In a meeting the other day a woman who hardly ever speaks piped up:
“Why is it OK to make fun of Lindsay Lohan’s addiction?”
The television show Glee had Gwyneth Paltrow playing a substitute Spanish teacher trying to “make it fun” for the students by including pop-culture references: “Lindsay Lohan is really crazy, right? repeat! … How many times has Lindsay Lohan been to rehab? Five times!”
Lohan is currently doing a court-ordered stint at the Betty Ford Center after having failed a drug-test on probation.
But my friend at the meeting had a larger point.
“We’re the last group of people in society that it’s OK to make fun of in public,” she said. “Everyone knows it’s wrong to call a gay person a ‘fag,’ but anyone can still call an addict a ‘junkie,’ and nobody cares.”
I thought about it. I have no particular affinity for or aversion to Lindsay Lohan as an actor or a person. I’ve never seen her in a film so I don’t know her work—all I know is that she’s a rich famous young woman living very publicly with addiction.
People no longer hop on television and make fun of, say, gays or minorities or women. Listen to old comedy stuff—Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small, for example (and Steve Martin was pretty tame for his time), or practically anything from the 1970s—and you’ll hear all kinds of references to these groups that would never fly in a routine today because of the awareness that gay-ness is not a choice but a state of being, that minorities don’t like to hear themselves denigrated in public, much less pay to do it.
But there’s still a great deal of ignorance that addiction is an illness. People continue to believe it’s a moral weakness, as evidenced by the lack of social prohibition against calling addicts “junkies” and “crackheads” and “drunks” in common conversation. A non-addict calling an addict a “junkie” is like a straight person calling a gay person a “fag” or a “dyke.” (It’s even more similar to a mentally healthy person calling a mentally ill person “crazy” or a “nut”—which people do quite often.)
The Glee bit doesn’t make sense in another way, either. Society requires Lohan to get help, and then rips her to shreds for getting it.
The deep prejudice it reveals is this: society does not believe addicts are people who need help. The belief is that “junkies” are people who need to be segregated away from the rest of society. In other words, locked up. In jails or institutions.
Which is where we wind up if we keep using.
But to stop using—when we try to stop—we need help, not ridicule or contempt.
Help was the miracle for me. I asked, and I got it. Miracle.