Several years back my family was watching Celebrity Rehab and I actually sat down for ten minutes to see what it was all about. Jeff Conaway (of whom I was a fan from his “Taxi” days) was on at that time along with other celebrities who I knew much less about. However, after only watching a few minutes of these famous people getting in each other’s faces in front of god knows how many millions of viewers I remarked to my wife very simply that any clean and sober AA member would have laughed at the absurdity of this show. Today I stand by that remark.
Alcoholics Anonymous defines alcoholism as an “illness.” AA categorically denies that alcoholism is a character defect. Now just because AA makes these statements does that mean they are irrefutable. Maybe not, but AA’s record in steering uncounted of millions of people onto a road of clean and sober is far more impressive than the record of Celebrity Rehab, which has maybe ushered hundreds of high profile clients through its doors. Hundreds, not millions.
AA prides itself on keeping members’ identities anonymous, thus its name. Is the system foolproof? Hell no. However whatever flaws may exist in its noble purpose of protecting its members anonymity, it is a far better guardian of peoples’ privacy than a television show that flaunts the identities of its suffering celebrities as if being addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or love (as Mindy McCready checked in for) is cause for celebration.
How one may ask do I know about AA? I have never been a member myself but I know of people who have. Notice I am not mentioning any names. The reader wouldn’t know them anyway. They are not famous. My whole point is though that some personal problems that people are suffering are just best kept out of the limelight, whether the sufferer is famous or not. Also, as a one time member of Nicotine Anonymous another 12 step program I am quite familiar with the 12 step premise and respect greatly the idea of privacy.
Celebrity Rehab is part of the tidal wave of reality television shows that have taken the entertainment world by storm and completely changed the viewing habits of millions of people worldwide. I don’t hate all reality shows. I always found myself fond of “Undercover Boss”, “The Amazing Race” “Supernanny” and the lesser known but entertaining “Pawn Stars.”
However, Celebrity Rehab is snake oil at best, and maybe a lethal injection on the flip side. The danger I believe lies in what was mentioned above. The AA program attacks alcohol addiction as an illness. One of the basic and most important tenets of AA teaching is that the addict who is sincere about recovering must turn to their “higher power”, be that God, a “Supreme Being”, or an elevated consciousness. Human intervention alone (As good intentioned as it may be) cannot cure an addict hell bent on self destruction. It takes a radical shift in attitude on the addict’s part that AA believes is largely tied to the individual’s spirituality.
When a person signs on for Celebrity Rehab he or she is setting themselves up for possible relapse. They are inviting a complete public dissection of their private lives. They are openly admitting to a huge audience of people that they are an addict. Not everyone who watches the show is going to be non-judgemental or perceive the celebrity as a victim of his own illness. Therein is the problem. In this day of social media, mean spirited people will often take to Twitter or other online forums and skewer the celebrity. If that celebrity isn’t thick skinned it will have a disastrous effect. Although it wasn’t connected to Celebrity Rehab perhaps no other example serves to reveal the pitfalls of going public with an addiction as the case of Dana Plato. In May, 1999, one day after she was barraged with insulting callers to the Howard Stern Show on which she appeared touting her new sobriety the actress was dead, of an apparent overdose.
It should also be noted that one of the first and most important steps that AA teaches its members is that in order to achieve sobriety you must first admit to being powerless over your addiction. Extremely wealthy and popular celebrities are not generally inclined to admit they are powerless. Yet that’s the admission that is at the core of being cured. AA teaches its members to check their egos at the door. By paying celebrity addicts big money to appear on the show Celebrity Rehab is still fueling the addict’s ego, rather than questioning it.
AA and other 12 step programs such as narcotics anonymous and nicotine anonymous offer their members a fellowship. I believe Celebrity Rehab offers their participants a sinking ship.