Charlie Sheen and the Lesson of Addiction

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, leading up to Easter Sunday on April 24th this year. During this time, Catholics used to give up something they enjoyed, say chocolate, or maybe nowadays it would be Facebook. During my Catholic childhood, I abstained at various times from dancing and skating, two of my favorite activities as a kid.

It’s not easy giving up an habitual behavior, whether it’s viewing a favorite TV show, gliding over the ice, or trying to break an addiction. I’ve been watching what’s happening with Charlie Sheen, and remembering my own addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, pills, extreme dieting, and promiscuous sex. In other words, I was addicted to escaping from myself, much like Charlie is these days. I don’t know what his ultimate train wreck moment will be, but mine came in my mid-twenties when I was diagnosed with cancer.

My very first step to recovering my health was to join AA, and I immediately gave up alcohol and Valium. I’ve heard Charlie’s rants against 12-step programs, and his deluded idea that he can conquer his addictions through will power alone. Trust me, he can’t. The genius of 12-step programs is that they show you how to admit that you are powerless over that substance or activity, and your best chance of remaining clean is to stay completely away from whatever it is you are addicted to (which is why food addiction is so hard to conquer; you have to keep eating).

Trying to come off a drug like cocaine (and there’s a strong chance that’s Charlie’s drug of choice) really requires two types of support: medical supervision to deal with the symptoms of physical withdrawal when you stop taking the drug, and the emotional and spiritual support of like-minded peers, like those you find in a 12-step program. I see Charlie trying to conquer his addiction with will power alone and going totally insane in the process. And he may have permanently injured his brain with too many years of cocaine, which induces a manic-like state. In the language of AA, he’s trying to “white knuckle” his addiction. And he’s looking crazier and crazier.

In the years I spent healing the cancer, I learned perhaps the most important lesson of addiction—we can’t get away from ourselves, no matter how much we drink, snort, smoke, shoot up, or eat. I could wake up in strange beds with no recollection of how I got there, but there I was again, facing another day of trying to escape from myself. It was only when I turned inside that I started to heal.

I was like a private detective, examining all the clues I had tried to ignore for so long. At first, it was simply noting my emotions throughout the day. Literally noting them in a little notebook I carried everywhere. Was I feeling jealous of a particularly thin friend? I’d write “jealous.” Sad, scared, angry, really angry, downright furious . . . whatever it was, I wrote it down. Just acknowledging that I had feelings was a big deal. Then I started writing in a journal. It all started to pour out of me— the difficult experiences of my childhood, my feelings of inadequacy, the pain of relationships, along with whatever I was going through that day.

At the same time as I turned my attention inward instead of trying to escape outwardly, I enlisted the help of alternative medicine and holistic practitioners to support my efforts—acupuncture, massage, and natural health remedies. I cleaned up my food. It wasn’t fast, and it wasn’t easy, but it saved my life in every possible way. Ultimately, in the hands of an energy healer, the cancer went into remission. Over the years, I went from being a manic corporate attorney to being a health & wellness expert, healer, teacher, and the author of books that are meant to help you find the truth of your life so you too can fulfill your highest purpose.

Do you want to give up your self-destructive habits, whether it’s  alcohol or cigarettes or being a couch potato or a food junkie? Start by shining a light on your emotions. If you need help naming what you’re feeling, go to or simply google “list of emotions.”

And take a moment to send some positive energy in Charlie’s direction. He needs all the help he can get.

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