Darryl Strawberry's endless relapses provide fuel for endless articles. Here's a suggestion for how to break the cycle.

Further Reading


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 3, 2001

How About Something Different for Darryl?

Stanton Peele
Morristown, NJ


The New York Times, like most politically correct periodicals, regularly endorses biochemical and disease ideas about addiction and alcoholism. A lengthy Times Magazine cover story (April 15, 2001) on Darryl Strawberry, called "The Last Straw," is of two minds. The author, Michael Sokolove, strives to make sense of Darryl's life. But he just as often derails his efforts by deferring to disease theory experts like Ray Negron, a baseball substance abuse expert.

Darryl can't stay off drugs and whores — as a player, he repeatedly relapsed at the end of spring training, when he sought out commercial sex and cocaine to party with. According to Negron and treatment experts, this is because he has an inborn disease. Only now, because of his age, his unfortunate contraction of colon cancer, and his repeated drug and police problems, Darryl lives full time in Florida. His latest relapses have involved him leaving residential treatment centers, to which he has been sent by the court as a condition of probation.

Late in March, Strawberry fled a court-ordered treatment program to embark on a four-day cocaine binge with a woman and some others. Sokolove aptly identifies the conditions that led Darryl on his coke binge: he fled rehab one day before his weekly chemotherapy and just as the Yankees traveled North to begin the regular baseball season. Finally, Sokolove identifies "one other marker": that Darryl was about to receive a "sleepover pass" to return to his wife and three children for the first time in five months!

Sokolove's use of the term "marker" suggests that he is trying to find predictors of Darryl's relapses. And, as a skilled reporter, he does a good job. Sokolove noted that Darryl has repeatedly found it difficult to face the expectations of a new baseball season. He has found dealing with a wife and family difficult (Darryl has been charged with spousal abuse and failure to support two sets of children and their mothers). And he fears and despairs over his cancer treatment.

But, defying his own sound analysis, Sokolove quickly indicates his humility in the face of the disease theory: "What made him run?" he asks. For an answer, Sokolove defers to "expert" Negron, who declared: "He's a junkie. There's never a rational explanation." In other words, there is no rhyme or reason or ability to figure out what drives Darryl and how to prevent his self-destruction.

Darryl's relapses over the decades show that what Negron is selling, and current treatment for addiction, haven't been very helpful. This treatment inevitably relies on the principles and 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which emphasize the addicts "powerlessness" — something Darryl certainly seems to embody. This approach appeals to some alcoholics and addicts, but most have to be forced to attend. Twelve-step advocates then claim that the reason Darryl and so many others fail at treatment is because coercion doesn't work! Never daunted, of course, authorities will return Darryl to the same treatment center (or one very similar to it).

What to do? Darryl has developed deep anxieties about his abilities to cope with the demands of baseball (or life without it) and family. Three times he relapsed as an active player on the verge of the regular baseball season. One can imagine a therapist talking with Darryl about how this transition was a dangerous point for him.

Focussing on skills training and motivational techniques — therapies that have demonstrated success with addiction and alcoholism — treatment in the past could have addressed Darryl's reactions to the stress of facing fans and sports writers, and on his concerns about how he would perform. Obviously, Darryl could have benefited from training in marital and family relations and negotiations. Sokolove describes well how people like Darryl who are worshipped by fans and importuned by hangers on can have trouble dealing with ordinary people.

Now that Darryl had stopped playing baseball, his problems have been given free rein. He has to develop a new role for himself in life, possibly in baseball, which therapy could help him to design. With no current job, Darryl has no chance to rely on baseball success to counteract his anxieties. He no longer has the structure of the baseball season and Yankees management to prop him up as a father and husband.

Over a decade after he entered the first of many renowned treatment centers, Darryl is a lost soul, the victim of the absence of life skills he failed to develop in all his treatment sessions. Instead, he has become convinced that he is suffering from a lifetime, incurable disease — one that he is determined to prove he has.