Remember Rob Ford? The infamous mayor of Toronto who was rumored to have been caught on video smoking crack? Well a few weeks ago Toronto Police confirmed the rumors when they released the long-awaited crack video. It is devastating to watch. The video presents a tragic figure reeling about in a stupor. Ford slurs his words, rants incoherently and does indeed, smoke crack.
A man at the mercy of his addiction.
Then I read this week about Anthony Weiner’s most recent scandal. For the third time, Mr. Weiner has been caught in a twitter tryst. And it was three strikes you’re out; his wife this week left him, he lost his job and child services opened an investigation. Yes, one of the lewd pictures he sent included his son in bed with him.
Another man at the mercy of his addiction.
In the end, Ford lost his Mayoralty and Weiner lost his Senate seat. No small price to pay for their misdeeds.
But what could cause otherwise profoundly successful men to take such risks? Why are they willing to lose everything? Why do they seem unable to control themselves?
These are men in the throes of addiction.
We are rightly horrified by the addict’s choices. And so is the addict horrified by themselves. They know what they do is wrong. They know the consequences and the cost; the broken families, lost jobs and discarded dreams remind them every day. The addict is someone who can’t look himself in the mirror, the cost is too great, so he indulges himself and the cycle of self-hatred and self-sabotage continues.
There are no simple answers to why Ford and Weiner inflict such pain and loss upon themselves. But I do know addiction is often only a symptom of a much deeper problem. To diagnose someone with addiction is like diagnosing someone with sadness. Yes, you’re sad, but why? What is going on inside which leads to such sadness and addiction?
What pain does the cocaine soothe? From what stressors do the sexts distract?
I don’t know Anthony Weiner or Rob Ford, I have never assessed either, but I can tell you there is something amiss on the inside. The crack, the sexting, are only coping strategies to pacify the pain of the real problem. The trouble is, the maladaptive coping strategies often become an even worse problem than the original.
Edgar Allan Poe described his own addiction this way:
“I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants
in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure
that I have periled life and reputation and reason. It has been the desperate attempt to escape
from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness
and a dread of some strange impending doom.”
I have a feeling Ford and Weiner may say the same thing.
There are also other factors to consider with addiction: research points toward neurological, environmental and genetic factors which may influence the structures of the brain. We need further research in these areas to determine causation. But what is undisputed is the agony caused by addiction both to the addict and the addict’s loved ones.
As I watched the video of Rob Ford on a crack induced high, I saw him as a broken man. A man who had something to hide. A man in pain, suffering from some unknown wound in his soul. And when I saw Anthony Weiner on the front page of national newspapers in his jockeys, I saw him as a little boy introduced to sexuality too young, a victim of abuse, a child taken advantage of. These are scary, dark regions of the soul. Sometimes it’s easier to medicate with sex or drugs than go to these dark places.
Wounds lead to destructive behavior. As I said, I’ve never met either man, I don’t know what sadness they try to cover or history they try to forget. But their terrible lack of impulse control is obvious. They are just unable to say no to the thing which they believe will heal their wounds but really only deepens them further. What they see, but don’t know how to fix, is that their moments of drug or sex fueled pleasure rob them of lasting happiness.
All this is not to say addicts are not responsible for the choices they make; they are. But it is to say these choices do not exist in a vacuum. The choices of an addict are informed by history, environment, neurology, genetics and stressors. Which is why mental health education is so important. To be aware of these contributing factors is an important step in getting help.
And these people do need help. The Rob Ford saga gave the late shows plenty of material with his Chris Farley-esque antics. And Anthony Weiner’s lack of pre-frontal cortex activity gave us all more than we ever wanted to see. But behind the curtain of front page stories exist two real, anguished men who lost everything. Ford lost it all for a pipe, Weiner for a glowing screen. Drug addiction and sex addiction, both just as addictive as the other, and equally destructive.
If you are one of these who suffer from addiction, you are not beyond hope! You may have wounds too deep to uncover alone and fears too dreadful to approach by yourself. Which is why you need a community. The first thing I tell clients who struggle with addiction to do is dig deep into meaningful, authentic, vulnerable relationship. You need someone who will go with you to the dark places of the soul. This may also mean you find a professional to go on this journey with you. A therapist who helps you implement a plan to heal in a more structured and research based way.
And for those of us who know someone in the grip of addiction, we have a responsibility to be that community, that relationship. To be vulnerable and authentic ourselves and thus be bringers of healing. We can play a role in soothing the wounds and calming the fears. Like Edgar Allan Poe, addicts such as Ford and Weiner do have a sense of doom. We can bring hope where it seems there is none.
So you see, there is more to destructive behavior than meets the eye. Rob Ford didn’t set out to destroy his reputation, lose his job and become an international laughingstock. Anthony Weiner didn’t set out to lose his wife, son and career. I don’t believe these are unfeeling men, oblivious to the consequences of their actions. I think they know them full well, better than anyone else. But unaddressed addictive behavior never ends the way we plan. Only destructive behavior resolutely, vulnerably and honestly addressed ends on our terms. Addicts must take control of their impulses by doing what I outlined above and working with a professional. If you’re an addict and you do these things, you’ll have a shot at defining how your addiction ends, instead of your addiction defining your end.