Thursday, February 23, 2012

Whitney, Josh and their disease

By Bob Gaydos
In a week filled with sometimes lurid, often fawning stories about the death of Whitney Houston (photo), it was once again evident how little most Americans know about addiction or, in fact, how little they seem to care to know.
The pop icon’s longtime battle with drugs was well-known, yet when she died in unusual circumstances, the two most popular theories put forth were that she had suffered from a drug overdose or that her doctors -- the new media favorite suspect since the Michael Jackson case -- had somehow killed her by messing up prescribed medications.
Both are possible, of course. But it is also quite plausible that the years of abusing her body with drugs and alcohol had taken an early toll on her, as they had with an even younger Amy Winehouse. But the only fact of which anyone is certain right now is that no one will know what killed Whitney until an autopsy is completed.
At the same time, there has been a noticeable lack of criticism aimed at Houston for her drug-filled lifestyle while her fans ease their grief by remembering her in better times, on stage, in recordings, in the movies. It’s as if Whitney the superstar, in death, was now finally beyond rebuke and, officially and irrevocably, a victim of addiction.
That’s an awfully steep price to have to pay for society to at last acknowledge your disease. Unfortunately, it’s not at all uncommon. People who struggle with addiction and who relapse -- but do not die -- are more likely to feel the sting of society’s tongue. Indeed, for those not afflicted with alcoholism or drug addiction, probably the least understood aspect of recovery is the relapse, especially when it follows a significant period of sobriety. The same questions inevitably come up. How could he drink when he knows how much he has to lose? How could she use drugs again knowing it would hurt her family?
The questions themselves define the disease of addiction. Quite simply, relapse, while not a requirement of recovery, is nonetheless a part of it for many people. Houston herself was an example. Addicts do things that defy reason and common sense, often to the harm of themselves and those close to them. That’s why recovery programs stress the need for addicts to develop a new way of thinking, a new way of living, a new image of themselves that does not include using alcohol or drugs.
It is not easy to make this change, but with time, the support of loved ones and constant attention to the new behaviors suggested as a way of living a sober life, it gets easier. It becomes the addict’s new normal way of living, in good times or bad.
Recently, another celebrity -- although not in Houston’s orbit -- apparently forgot that basic fact of recovery life. Josh Hamilton (photo), the star outfielder for the Texas Rangers and probably the best-known admitted addict in baseball, acknowledged that he had relapsed. He apparently had several drinks in a bar with “friends,” called a teammate who talked with him and dropped him at home, then went out again and had a few more drinks. Hamilton said at a press conference the next day he had had a ”weak moment” and was drinking over “personal reasons.”
Being a high-profile professional athlete, Hamilton’s history with addiction and recovery has been well chronicled. He has been dealing with it for 10 years, even being suspended from baseball for two years for alcohol and drug abuse. But he had been clean and sober for two years before his “slip” and his public honesty about his disease has been praised. At the same time, Hamilton has received a lot of criticism among sports reporters for his slip, mostly of the “how could he do that?” variety.
But the fact of the matter is that celebrities must deal with the same challenges in recovery as the businessman next door, the veteran teacher, or the local plumber while living in a pressure-packed public bubble. There is no anonymity for Whitney Houston or Charlie Sheen … or Josh Hamilton. There is no way for them to try to justify their risky behavior as acceptable just because nobody saw it. This means Hamilton, and other athletes and celebrities who live with addiction, must be even more diligent in following their sober routine -- in accepting their disease -- if they want to avoid relapse.
One of the striking facts in the stories about Hamilton’s relapse is that he no longer had an “accountability partner” assigned to him by his team. The “partner,” the equivalent of a sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous, went everywhere with Hamilton when he wasn’t playing ball or at home. But the coach who had the job recently took a job with another team and Hamilton was doing it on his own.
That may be possible for people with several years of solid clean and sober time, but it is not recommended. Besides, Hamilton’s recovery has been a series of relapses, suggesting he still hasn’t fully surrendered to the concept of addiction. That’s not unusual, but many people who have trouble staying sober and who relapse several times do eventually get sober and lead fulfilling, contented lives. For every Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse there are dozens of sober celebrities who are leading contented lives, not creating headlines..
That’s why it’s important when an addict relapses to resist the easy temptation to question and criticize him because “he has so much to lose” or “he let down so many people who care about him.” Yes, it is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, but recovery is also often about second or third chances. The Texas Rangers, with a manager who is also a recovering drug addict, appear to understand this. They assigned Hamilton a new accountability partner.
Hamilton also apologized to “fans, kids, people who have addiction who look up to me.” That’s all well and good. But he’s been dealing with addiction long enough to know that other recovering addicts aren’t putting him or any other celebrity addict on a pedestal. There are no all stars in the battle and there is no “I” in recovery. But no addict living with what is often a fatal disease should have to die for the rest of the world to finally get it.

Bob Gaydos also writes a regular column on addiction and recovery.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

CPAC, Fidel and the hapless GOP

By Bob Gaydos
Do you get the feeling that a lot of Republicans just don’t like Mitt Romney? Or Rick Santorum? That they can’t make up their minds which one is less objectionable to the rest of the country? And does it seem like Republicans have finally got the true measure of Newt Gingrich and see that he really is the opportunistic, self-seeking, mean-spirited, vindictive blowhard that he sounds like every time he has an opportunity? And that, while they can abide Ron Paul, it’s only on days with an “R” in them?
It has been pleasantly quiet lately without a Republican presidential
“debate” every other day. No one shouting, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” or “Hypocrite!” or, “Immigrant-lover!” or, worst of all, “Moderate!”
Yet the primary campaign drones on. Interestingly, the most apt description of this field of screams that I’ve seen comes from out of left field, literally: “The greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been” is the way Fidel Castro (photo) put it when asked about the GOP primary campaign.
Yeah, I know all those dyed-in-the-wool, red-white-and-blue, flag-waving, commie-hating, God-fearing, apple-pie-eating, Chevy-driving, heterosexual, over-taxed Republicans who hate the government of the country they love probably don’t give a fig about what the former Cuban dictator thinks about their party. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t right.
That’s a bit of subtlety that seems to be lost on a lot of Republicans these days. When you live in a multi-cultural society, people will have differences of opinion. They need not be based in hate or expressed in hateful language. And people who are different from you may have different opinions on how to go about things. And they may sometimes be right. It makes it really important to learn how to work things out rather than shout ideas down. Too many Republicans don’t seem to get this.
Truth of the matter and Castro aside, a lot of Americans think the candidates the Republicans have put forth to run for president are an insult to the nation and an embarrassment for the party. And Sarah Palin isn’t even part of the conversation. However, her unsuccessful campaign for the vice presidency in 2008 may well have been the catalyst for what has transpired within the GOP: The Coup.
The party of Lincoln is clearly no longer the party of the likes of Rockefeller or Eisenhower or Bush I or Ford or Dole or, for that matter, Reagan. In fact, you hear almost as little about Double R as you do about Bush II from Republicans these days. Last week, the Conservative Political Action Committee held its convention to hear from the GOP candidates to decide where to put its money, which, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, is the same as its mouth.
Santorum, fresh off victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, where a handful of ultra-conservative Republicans bothered to show up and cast votes that don’t really count, confidently told the CPAC gathering, “Conservatives and Tea Party folk -- we are not just wings of the Republican Party, we are the Republican Party." Huzzah! Huzzah!
Then they voted to support Romney.
* * *
Another bit of news that cannot go unnoticed: With the GOP candidates mostly silent, the biggest noise of the week came from another group of conservative men -- the United States’ Catholic bishops. They felt obliged to give the rest of the country a lecture on sex and conscience. The bishops objected to an Obama administration plan that would require church-related institutions such as hospitals and schools to provide women employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives, free of charge. Churches themselves were exempt. More than 25 states already have such a law in place, guaranteeing that all women, regardless of religion or where they work, have access to free birth control, if they choose to use it.
The bishops, who have been looking for any issue on which to claim the high moral ground ever since paying off hundreds of millions of dollars in claims when priests around the world were discovered to be sexually abusing young boys, seized on objecting to probably the most effective method known to reduce the number of abortions -- free birth control. They weren’t even happy when Obama switched the cost to the insurance companies. Everyone was too polite to mention that the bishops didn’t consult any women in voicing their objection or that, according to a Guttmacher poll, 98 percent of Catholic women say they use some form of contraception to practice birth control or for other health reasons.
One assumes, they do so in what they obviously regard as good conscience, never mind common sense.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Here's looking at you, Newt

By Bob Gaydos
Having restored a sense of inevitability to the demolition derby known as the Republican presidential primary campaign, Vanilla Ice, a.k.a. Mitt Romney headed west from Florida with his sights set on the big payoff in Las Vegas. That may sound un-Mormonlike, but we’re talking votes here, not dollars. Besides, Mitt’s got more than enough cash on hand to buy the nomination on his own.
Before we get to Nevada, though, there are a couple of what should have been obvious facts worth mentioning in the wake of Romney’s thrashing of Newt Gingrich (photo) in Florida:
  • Floridians are much smarter than South Carolinians.
  • Gingrich is a shameless pig.
Let’s go with the pig first. Gingrich, of course, if famous for shooting his mouth off and making outrageous comments, which he stands by in the face of immediate criticism, but has been known to deny far enough into the future. He has said, for example:
  • “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid …These schools should get rid of unionized janitors, have one master janitor, pay local students to take care of the school.”
  • “We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.” A couple of years later, he posted a Spanish-language website.
  • “Give the park police more ammo.” Responding to a reporter who asked what to do about the homeless a few days after the police shot a homeless man in front of the White House.
And so it should not have come as a shock to any Gingrich watcher to learn that, in Florida, coming off his defeat of Romney in South Carolina, Gingrich supporters unleashed a robocall campaign on primary day, aimed at the Sunshine State’s large Jewish population. Here is what the call said, verbatim:

“As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill paying for kosher food for our seniors in nursing homes. Holocaust survivors, who for the first time, were forced to eat non-kosher, because Romney thought $5 was too much to pay for our grandparents to eat kosher. Where is Mitt Romney's compassion for our seniors? Tuesday you can end Mitt Romney's hypocrisy on religious freedom, with a vote for Newt Gingrich. Paid for by Newt 2012.”

Outrageous? Absolutely. True? Absolutely not.

The truth is that, as governor in 2003, facing a budget deficit, Romney vetoed a bill that would have added $600,000 for nursing homes
to allow them to continue to cook kosher meals on site. The veto simply meant they would have to bus in kosher food that had been cooked elsewhere. No kosher food was denied and Romney did not cut the budget, he just kept it the same. And the nursing homes had proposed bringing in the kosher food themselves. In the end, the legislature overrode the veto.

So, total falsehood. Gingrich, of course, denied any knowledge of the call, however, campaigning Saturday, three days before the vote, he told a crowd, that Romney had "eliminated serving kosher food for elderly Jewish residents under Medicare."

Newt’s pandering in Florida even extended to outer space. Recognizing its large population of space industry workers (many of them out of work) he pledged that by the end of his second term in office, the United States would not only have a colony on the moon, but he would actually fight for a “Northwest Ordinance for Space,” allowing the colonists to petition for statehood when their numbers reached 13,000.

Setting aside Puerto Rico’s longstanding claim to be the 51st state and the hundreds of billions of deficit-bulging dollars Newt’s moon colony would cost, Republican voters in the county heavily populated by space industry workers gave Romney a 7-point victory. Statewide, Romney gained 46 percent of the vote in a four-man race, with Gingrich well behind at 32percent.

It wasn’t necessarily that Mitt was so much better a campaigner than he was in the three previous contests, as it was his super PAC spent about $12 million savaging Gingrich in TV and radio ad. But really, it was simply a case of Romney (or his surrogate PACs) giving Gingrich a taste of his own vile medicine. The ads returned the anger, hostility and nastiness Gingrich had heaped on Romney in South Carolina, with a dash of truth to make it all the more powerful.

Whereas the virtually all-white evangelical GOP voters of South Carolina chose to ignore Gingrich’s questionable character (serial adulterer, open-marriage fan, ethically challenged congressman), his penchant for rash statements with no regard for consequences (he will move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem), his hypocritical anti-elitist/anti-establishment statements, and his smirky “I’m-smarter-than-you-so-I can-say-anything-I-damn-well-please, so there” attitude, Florida voters -- not so homogeneous or easily fooled -- took another look at Romney.

Instead of Mr. Vanilla, the cardboard cutout, the flip-lopping, multi-millionaire champion of the 21st century, they saw something else. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in her “Right Turn” blog for The Washington Post, Gingrich’s slash-and-burn campaign and the support it received from many conservative Republicans who hate Romney (including Herman Cain and Sarah Palin) “provided … Romney with the ideal opponent, someone so undisciplined, so erratic and so amoral that what had seemed to be Romney’s flaws (e.g. hyper-preparedness, a lack of ideological fervor, a Boy Scout demeanor) emerged as great strengths (soberness, executive skill, reasonableness, good character).”

It’s all relative.

As the campaign heads to Nevada, I still don’t know what Mitt Romney really is. I do know that South Carolina should never have been let back into the union. And Republicans have let Newt Gingrich make a mockery of their party.