Charlie Sheen, The Art of Winning, and Recovery

In response to all the media hype that surrounded Charlie Sheen's very public struggle, author Dan Griffin offers insight into what this struggle can teach us about men's ability to overcome personal problems.

Watching the recent interviews with Charlie Sheen have left me with many conflicted emotions. More than anything: But for the Grace of God there go I.

I also feel sadness, disgust, and pity. I feel as though I am part of the problem – watching the interviews and ogling over the incredibly devastating car wreck unfolding before us. He doesn’t need people taking pictures of him in the car in flames, he needs help. And few of the media exploits in the past week have been focused on that. Because our society sure loves its disasters! His struggles with drug addiction, gambling, and other unhealthy behaviors are legendary. We have been watching an addict kill himself slowly for two decades. And the media and his employers (aka CBS and Warner Bros.) have been great enablers for years.

Recovery Wallpaper by gidsporWhat has struck me the most about the events is the word Mr. Sheen has used throughout his interviews: over and over again he talks about “winning.” In his mind, Mr. Sheen is “winning” and is a “winner.” Why does he say that? Because, in his own words: he is a genius actor who has singlehandedly kept CBS and Warner Brothers solvent, has the two “goddesses” (one a “former” porn star and the other a model/marijuana advocate) living in his “Sober Valley Lodge,” the car he drives, and the money he makes. Sound familiar? Look back over the past century and you will see that this resume is not new for any man who has ever tried out for the job of Superman.

The evidence Sheen uses to make his case for why he is a “winner” with “tiger blood” and “Adonis DNA” are all the trappings that we have been told for decades will make us happy as men. We are told from very early we should fantasize about sex with two women, big fancy cars and homes, and, of course, fame and power. Mr. Sheen has all of this. I cannot say whether or not Mr. Sheen is happy; I can introduce him to hundreds of men who have tried that approach and only found it empty and unfulfilling -- and many who have almost died at the hands of that very seductive goal.

Is Sheen using? It is not clear. He passed a drug test for his interview with Radar online. Or perhaps, as many experts think, he is having an extremely manic episode. Regardless, he does seem to be exhibiting the behaviors of someone who is having some sort of mental health breakdown. What is clear is that Mr. Sheen is speaking in a way that is beyond grandiose, and I can only imagine the impact it is having on those who care about him the most, particularly his father.

If you listened closely to Sheen’s comments there is something else there that seems to be underlying his rants about the foolishness of AA and the concepts of recovery embraced by many in our field. I heard in Sheen’s comments what I have heard from many men struggling with addiction over the years: not that it didn’t work for them, but that it couldn’t work for them. Tired of being vulnerable and sharing the innermost parts of their lives and not being able to get sober, they give up. “I tried it for 22 years,” Sheen said, “trying to do what everyone else wanted me to and where did it get me?” He did not say it couldn’t work for him, but I have to ask what is really lying underneath all of the bravado?

Unless he truly is as special as he professes, Sheen is scared, confused, and feeling resigned to a life of addiction because one of recovery seems so elusive to him. He has to prove to all of us that he is such a winner because -- you guessed it -- he doesn’t feel that way at all. There is nothing more painful than having to convince yourself that the way you are killing yourself is the only way to live.

I do truly and sincerely hope that Mr. Sheen “wins” but I have a feeling if it happens that it will not look at all like he thinks it should. And that is a very good thing.

Dan Griffin

Dan Griffin, M.A., has worked in the mental health and addictions field for over a decade. He is author of A Man’s Way Through the Twelve Steps and co-author of the groundbreaking curriculum Helping Men Recover, which looks comprehensively and holistically at men’s needs and issues in recovery.

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