Does anyone else get upset when they walk by a TV set and see Oprah celebrating another famous person as a hero for getting off drugs?
We all know the story. Celebrities discuss the horrors of drug use and how they made life hell for their family members and friends. Many of them say they hit bottom and only then realized that they only had one life to live and wanted to make something of it. Or they had a "come to Jesus" moment that changed their lives and gave them the will and the strength to beat back the drug curse and recover.
Of course, many of them just slide back -- often just fading into the darkness. But not before setting a terrible example.
The messages being sent by these "drug-recovery" stories are very dangerous, albeit subliminal. First message is about the cycle:
- Drugs are really fun and cool
- Then they become a problem
- Then everyone supports you while you get clean; and
- Then you are pure and respected for going through it all. Every time someone on Oprah or some other show tells their story, they wind up with a healthy round of applause.
So we start off with a good time, and despite a period of misery for ourselves and everyone who cares about us, we wind up heroes.
One of the problems here is that many people, especially kids, believe they are invincible, and won't get addicted in the first place: and if they do, they will be able to clean up easily. Now the media hypes those who recover, and makes recovery look like an everyday occurrence, lessening their fear of the harsh reality of addiction.
Now, I'm not saying it isn't terrific that some people manage to get off drugs, and there may be a place to talk about it. After all, we all love feel-good stories. But how about horrendous and unfixable damage drug addiction causes during the "bad" years?" How much pain is inflicted on families with drugged kids, or kids with drugged parents? And how about the crimes committed by people under the influence of drugs or attempting to secure a score?
Even a celebrity has a poor chance of recovery. But they have a significantly better chance of returning to the world (with an appearance on Oprah) than the average person if and when they kick the habit. Because they are a celebrity or have a serious talent that people are willing to pay for, they can still have a bright economic future. This gives them an advantage over the average person trying to recover. If a real person loses a real job and family because of drug use -- not one of those fairy tale jobs in Hollywood or professional sports -- they face their drug demons mostly by themselves without public attaboys.
The second message is the overblown reference to addiction as a disease, which makes it sound like the flu -- something that's unavoidable. Cancer is a disease. There is heart disease. The flu hits us unexpectedly. Peripheral neuropathy, malaria and arthritis are diseases. Other than changing our diet, we generally accept that we can't do an awful lot about our susceptibility to those diseases. Many people who get any of the above diseases eat well, exercise, and do all the right things. And those diseases don't generally destroy one's family.
But drugs are different. If you don't take them, you don't get addicted. All you have to do is not take them.
Okay, maybe it's a mental disease. Really? There are plenty of alleged reasons why people get addicted to drugs: pressure, stress, heartbreak, wanting to be part of the crowd, or for just plain fun. And I certainly think it's true that some people are more susceptible than others. Regardless, if you don't take them you don't get addicted.
It's time we stop celebrating anything or anyone having anything to do with drug use. It's time we start calling addiction what it is -- a horrible, destructive habit. While it may be a disease of sorts, calling it that is simply a cop out. And if someone recovers from addiction, his or her recovery should be enough reward for him or her personally. No public appearances are needed. Celebrating someone who recovers from breast cancer or an auto accident is the feel good story we need, not recovery from a self-inflicted and avoidable condition.
Of course, these self-centered celebrities virtually all say something like: "I wanted to tell my story so others will know that recovering from drugs is possible." Well, the story told is that you can do the whole trip, from fun to recovery to a hero. Bad message.
I loved Whitney. She was beautiful, and had the finest voice I have ever heard. It was strong, smooth and effortless. She was a marvel with a microphone in her hand. She didn't do a lot of theatrics to supplement her performances. She just sang. She was magical.
But the public should not hold her in high regard. She was a bad example for our children and, by definition, a criminal. She should be remembered as a tragic figure, not a hero.
The way I see it is this: spread the story of recovering from drug addiction or spread the story of not getting addicted in the first place -- by focusing on the bad stuff and ignoring the good. It's hard to do both. Maybe if we quit implying that drug addiction is something you can't help, and that it's normal to recover with everyone's approval, not as many people will get hooked.
I suspect that if we could have a chat with Whitney now, she would tell you that the best road to recovery is never doing drugs in the first place. Let's hope her daughter, who had to witness her mom's demise, has learned the real lesson, not the publicized one.