The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, February 22, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's blog at The Huffington Post website.
Glenn Beck's Alcoholism and CPAC
Glenn Beck hit two themes of interest to a psychologist in his keynote speech to a conservative audience at CPAC -- his idyllic family life, and his alcoholism. As for the first, he described his ideal upbringing in a small town in Washington where he labored away with his sisters in his father's bakery, thus learning the values of family, hard work, and self-reliance.
Then -- intentionally touching base with his acknowledged alcoholism -- Beck semi-humorously declared: "Hello, my name is the Republican Party, and I have a problem! I'm addicted to spending and big government."
In addition to his upbringing, Beck also described in rosy terms raising his own family while working and still setting aside time to read and study - once again presenting his family life as a model for America. When did he have time to drink? Was it secretly in between coming home from work, helping his kids with their homework, and studying the conservative tomes that made him the guru he has become? Or was he spending considerable time outside his home, partying or at bars?
Unmentioned in his speech was that his father divorced his mother due to her alcoholism, that he and his older sister lived with their mother -- until she committed suicide -- after which, at age 15, he and his sister returned to live with their father. Subsequently, his step-brother committed suicide.
Beck has said that his family situation led him to his problem drinking -- but he didn't mention this at CPAC. Does his life story jibe with his demand that Americans should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, recognize their limits, and take responsibility for themselves? At CPAC, Beck described dropping out of college after one semester, because he said he simply couldn't afford to attend. (Elsewhere, he has said he didn't feel he fit in.) But -- he told the appreciative crowd -- he would never have asked, or expected, anyone to provide assistance.
As for his alcoholism, why didn't Beck simply stop when his drinking became excessive and detrimental to himself and those he loved - or before that point? Beck seemed to only mention one family and set of two children he had at CPAC. But he has two families - the first of which dissolved due to his drinking and drug use, which must have created considerable suffering for a daughter with cerebral palsy.
Are human beings imperfect? Do they sometimes need help with crucial aspects of their lives? Could Beck have benefited from substance abuse treatment or family therapy earlier on, even though he declared at CPAC that health care is not a right for Americans? (Beck argues this point since physicians were among the delegates at the Constitutional Convention, yet the document does not mention health care.)
Beck might have solved his alcoholism like George W. Bush, who quit drinking when God gave him the strength, without attending AA or organized therapy. But Beck is an avowed member of AA, which he joined in 1994, the year he divorced. His speeches are peppered with references to the group and how it turned his life around.
So, let's summarize -- Glenn Beck had a near-perfect upbringing that made him a tower of internal strength, only it was marred by alcoholism and suicide and he himself became an alcoholic. Glenn Beck loves his own family, spends quality time with his children, and works hard to support them, yet he diverted time and energy from a disabled daughter in his first marriage for alcoholic drinking and drug-taking. Glenn Beck believes people need to be responsible for themselves, but he joined AA to quit drinking and attends meetings to support his sobriety. Glenn Beck asserts that Americans cannot demand health care or psychological help, but he has relied on Alcoholics Anonymous to guide him through his sobriety and to the success he has achieved.
I don't put Beck down for his alcoholism and drug abuse -- and certainly not for the turmoil of his upbringing. I have a treatment program for addiction. We don't denigrate people's past behavior -- they feel bad enough about it. We instead get them to focus on their values and aspirations, and give them tools to achieve these. We view our program as less self-excusing than AA -- because we don't regard addiction and alcoholism as diseases, but as the result of life choices that people can reverse. I guess I believe more in the values of responsibility and self-reliance than Beck, even though I'm a Democrat! (My partners are Republicans, though.)
Is Beck's self-presentation contradictory? If he began his CPAC speech describing how he came to grips with his drinking and became a better person with the help of fellow alcoholics and his sponsors in AA, would this not fit with the conservative themes - his idyllic family life and perfect self-reliance - that he announced to the audience's cheers and applause?
Perhaps Beck can generalize from his own experiences to express more sympathy for the problems, deficiencies, and needs of others. Quoting Hamlet: "What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals -- and yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?" Glenn, a little humility, if you please -- we can all of us use some help, as you well know.