1979, whose wonderful 2009 commentary on his sobriety and AA is worth a read.
Note to family, friends and fans of the above: the benefit of the doubt is given by assuming alcoholism (they are either idiots and fundamentally rotten, or they are alcoholic/other drug addicts—which would explain the misbehaviors). If alcoholic, there is zero chance that behaviors, in the long run, will improve without sobriety. An essential prerequisite to sobriety is the cessation of enabling, allowing pain and crises to build. Thus far, many have done everything they can to protect the addict from the requisite pain, making these news events possible. The cure for alcoholism, consequential bad behaviors and, ultimately, tragedy, is simple: stop protecting the addict from the logical consequences of misbehaviors and, where possible, proactively intervene.
Flight, and a review of Flight
Robert Zemeckis, who directed, produced and/or wrote Romancing the Stone, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump and a number of other enduring motion pictures, has given us in Flight one of the greatest portrayals of addiction ever. Denzel Washington portrays the extraordinarily skilled pilot Whip Whitaker, who has hidden decades of addictive use of alcohol and other drugs from everyone except those with whom he uses or from whom he buys. And he’s a hero.
The movie brilliantly portrays Whitaker’s heroism, drug use and the ability to function and hide such use. We often find early-to-middle stage alcoholism in bed with extraordinary behaviors, both good and bad. That the story line meshes his early-stage heroism and functionality with the late-stage symptom of a need to use during every waking moment can be forgiven, if only to show the unaware viewing public that Whitaker is clearly a full-on addict.
However, the portrayal of addiction in someone so functional and heroic was met with skepticism by some addiction unaware film reviewers. One example is film critic Chris Tookey’s review in the U.K.’s Daily Mail. In his ignorance of alcoholism he writes, “Zemeckis asks us to accept two or three things that struck me as dubious.” While actually lists five such things, Zemeckis gets it right on all counts.
The first is we’re supposed to believe “a pilot as out of control as the hero…would nevertheless be able to steer a stricken airliner to land, with minimal casualties, far better than any other pilot can in a simulator.” Actually, Mr. Zemeckis (who has portrayed alcoholism rather accurately in Death Becomes Her, Back to the Future, Real Steel, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Forrest Gump, along with a 1999 biography he directed entitled The Pursuit of Happiness: Smoking, Drinking and Drugging in the 20th Century) demonstrates deep insight into what addicts are capable of. They frequently are not only heroes, but also supremely competent. Both competency and heroism are highly efficient ways to inflate the ego, the need for which acts to drive both, since they are great ways to wield power, which in turn further inflates the ego. Consider WWII flying ace Pappy Boyington, the greatest athlete ever Jim Thorpe, baseball great Ty Cobb, golf pro Tiger Woods and countless others. Recovering addicts frequently admit having to practically learn their skills again when sober, as they learned them when drunk.
The second is, “We’re invited to accept the idea that his addictions have managed to pass unnoticed and unchallenged for years.” Tookey considers this unlikely, given that Whitaker slurs, walks unsteadily and falls over during much of the film. Sorry Mr. Tookey, but addicts frequently go undiagnosed for decades even by spouses. “Full House” child star Jodie Sweetin was married for five years to a cop who had no idea she was a meth addict for at least two of those years. Whitaker’s unsteadiness demonstrates that he is heading towards late-stage addiction; knowing that he now risked being outed as an alcoholic could quickly catapult him into the latter stages of his disease.
The third: “cocaine is a brilliant pick-me-up after wildly excessive binge-drinking,” an assertion in the film over which Tookey is wildly skeptical. Yet recovering poly-drug addicts admit they could take a particular combination of drugs with the goal of doing just the right thing for them when they needed or wanted it.
Fourth: “The film would end immediately if the pilot would only own up to his mistakes, and acknowledge that he is a risk to the public as well as himself.” This demonstrates extraordinary ignorance about the mindset of addicts, who see everything they do through self-favoring lenses. They can admit to their own failures only when long sober.
Finally, Tookey is unconvinced by the relationship between “the middle-aged alcoholic pilot and a much younger female junkie (Kelly Reilly),” because “both parties seem too self-obsessed to care about each other….” Mr. Tookey—that’s what addiction is all about; the addict is incapable of caring for another person when their love affair is with the drug. The relationship was purely for the convenience of each addict.
Tookey goes on to denigrate John Goodman’s performance as Whitaker’s dealer and the “preachy” screenplay, calling it an “over-extended infomercial for Alcoholics Anonymous.” Goodman was fantastic in the role and, far from being an infomercial for AA, Flight is a terrific portrayal of a highly functional alcoholic who ends up being a hero, even as he’s ruining relationships and, outside of the cockpit, destroying lives.
At the risk of turning this review into a “spoiler,” the movie’s magnificent ending was analogous to Evel Knievel’s thanking God he got sober even if only for the last six months of his life, because he finally got to know his son and his son got to know him. It’s a shame more movies—or critics—can’t get it right when it comes to portrayals of addiction. Flight gets it right at multiple levels—thank you Mr. Zemeckis.
She’s looking for a relationship—but is he?
My boyfriend and I have worked through most of our issues over the four years we’ve been dating. The trouble is he lives a “wild” lifestyle—partying, drinking and lots of women. Every time I bring up the topic of commitment he changes the subject. What should I do?
Wants to Get Serious
Other columnists might suggest he’s doing you a huge favor in “telling” you, by his avoidance of the subject, he doesn’t want a commitment. They would miss the other unspoken point, however: he already has a relationship with his other girlfriend—booze. Due to a damaged neocortex, you cannot reason with him, nor can you trust him, believe him or predict when his behaviors might turn into misbehaviors. Get out of this relationship before you waste any more time—and further risk your possessions, livelihood and personal safety.
(Source for story idea: “Ask Amy,” April 30, 2013.)
Here’s a bonus “Dear Doug”:
She lies, cheats and steals—and is repeatedly rescued
My niece lies, cheats and steals from her family and workplace. Every time she gets into trouble, her family rescues her. We pooled our money to prevent an eviction; when she was caught embezzling, she was terminated but we helped her to avoid arrest; when her car was about to be repossessed, we helped her catch up on car payments. She always cries and promises to do better and the cycle repeats.
We know we’re enabling, but she has a 4-year-old son, an innocent who would be dragged down with her if we stop “helping.” Yet, we don’t want the boy to follow her into a similar life of committing serial misbehaviors, or get sucked down with her. She refuses to seek counseling and won’t turn over custody of her son. How do we stop enabling her without hurting him?
At the end of our rope
Other columnists would agree with your family’s setting of limits and trying to protect your niece’s son. They’d say it’s impossible to know whether she’s “just” chronically messed up or has a mental illness or is an addict, and suggest that the family seek counseling to help you set boundaries. They might admit that your family must let her face consequences by refusing to rescue her yet again, but this would not be emphasized. It should be.
First, the odds of addiction are about ten to one over mental illness, and being this “chronically messed up” simply doesn’t happen without one or the other. So, let’s go with the odds.
Addicts in recovery tell us when they used they lied, cheated, stole and manipulated everyone around them. Other columnists might figure out she’s using the family’s concern for her son to wield power and control over the family. They would fail to connect all of the dots and bluntly tell you to assume psychotropic drug addiction. Therefore, they would fail to tell you that no good can come from allowing her to keep her son. You have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors, or what will occur when she finds she can no longer control you by using her son. At the very least he is already experiencing emotional abandonment; at most she’s abusing him in other ways and, just like the rest of the family, he forgives her when she apologizes and proclaims her love for him on bended knee.
Unfortunately, counseling addicts only enables them. For the behaviors to improve she must get sober. While sometimes a credible threat of loss of a loved one will get an addict clean and sober, this has likely gone on way too long for threats to work. She probably needs to lose her son, at least temporarily. Your family would do well to plan for this and deal with it appropriately—which means the family needs counseling. And, if you all get lucky, his mother will get sober, stay sober, and be a mother to her son.
(Source for story idea: “Ask Amy,” May 10, 2013.)
“In short, teens who [text while driving] engage in a multitude of other risky behaviors.”
So concluded Andrew Adesman, senior investigator of a study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported in June’s Pediatrics. Adesman, who is chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, along with the researchers, fail to link cause and effect: that drinking causes or exacerbates all of the other risky behaviors they studied. While not a myth per se (although some might call it a “half-truth” because it leaves out crucial information), the omission of underlying cause makes the study pointless—unless one understands addiction.
The study found that teens who text while driving are also much more likely to engage in other dangerous driving habits—“including failing to buckle up and driving after they have been drinking.” They reported that “teens who text while driving are also more likely to binge drink (five or more drinks), use tobacco, use pot, use indoor tanning devices and have unsafe sex.” The implication is either texting causes all of the other risk-taking behaviors, or such behaviors go together for no particular reason and have no identifiable underlying cause.
Incredibly, the researchers failed to connect the dots even though they also found that “teens who texted while driving were five times more likely than those who didn’t to drive when they had been drinking alcohol.”
CDC Director Thomas Frieden noted it’s not surprising that kids who take such risks in one area are more likely to take risks in others. But what causes the excessive risk-taking in the first place? Does texting increase the odds of failing to buckle up? Does speeding up the odds that one might text? Does having unsafe sex cause one to increase their use of indoor tanning devices? Neither he nor the study drew any connections. They didn’t point to alcoholism as the underlying cause of the excessive risk-taking behaviors studied.
Recovering alcoholics tell us they knew they were alcoholics—“for the first time in my life, I felt powerful”—after their first drinking episode, at an average age of 13. By the time they are driving, 90% of those who will eventually trigger alcoholism have already done so. They were drinking addictively before they could drink and drive or drive, text and fail to buckle up.
Alcoholism causes egomania, which usually increases the sense of invincibility many teens already have (or, one might suggest, to decrease the odds that the sense of invincibility fails to dissipate over time). This sense of invincibility impels addicts to take inordinate risks. The resulting behaviors include texting while driving far more frequently than do non-addicts, as well as smoking, excessive use of indoor tanning beds, having unsafe sex and even failing to buckle up.
It’s crucial to get cause and effect right because once alcoholism has begun, no amount of cajoling, reason or education will cause a change in behaviors. Only by addressing alcoholism—the underlying cause of most misbehaviors—and getting addicts clean and sober can we hope to reduce excessive risk-taking. This is true even for teens.
Story from “This is True” by Randy Cassingham, with his “tagline:”
“TRUE LOVE II: Police in Charleston, S.C., were called to sort out a domestic dispute at an apartment complex. As far as they can piece things together, Charles Baker, 33, got into a fight with his unnamed girlfriend, also 33, in the parking lot. It started when Baker pulled up and his girlfriend allegedly opened the door to his truck and punched him in the face. He responded by allegedly running her over, and then calling out ‘I love you baby!’ as he sped away. The woman was taken to the hospital for treatment of minor-sounding injuries, and Baker was arrested when he returned, charged with ‘criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature.’ Baker pointed out to officers that he did at least pull forward so the woman could pull her foot out from under his tire. (RC/WCSC Charleston) ...Quite the humanitarian gesture.”
Love and hate often go hand-in-hand, but rarely if ever do they take form in such extreme behaviors without alcohol or other-drug addiction. We can ascribe high odds that Baker has alcoholism, since domestic violence is almost always rooted in the disease. The girlfriend, having punched Baker, is also likely alcoholic. Without alcoholism, the story makes no sense. Viewing it through the lens of alcoholism, it makes perfect sense, even though the sober among us might be aghast.
(Story and tagline from “This is True,” copyright 2013 by Randy Cassingham, used with permission. If you haven't already subscribed to his newsletter—the free one at least, or the paid one I get, with more than twice the stories—I highly recommend it: www.ThisIsTrue.com.)
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