Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Tag: Robert Downey Jr.

Charlie Sheen, Addiction, Interviews, And Twitter

Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen on ABC’s “20-20.





So, the self-immolation of Charlie Sheen.

From the 20-20 interview:

Q: When was the last time you used?

A: I don’t know.

Bullshit. Every addict knows when he last used.

Then, in a burst of recollection, he remembers WHAT he used (though not precisely when).

Q: What are we talking about? How much?

A: I dunno, man, I was banging 7-gram rocks and finishing them, because that’s how I roll. I have one speed, I have one gear: GO.

Q: How DO you survive that?

A: Because I’m me. I’m different. I have a different brain, a different constitution, I have a different heart, I have a different—you know, I got Tiger Blood, man.

They film his workout (bad curls, crappy form, flinging barbells around, not real lifting), flash a closeup of his skinny-ass abs, creep through his house, photograph his cigars, and look for drugs but can’t find any, though they do turn up a porn star and a model. He submits to a urine drop and apparently comes out clean (more bullshit).

He says his brain fires like “something not of this terrestrial realm.” “Judgment” is a word he uses a lot. “I don’t have time for their judgment,” he says of CBS execs who shut down his show, “Two-and-a-Half Men.”

Charlie Sheen joined Twitter two days ago and already has nearly 1 million followers. Not “friends,” followers. Watchers. Oglers. People just waiting to get notice in their feeds that he’s fucked the next thing up. So they can feel better about their own lives? Entertainment?

Meanwhile to the active addict this feels like adulation. He logs in and 48 hours later, instant audience! Viral! Power! “Winning!”

Charlie SheenI tried to find an image of Charlie Sheen from ages ago in which he looks healthy, but I couldn’t dig one up. There are photos of him looking younger, certainly, but he always looks pale, and his eyes are defended. (In contrast to Robert Downey Jr.’s eyes, which always looked sad and empty when he was younger—as if he were staring into blank space, an abyss.) Even when smiling, Charlie Sheen’s face always seems to bark: Get The Fuck Back Or I’ll Rip Your Fuckin Head Off. The Today Show’s Jeff Rossen remarks in yesterday’s interview, “You’re angry!”

Q: You say you’ve cured yourself of addiction. How have you done that?

A: I closed my eyes and made it so. With the power of my mind.

Jesus wept. His advice to other addicts? Fix yourself, close your eyes, change your brain, quit believing all this ancient, plagiarized nonsense.

A friend of mine with some sober years calls this not just ordinary bullshit, but Transcendental Bullshit.

And then there’s this gem: He reads from page 417 of AA’s Big Book. The famous Page Four-Seventeen. The passage on Acceptance Is The Answer To All My Problems Today. You just KNOW what’s coming.

He stares into the camera and tells his boss (his EX-boss):

You gotta accept me.

Lots of people watching all this and saying, “What a fuckin asshole.” From one perspective, they’re right. Addiction, persistently and willfully untreated, makes us into assholes. Plus the experts are right: he probably has some kind of mental illness. In any case, he’s a sick man.

Embarrassingly sad. I feel for him. I feel for his family, especially his kids. I can’t imagine how it is these days to be Martin Sheen. I mean yes I can: I’ve lived with addicted people who refuse to quit or get help; I’ve read blogs of friends who write about how to relate to their family members who are still active or in very early recovery after terrifying histories. But none of these people are watching their kid blow himself up in public.

The masses love to watch a guy set fire to himself, or piss his pants. It can turn us into voyeurs, into nasty seventh-graders whose expertise is finger-pointing and heckling. “Yesterday and very early this morning,” TIME Magazine wrote, “Charlie Sheen continued not going away.” As though they really expected him to. Or even wanted him to.

Why are we so interested in fucked-up celebrities? Is it fair to look at celebrity stories as allegories for our collective experience? … I reckon yeah, with limits. Charlie Sheen is not interesting because he’s an asshole. He’s interesting because he’s got addiction and probably other problems and is refusing to get help. Like many others of us have, and still are. And he has so many resources, including wealth and a concerned parent—unlike many of us.

Celebrities choose to live outside, on the Common, in the public square, instead of behind closed walls like everybody else. The magnifying glass trained on them shows up strengths and weaknesses shared by all of humanity.

“What is called for here is prayer—and plenty of it,” a friend of mine said. “For ourselves as well as Charlie.” I mean I’m not sure I’ve ever known how to pray, exactly, but setting some kind of intention other than being a Gawker helps me put the magnifying glass down. Those damn things can burn.


In the news: Bill Clegg and Russell Brand

Burning up the search engines today: Bill Clegg and Russell Brand.

[Note: see updates at bottom.]

You might have heard of Russell Brand. British former radio-host, stand-up comedian, new movie called Get Him to the Greek, sober off heroin for six or seven years but struggling apparently to keep his clothes on in public and remain faithful to his fiancée despite a bit of a compulsion to fondle female flesh.

If he’s not groping the girls he likes to dress in their clothes.

Came across a piece of evidence about Brand’s character that has stayed with me. When a year or two back Brand hosted the NME music awards (the UK’s version of the MTV music awards), he had to bring Bob Geldof onstage for an award. And Brand being Brand, he made some cheeky nasty jibe about Geldof. And Geldof—Sir Bob, founder of Live 8, Live Aid, Band Aid, consultant to Bono’s ONE Campaign, recipient of the Man of Peace Prize—in other words, a Guy Who Does Things For Other People—came up onstage and said, in all seriousness, “That Russell Brand—what a cunt.” Brand did not receive Geldof’s comment graciously: he retorted, “It’s no wonder Bob Geldof knows so much about famine—he’s been dining out on ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ for thirty years.”

People often arrive on this blog after Googling, say, “how does Robert Downey stay sober?” I wonder if anyone is wondering how Russell Brand stays sober?

Brand was on the cover of Rolling Stone a couple weeks after Robert Downey Jr. appeared there. For me it was a startling juxtaposition; I was on Memorial Day holiday in the country, the chicken was on the grill, the kids were in the creek, my host had left his copy of RS on the deck, I saw the picture of Brand pulling his pants down and brushing his naked belly with his hands and I was just like, Why can’t this fool just go away. Splashed across the cover after someone like Downey, whose work is about performance, an actor’s work of character, psychological insight, and use of the body and speech to achieve a persona different from oneself—

Brand is all about Being Russell Brand. It’s the same reason Madonna has usually failed at film—as a performer, she’s so self-involved that she can’t get away from the character of Madonna. So it might not be fair to compare Brand and Downey. They’re different kinds of entertainers, they’re different people, they’re bound to go about getting sober differently and using their lives differently.

Bill Clegg's Portrait of an Addict as a Young ManI hope Brand’s sobriety lasts for him. Because I look at people like Downey and Bill Clegg, a literary agent who has a new memoir about his addiction, and I see people for whom being sober is about being motivated to do something for purposes outside themselves. Clegg had his own NYC literary agency with a client list that must have been quite enjoyable for him, but he disappeared into a crack pipe and lost everything: Washington Square apartment; $70K savings; boyfriend; agency; clients.

Losing Everything is quite often the voyeuristic drive of addiction narratives. One reason I love Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story. She doesn’t Lose Everything. Many people don’t. But Clegg did, apparently… Then he went to rehab, found the 12 steps, and now he’s back in town and fostering a flourishing roster of writers, helping turn publishing around in hard times. Stay tuned for a review …

EDIT: In the last day (5 June) a few people have landed here by Googling “Russell Brand sobriety”… cool! Interested in hearing from these people.

UPDATE 25 October 2010: Russell Brand has married Katie Perry, after holding what was called “the world’s most sober stag party” (well done) and has also published his second memoir, “My Booky Wook 2,” for which he has “stripped off,” as the British say, in order to promote the book. More of Russell Brand The Exhibitionist—the photo he posted to his Twitter account:

Russell Brand Twitter pic

Russell Brand, promoting his book (imo, too bad he waxed his chest)

Sober life : Robert Downey Jr.’s face

A reader who calls herself Jennyfromtheblock commented about Downey’s recent Rolling Stone cover shoot:

I think the lighting on him makes him look good — good bones. This is also why his mug shot is so hideous, not to mention the sadness in his eyes.

There are three mug shots that always go up when there’s news of Downey: the Orange shot, the Black shot, and the Green shot.

I paint portraits, so I look at faces closely… And this face tells a great story…

In the orange shot (taken while serving time for a drug conviction) he looks cavalier: I’ve got this, I’m cool, it’s all gonna go away. It’s a joke, and he goes right back out.

The black shot (taken November 2000 when he was busted in Palm Springs for holding cocaine and valium) shows a ghost of determined denial in his face, a little wrinkle between the eyebrows that says (I imagine, from having been somewhere like this), Fuck these assholes; just fuck every last one. He was working toward the end of his first season on Ally McBeal; the actor who brought Charlie Chaplin brilliantly to life on the big screen hated playing to TV audiences, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that his appearance on the show had dragged the show from its coffin back into the sunlight. People loved him in a show he didn’t give a shite about. He told The Guardian:

It was my lowest point in terms of addictions. At that stage, I didn’t give a fuck whether I ever acted again.

Also, he looks sick. Circles have appeared under his eyes; he’s pale, gaunt, with lines carved around his mouth. Anger and fear are eating away at his body.

The green shot was taken in April 2001, after cops found him walking barefoot in southwest L.A. Which is when the Ally McBeal producers fired his ass from the show. Which is probably what he wanted anyhow but didn’t have the clarity to go and get.

When you’re Not Sober, you don’t know what the hell you want. You know extremely well what everyone else thinks you ought to want: Lucrative TV role; good ratings; easy job after having been on the skids for a while; DON’T QUIT. Even if you hate what you’re doing.

In this shot, he seems to have given up. In 2008 he told Oprah about this time:

I finally said, ‘You know what? I don’t think I can continue doing this.’ And I reached out for help, and I ran with it…. You can reach out for help in kind of a half-assed way, and you’ll get it, and you won’t take advantage of it. It’s not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems…what’s hard is to decide to actually do it.

Sobriety changes everything about a person. One of the most interesting pieces of evidence that a person is getting better is the evidence in his body—particularly his face.

The differences are pretty easy to see. And mug shots are photographed more unforgivingly than magazine shoots, but Downey has a very fine bone structure, which has retained its handsomeness despite the abuse it has endured. Most people lose fullness in their cheeks and lips as they age, but Downey seems to have been fortunate. I agree with Jennyfromtheblock:

Redemption is a lovely thing; Robert Downey, Jr. is just a better actor, the more he just grows up.

Robert Downey, Jr.

So yeah, just to get it right up front—he’s hot:


You know what, I always thought he was hot. Even when he was starring in those stupid Brat-Pack flicks; even when he was using. Most of all I thought he was smart and artistically gifted, and I was frustrated when, instead of hearing the next casting announcement, we’d get the next mug shot …

… and I began to keep my eye out for the story about his body turning up in a Dumpster.

Instead, he’s now Iron Man AND Sherlock Holmes. Rolling Stone profiles him in the May 13 issue. Walter Kirn (who wrote the novel Up in the Air, on which the film was based) hangs out with Downey in L.A. for two days and peels the wallpaper back to reveal a bit of the brick and studs of the house that Downey has built. Or recovered.

We get Robert Downey, Jr. talking about being “in the continual process of transcending fear-based rituals,” and about how, “In the moment, when you zero out your board, anything is possible.” 

Wait, what?

Downey has put a great deal of protective infrastructure in place:

Downey reserves two slots a week—paid in advance—with a therapist he calls “the best shrink in America.” One session is devoted to regular maintenance of his relationship with his wife. The other is a “floater” to be used as needed. … The array of problem-solving machinery that Downey relies on to protect himself from his own weaknesses and screw-ups is no mere celebrity-lifestyle amenity. Not in his case, anyway. “The ramifications of a little slip are not what they used to be,” he told me. “It’s not kid stuff anymore.” The truth is that kid stuff, for Downey, was never kid stuff. It was crack cocaine and heroin, publicized courtroom proceedings, incarcerations.

Kinda scary, that, but real: the fact that, at, what, eight years clean, he’s still thinking about “the ramifications of a little slip.”

The best part is the ending, where Downey demonstrates a fact: that every addict—every honest person, really—no matter how far he’s come and how much things have turned around for him, wants to be seen as and appreciated for exactly who he is. And he needs to remind himself how bad it can get, so that “little slip” doesn’t happen.

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