Charlie Sheen

By William Moyers

December 5, 2011 4 min read





Thanks, Charlie

On his way to the bottom, Charlie Sheen sure has done a lot to raise awareness about addiction and how to recover from it. Or not.

Ad nauseam, we all know of Sheen's struggles. It got so bad that in a public parking garage in downtown Portland, Ore., I overheard three homeless guys arguing about how much longer he'll survive as they shared a quart of malt liquor. No kidding.

Sheen's interview on ESPN Radio only stoked the national conversation. He called sobriety "boring." He said that in his experience, some crack users can "manage it socially" and that he's now done with treatment, less than two weeks after announcing with great fanfare that he was taking leave from his hit television comedy to get help -- at home. Such are the rants, raves and wisdom of a man who clearly is spiraling downward.

His misfortune is our gain. By "our" I mean people whose lives have been ravaged by alcoholism or drug dependence, as well as the professionals who work to help them. Because in Sheen's sad story, there is a lot to learn for others who need help.

I don't mean that Sheen is a role model of "how it works." To the contrary, his way is not the way out of the maze of what confounds him and eventually will kill him if he doesn't stop and get out soon. But his public implosion, like his enormous popularity and disarming (if not alarming) "one-of-the-guys" persona, holds us rapt in a way his female Hollywood counterpart, Lindsay Lohan, can't because we're worn-out by her tired antics. Unlike Lohan, Sheen isn't in denial, even though he's very sick.

"It's never been about 'Everyone else is drinking. I should, too.' It's about wanting to make things better, whether it's real or imagined," Sheen said.

Bingo, score one for Sheen. He's right. Addicts and alcoholics pursue oblivion usually because they yearn for life to improve. And for a while, it may. It's only the loss of control -- a classic marker of addiction -- that hijacks the goal, and then life always gets worse.

That's what's happened to Sheen. He's made headline news with 911 calls, trips to the hospital, broken relationships, run-ins with the police and trashed hotel rooms. Not even a million dollars an episode as the star of a television show has kept him clean.

And that's the point. He not only appears unable to pull himself out of the dive but also even is complaining that not drinking or taking drugs is "boring." So he's damned if he does and (in his tricky mind) damned if he doesn't.

He also doesn't think much of sobriety or programs designed to help people like him get clean and stay that way.

"I don't say 'sober.' I'm not in AA; I don't believe in it. ... It's inauthentic. It's not who I am."

There are a lot of ways to recover; 12-step programs are just one, and they aren't for everyone. But Sheen is hardly in a position to criticize one pathway to recovery without showing us one that works for him, because I doubt that who he is at this very moment is who he really wants to be tomorrow.

Perhaps he should trade places with the three homeless men in the parking garage in Portland. I'm sure they'd relish the boredom of a sober life.

William Moyers is the vice president of foundation relations for the Hazelden Foundation and the author of "Broken," his best-selling memoirs, and "A New Day, A New Life." Please send your questions to William Moyers at [email protected] To find out more about William Moyers and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

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