by Donald Joy
Clash Daily Guest Contributor
Does the otherwise sagacious and caring show-business psychiatrist Dr. Drew Pinsky have a big professional blind spot when it comes to the world of fame and money undermining his stated mission? I’m not only referring to Pinsky’s possible personal ambitions, but really to those of his patients. Let’s have a little talk.
The recent tragic suicide of country music singer Mindy McCready provoked a Twitter storm of criticism of Dr. Drew and his reality TV show, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. McCready’s death is the fifth among the show’s afflicted star-alumni. Singer Richard Marx’ tweet went so far as to liken Dr. Drew to Dr. Jack Kervorkian, the famed, renegade assisted-suicide practitioner. Marx later apologized for “going too far,” but added “It is my opinion, however, that what Dr. D does is exploitation and his track record is not good.”
Amid all the criticism and controversy, much of it accusing Dr. Drew of going for top cable TV ratings and revenues by making tawdry reality-TV fodder of famous people’s life-and-death struggles with addiction, no one that I can see has pointed out what I believe is a key dynamic at play which, as far as I can tell, most probably undermines the show’s participants rather than helping them get their lives on track.
For addicts and alcoholics trying to get and stay sober, the dubious vanity of seeking the limelight and drama at the center of everyone’s attention on so-called “reality TV” is the very antithesis of the ego-deflating principle of anonymity at the heart of the widely accepted 12-step treatment model — the same spiritual model which Dr. Drew nonetheless so articulately and convincingly advocates. So why does he play host guru and have them on a show that, according to my interpretation of the whole concept, only aggravates a key feature of their alleged problem — the outsized, attention-seeking ego? Shouldn’t he instead be urging them (for the purposes of their personal health and survival, not their professional careers mind you) to shun the cameras during the treatment process, and learn how to relate to the true, humble reality of ordinary every day sobriety, before trying to re-learn how to grab the headlines in their careers?
Of course he should. Anyone familiar(as Pinsky ostensibly is) with the spiritual fundamentals of 12-step recovery knows the overarching maxim “principles before personalities”; and knows about the stern admonitions which accompany the striving for any kind of worldly success or personal notoriety that the program entails for participants; those working the steps are reminded constantly that if they place personal recognition and prestige, power, etc. above or alongside their sobriety, they will almost surely lose all of it along with their sobriety. Newcomers and old-timers alike in “the rooms” cultivate an ever-present alertness, a state of daily vigilance, against letting their desires for vainglory or even for regular old pats-on-the-back obscure the necessary, non-public work of just showing up to anonymously (first names, mainly) attended meetings, helping to set-up the chairs, make the coffee, and talking intimately with fellow drunks and junkies in the spirit of mutual support and egalitarian forbearance.
The spiritual principle of anonymity is seen as a requisite element of the humility that keeps the ego in check, in proper perspective, so that troubles are taken with a grain of gratitude for being important lessons rather than excuses to pick up a drink or drug, and so that members develop the “pay it forward” mindset that seeks mainly to perpetuate a sense of giving credit for sobriety and good fortune to God, to a higher power, instead of feeding one’s ego with ideas of personal power and recognition. Newcomers sometimes hear others in the meetings suggest that they “do a good deed for someone in secret, and then don’t tell anyone about it” as a way to practice sowing seeds of anonymous goodwill. The karmic benefit to the member, it is understood, is paradoxically not specifically counted upon, yet a foregone conclusion of spiritual truth that manifests itself in some mysterious place and time, perhaps a cosmic insurance policy against the kinds of gnawing resentments cropping up that irritate so many to the point of relapse.
So Dr. Drew should really know better than to encourage his patients to showcase their attempts to get clean and sober on the national stage of cable TV as a primary treatment method. He really should. It should have occurred to him, I would think, that doing so just basically goes against, or at least ignores, the spiritual underpinnings of the very way of life he’s supposedly trying to help his patients adopt.
One can speculate that perhaps Pinsky fails to take into account this crucial dynamic because he himself is not a recovering addict or alcoholic, and therefore is not so critically mindful of the actual tenets and rigors of the 12-step model. That’s pretty unlikely, because Pinsky is so well-versed in the jargon and rituals and concepts of 12-step culture that he’s widely respected as one of the foremost authorities on the subject, and very convincingly so, in my opinion.
Notwithstanding the axiomatic precept in 12-step culture that only another fellow struggling alcoholic or addict is adequately equipped with the firsthand experience and sensitivity to really identify with and make the most significant approach/connection to the touchy, guarded, newly recovering prospect, 12-step programs do recommend that members seek out expert medical and psychiatric treatment and advice along with the basics of peer counseling and support.
So again, why does Dr. Drew persist in what I say he should know is liable to be a deleterious treatment strategy? Is he just made oblivious by his own ambition and greed, as some insist?
Back in the days and years when Dr. Drew was himself becoming a famous celebrity on the wildly successful “Loveline” call-in radio show, his co-host, the garrulous funnyman Adam Carolla, would half-jokingly accuse Pinsky of chasing every single dollar ever dangled in front of him like a shameless *ahem* hustler, to politely paraphrase one of Carolla’s jocular diatribes. Carolla would seize almost any opportunity to lambaste Dr. Drew for scheduling his next lucrative media appearance, speaking engagement, book signing, and so on.
Dr. Drew was into the big-time, for sure, and apparently shameless about milking his much-sought-after reputation for gentle, brilliant, informed, and succinct diagnosis and advice in the developing field of addiction medicine. His reputation, career, and following have enjoyed an unceasingly upward trajectory since then, garnering him endless acclaim and outright media/medical industry international stardom.
So here we are, in 2013, and Dr. Drew’s erstwhile famous TV-show patients have been dropping like flies. There are other arguments to counter what I have discussed here, such as some substantial time elapsed since Dr. Drew actually treated and advised those in question such as Mindy McCready — how can I make the case that his TV show had anything to do with a given individual’s failure to stay clean and sober or alive, when there are so many other factors involved? What about the overall rates of relapse, and unfortunate deaths among those assessed in the whole realm of addiction treatment, compared to the rates of successes and failures and tragedies among Dr. Drew’s patient cohort?
Most people reading this have some inkling of the harrowing level of suicides and unsatisfactory outcomes for those who fail to realize long-term and permanent sobriety in the overall category. Some readers actually have firsthand encounters with the wreckage and losses involved when the tragic vagaries of addiction-related mental illness take their toll. But my purpose here has been to point out what may not be apparent to others, the inconsistency, glaring in my eyes, with which Dr. Drew applies his methods, juxtaposed against his purported belief in the 12-step spiritual program model.
It’s an issue worth probing, for someone with more issues than National Geographic …
Maybe somebody should at least get his attention?
Following his service in the United State Air Force, Donald Joy earned a bachelor of science in business administration from SUNY while serving in the army national guard. As a special deputy U.S. marshal, Don was on the protection detail for Attorney General John Ashcroft following the attacks of 9/11. He lives in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia with his wife and son.