Charlie Sheen is in the news – again – and his choice of words directly reflects the misguided efforts of contemporary addition treatment. These efforts do not address psychological health – but rather demand conformity to some loosely defined notion of ‘proper society’ or of ‘Christian values’ or of something called ‘spiritual health’. This addiction model focuses shame on the client – using shame as a demented behavior modification technique. The pretense of following Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Programs has been distorted by clinicians who act as if they are the conduit of every Higher Power – whatever that is.
- admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion;
- recognizing a greater power that can give strength;
- examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
- making amends for these errors;
- learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
- helping others that suffer from the same addictions or compulsions.
If one listened to Charlie Sheen’s rants without knowing any of the details one might think this was the final statement of a mass murderer before his execution. I heard one comment that ‘the only crazier interview I ever heard was from Charles Manson.’ And I agree with that assessment. Charlie Sheen is fighting to save himself from any brainwashing by misguided treatment professionals. Charlie is very sick – but is not being offered help that is useful. Charlie correctly resists being molded into someone that he is not – and he should resist treatment that is just wrong.
Charlie has been nailed to the cross in the true spirit of misguided addiction treatment. Similarly indoctrinated people form the basis of support groups – with less interest in psychological health than in maintaining the ‘group think‘ mentality. If any person in the group challenges the spiritual dialogue they are labeled as being in ‘denial’ or in the beginning states of ‘relapse’. The essence of this type of support is the denial of an individual’s right to think for themselves. The cohesiveness of the group is more important than the creativity or imagination of the individual. Individual psychological health is defined as being consistent with group.
Many addiction treatment centers confuse humility with humiliation. Shameful humiliation is a primary tool employed ostensibly to break the cycle of denial. Every client is forced into a mold consistent with an ‘addictive personality’. Extreme confrontation is the method of choice. The United States Department of Health and Human Services noted in 1999 that denial, addictive personality, and confrontation as method are all myths employed by treatment professionals. Denial is not more robust in addicts. Addicts have the same diverse personality traits as the general population. And confrontation does not work as a therapeutic method.
Character and decency, right and wrong, boundaries, spiritual life, restraint, mistakes, steps in the right direction, atonement, and bitter disappointment are all defined by particular cultures. By any definition, Charlie Sheen is out of touch with reality. But the treatment centers and AA have given him the ammunition he needs to continue his self-destructive lifestyle. His violations of ‘character and decency’ are entirely defined by societal norms. Does any violation of some ill-defined Christian culture constitute mental illness – requiring extensive therapy? 12 Step programs are not supposed to promote any particular faith over another – but the reality is not so. 12 Step programs are essentially Christian in nature – with the value system being defined by Pauline Theology. Any other faith is measured against these values. Charlie is allowed the God of his own choice – as long as the values are consistent with broad Christian principles.
Charlie Sheen has been ill-served. Like many professional people Charlie is expert at his craft – but like many professional people, Charlie has limited knowledge of psychology, addiction, theology, the humanities, and spirituality. Charlie Sheen has legitimate complaints about modern treatment – but he is denied the right to his opinion. Worse yet – AA and the treatment community continue to blame Charlie for their failure. When my father had his second heart attack the treating physician did not blame my father for having heart disease – he just treated the illness. This is not the case with Charlie Sheen – everyone is blaming him for being sick – and he is sick of the bullshit.
Future psychologists will look back on this era of addiction treatment in much the same manner that they presently look back on 19th century mental asylums. The real sadness is that progressives in the present mental health community already recognize the deplorably foolish tactics of many addiction treatment centers. The problem is that most of the people working in these centers have invested their lives in protocols which do not work – but which they must defend in order to justify their own self-interest.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have been populated over the past forty years with addicts coming out of misguided treatment programs. Consequently the addicts in 12 Step Programs often practice the belligerent confrontational style of their former counselors. The result is, as Charlie Sheen notes, a poor success rate in 12 Step Programs.
AA, and other 12 Step Programs, do not overstate denial, addictive personalities, or advocate harsh confrontation – at least not in their original form. Modern 12 Step Programs are distorted by the client who come from demented treatment programs. Charlie Sheen could be helped by an honest AA Group.