Charlie Sheen


Drawing of actor Charlie Sheen made with graph...

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The Today Show on NBC has been airing clips of an interview Jeff Rossen conducted with Charlie Sheen this week. I put a couple of them up on my Facebook and not surprisingly most of the commenters found Sheen’s behavior and appearance disturbing and uncomfortable to watch.

He reminded me of my younger brother, CB, during those times when his thought processes have jumped the track and the trains careen wide and wild in all directions.

I know he’s got a long history with drugs and alcohol but I wonder if he is truly an addict, or rather someone who is trying to even out his mental state by applying “home remedies”.

More and more I am not certain that abuse of substances is addiction as much as it is mental imbalances being addressed inappropriately.

My brother has been manic to the point of scary since I can remember. Boys in our neighborhood who were 5 and more years older and infinitely outsized him were frightened witless by CB’s rages. In his unhinged state, I witnessed him take on and stomp teens, who should have been able to hold off the peanut that my brother was until well into his mid-teens himself.

I was about the only one who could control CB, talk him off the ledge, so to speak, and I am still the only one in the family who can and will stand up to him when he goes to his “scary place”.

So, the Sheen-mania – figuratively and literally of the last few days – stirred up memories.

Sheen claimed to be clean in the interviews and even provided the results of his recent drug tests as proof, but I didn’t think he looked and sounded at all like someone who was using. A sizable number of my drop-in students at my last high school were active users, and using is not particularly hard to miss. Growing up with an alcoholic and a drugged-addled CB – in his teens – left me with rather sharp radar too.

During his last “walk about”, CB was accused of using but a drug screen in the ER was negative though my parents and DNOS weren’t entirely convinced, I was not surprised.

CB is, technically speaking, crazy. Even on good days, he sounds a lot like Sheen in his interviews.

Grandiose is the term Sheen himself uses, but it’s still borderline delusional with hints of skewed perception.

At his worst, CB rambles about being followed with hit men hiding in the bushes preparing to break into his apartment to take him out. Sheen worries about CBS trying to destroy his family and that AA is some Scientology like mind-control cult while boasting of his own superior mental acuity. One that allowed him to cure himself of addiction by “closing my eyes and making it so” and that leaves normal people in his mental wake as his speedboat brain waves and “rock star from Mars” superiority heads out to where no ordinary man has gone before or will likely be able to follow.

Mentally unbalanced people who are self-medicating with alcohol or illicit drugs are dangerous to be around. The last time CB broke with reality and tried to fix himself with a 12 pack, he work up on the front lawn with a mysterious broken hand. Fortunately, his ex-laws employ him and believe that family takes care of even its weakest and most annoying. But even when they avoid home remedies, the off-balanced are unnerving and still capable of damage.

Most people ignore the mentally ill, even when they are family. And as a society we still don’t quite believe in mental illness. We think that people have to have some control. The idea that our sense of reality and our ability to act within it can be so at odds scares the hell of us to the point where we deny it’s possible.

Sheen is wealthy. He has family who love him and appear willing to wait and swoop in when needed. I would guess his behavior is life-long, like CB’s, and they are used to these types of spells. You do get used to it even if you never are entirely comfortable with the threat.

I don’t know whether I feel sorry for him or not. In my experience with my brother, sympathy tends to muddy already cloudy waters, but my opinion is that Charlie Sheen is not so special. He is just one of the hordes of mentally ill who our society prefers not to think too much about and would rather explain away by other means.


Broken Vows

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In the course of the “uproar” about Joyce Carol Oates tome, A Widow’s Story, I pondered yet again my withdrawal from my memoir. I truly believe that most memoirs slog through a marsh of well-trod ground, offering nothing new in terms of insight. They hack up analogies, metaphors and similes like a cat does hairballs. Just so much stinking, steaming emotive glop.

Without anything new to add to the conversation, it’s just another entry in a reality-soaked entertainment genre that’s come to define our society. It’s pretend self-help because no one wants to be helped. Misery loves company, but it craves validation more.

That’s why grief blogs and on-line communities thrive. The hurting arrive looking for hope and answers and stay because being accepted and understood in the dark  Gollum-like shady places is easier than getting back out into the harsh light and starting over again.

Mostly, I have been John the Baptist in the online grief world. Yelling like a mad-man out in the desert. Chastised and dismissed or ignored entirely.

So I thought, what have I to offer? My clichés and analogies? They are no different from Oates. She wryly observed all the same odd and annoying aspects of losing a loved one that I have read hundreds of times before from better writers possessed with abundantly more self-awareness.

“But what about our story?” Rob asked. “You have our story to tell.”

Yes, but what can I add to that old plotline? Widow finds love again. Widower finds love again.

Finding love again is the basis of every rom-com ever inflicted on the movie-going public.

I think our story is as special as he does, but what makes it worth the time of someone else to read? And doesn’t our contention – that love is possible, attainable and doable after loss –  fly in the face of grief’s tenets? The work of sorrow, the long hard hoed row, and the idea that one never heals?

It knocks the stuffing out of the soul mate theory, and the notion that seconds (a charming term I learned recently from the widowed community) should simply be grateful for a spare room in someone’s chapter two because the master bedroom is a memorial shrine as “til death do us part” applies to other people’s lesser romances.

And then I was perusing a couple of the more well-known widowed folk blogs. Reading comments, one where I was kitty-clawed a bit for my insensitivity, and another that dealt with someone discussing the new person in his/her life that was so insulting to this new love that I nearly asked the blogger why he/she was dating in the first place* and it hit me.

What I have to offer is dissent.

I don’t agree. Widowhood is not a life long emotional disability. One can, and most do, move on. MOVE ON. Not “forward”, but “on”.**

We can and many, many of us do love others just as deeply and passionately and with our whole hearts – not some basement room or attic space.

Life does get better and sometimes it even gets awesome. And it’s a choice.

Oh, and our children? Not doomed to be emotional eunuchs. They will be as okay. They are far more resilient than they are painted.

And the vast majority of people whose hearts have been broken – because it’s hardly just a widow thing – don’t snivel, whine or retreat into lives of quiet desperation. At least not at a rate any more significant than the rest of the population, who believe it or not, also don’t enjoy single parenthood, loneliness or having no family or friends who understand them or have their backs when they need help. They too are under-appreciated, overworked and struggle financially, which might have more to do with their lack of interest in your problems than “not getting it”.

We are not special. Charlie Sheen is special.***

*Really, if I read one more person droning on about how their dead spouse in every and any way can’t possibly be replaced and that the new boy/girlfriend should just shut up and be grateful for scraps – I might go on a commenting frenzy.

Seconds? Shudder. It’s like a derogatory term from a bad sci-fi movie about artificial lifeforms.

**Semantics? Yep, telling semantics. And not in a good way because when one needs to parse things so finely, perhaps relationships are part of one’s past, or one is more concerned about what others think of them than in being honest.

*** Rob is fond of a saying of his late, and certainly unsympathetic, father. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re special, son,” he would tell Rob. “Because they mean you’re retarded.”