Today (NBC program)


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.