Beating the booze will be a tough battle for O’Regan

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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Until this week, I thought Seamus O’Regan and I had little, if anything, in common.

After all, O’Regan is in his mid 40s, I’m collecting a pension; O’Regan is gay, I’m straight (not that there’s anything wrong with being gay, as Seinfeld so famously and satirically noted); O’Regan is slender, and I’m … well, let’s just say I’m not; O’Regan was a flack for Brian Tobin, I always felt the need of a shower after being in Tobin’s company; O’Regan decided to become a politician, while I think of politics, with a few exceptions, as the consummate example of self-aggrandizement and self-absorption.  

Indeed, we both made a living in the world of television, but I was a journalist, and Seamus was just another pretty face with a good set of tonsils.

But a few days ago, O’Regan told the country he had a drinking problem. And, suddenly, I discovered a common denominator between me and the Liberal MP and former TV host.

On first blush, though, it would appear O’Regan has a totally different concept than I do about alcoholism. I’m just a drunk, an alcoholic, and was forced to stop drinking because my existence had turned into an unadulterated nightmare, and the sobering up process that began 32 years ago (but who’s counting?) will continue until I’m laid out in Caul’s in Torbay.

O’Regan, on the other hand, wishes to “adopt an alcohol-free lifestyle.” At least that was the tenor of his “tweet,” a message that read like a sanitized, euphemistic spin on a hideous disease that affects not only the addict, but everyone around him.   

Having a problem with booze and trying for a resolution is a nasty piece of business, from my experience, and not for wusses, and it would be folly for it to be downplayed, or to be viewed as akin to giving up cake and candy in the new year in an effort to lose a few pounds.

But perhaps I’m reading too much into the wording in the O’Regan message, that maybe he is very much aware of the devastation of alcoholism.

If so, I obviously wish him the best of luck.

Because he’ll need it.  

From what I’ve been able to gather over the years, the percentage of people with a booze problem who successfully address their addiction is relatively small.

In my case, it was the hardest undertaking I had ever faced; later, battling cancer and being told I was terminally ill turned out to be an even more mind-numbing and soul-searching challenge; the booze, though, maintains a close second on my list of life’s confrontations.

O’Regan will just have to find his own route to sobriety (and there are a few), one with which he is comfortable, and then he’ll to fight like a dog to remain sober.  

And it’ll take a lot more than courage, a word that was loosely tossed around last week in response to O’Regan’s declaration. Courage is a word I associate with a kid at the Janeway facing a deadly illness, or a sexual abuse victim going public with his or her history, or a search and rescue operator plucking an injured crewman from a ship in a vicious winter storm.

Deciding to stop drinking when you’ve put yourself and, perhaps more importantly, the people closest to you, through hell is something you should do, that you have to do, that is the decent thing to do, the right thing to do, and has little, if you ask me, to do with fortitude.   

Patting the newly sober person on the back, giving him a hug, telling him how courageous and wonderful he is, even putting him on some sort of pedestal (and general coddling) can be counter-productive.  

Also: I take it there was some debate as to whether O’Regan’s story should have been in the papers and on the airwaves. It’s a no-brainer, of course, given the fact that he decided himself to talk publicly about his problem, even in the limited, shallow way that social media dictates.  But if O’Regan hadn’t decided to take that approach, and had quietly entered a rehab centre, a news story would still have been perfectly legitimate. If it was private citizen Seamus O”Regan in this circumstance, it would have been no one’s business but his own (and that of his family and loved ones, naturally). But this is MP Seamus O’Regan, and his employer is the public of Newfoundland, his constituents, and they deserve to know he has a problem that might impede his ability to carry out his electoral responsibilities.          

And once he returns to his riding and to Parliament Hill after his stint in rehab, he’s fair game in terms of his success (or lack thereof) at sobriety; if a reporter gets wind that O”Regan is drinking, or a video surfaces of him having a glass of wine in an Ottawa restaurant, it should be made public.  

Will that make his road to sobriety all the more tougher? It certainly will. Staying off the booze is incredibly tough, but accomplishing that feat while under a national microscope makes it even more difficult.     

But that’s the nature of the beast of being a pubic figure.  

I happen to know other politicians who’ve decided to quit drinking, along with lawyers, doctors, cops, pilots, priests, nuns and brothers, journalists, entertainers, teachers, and members of just about every profession and working group in society;  alcoholism crosses all lines.  

Some have made it, some have not.  

Here’s hoping O’Regan winds up in the former category.  

           

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.­

Organizations: Liberal MP

Geographic location: Caul, Torbay, Newfoundland and Labrador Parliament Hill Ottawa

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Recent comments

  • Be honest
    January 12, 2016 - 08:48

    Alcohol addiction is a drug addiction, no difference. Using alcohol is using a drug, no difference.

  • Mark Noel
    January 11, 2016 - 14:37

    I had no idea Wakeham was straight!

  • david
    January 11, 2016 - 11:23

    It would have been nice, let alone simply proper, for voters to know they were voting for a person with this highly distracting issue to deal with. Seems pretty selfish and deceitful of him to keep this under wraps until mere moments after he secured himself a very generous public paycheque. Just goes to show though: getting elected is the "job" --- after that is just getting paid. Very well.

    • Political Watcher
      January 12, 2016 - 08:43

      I agree, all the best to O'Regan for seeking help but we should have been informed prior to the election. Now we have an MP earning a very large salary with benefits and not even reporting to work his first day! We again wonder why people are so cynical towards politicians.

  • Bill Westcott
    January 11, 2016 - 10:41

    I fail to see the necessity for the reference to Shamus being gay? It has absolutely nothing to do with his current plight. Another example of an acid pen. I wish Shamus well, it will be a long hard battle, I know! I think he should have remained silent and focus on his treatment and the reasons behind his heavy drinking. Only he can call himself an alcoholic so let's stop the grand standing and the pressure on him.

  • canadafirstaid
    January 11, 2016 - 08:06

    The drink, ah, the drink. Born into it, loved it - loved it - or so I thought. Quit because it also loved me - almost to death! Taking someone else's inventory is against all the respected rules of all the recovery programs, I believe. Going forward, let's work our own program - for placing the 'plug in the jug' is perfect way to start. If you have a problem with alcohol or other substance(s) - seek help. cfa p.s. For now and always, it is still "one day at a time".

  • Kathleen Wiseman
    January 10, 2016 - 19:40

    Dear Mr. Wakeham, I found your article quite interesting. You sound angry, because a Public Figure, had the courage to be Honest with the people he is representing. Announcing you have an addiction of any sort, to the Public had to have been a very low point in Mr. O'Reagan's life. First he had to recognize He had a problem with alcohol. Like anyone I have known who has fought an addiction, the self realization of an addiction can be devastating. There is a great deal of regret, shame, etc. I am sure you are well aware of all those things. What I found interesting in reading your Article, is you sounded angry! Going Public with anything personal takes a great deal of Courage. Being Honest you have a problem takes a great deal of courage. It doesn't matter how he "tweeted his message", sir. What matters is he recognizes he has an addiction to alcohol and is doing something about it! There are so many people who sincerely "like and respect" Seamus O'Reagan, and when he admitted to his battle with Alcoholism, a great deal of us in the public, see that as a very Courages, Honest, admittance on his part. The fact that he is entering rehab, gives those who are struggling themselves, someone to look up to. For those of us who see Mr. O'Reagan, as Courages and wished him well, it's because we respect him. We wish him well. We care! Good for Him and Best Wishes to Mr. O'Reagan! It won't be an easy road for him, as you well know. However, for those of us who simply care, and want him to know how we feel, is a great deal of support that Mr. O'Reagan needs at this time in his life! Everyone going through addiction, needs support!

  • Shaun
    January 10, 2016 - 14:47

    Alcoholism is the symptom not the issue. I commend you Bob for overcoming your own struggle with addictions but it's pretty well documented that alcoholism is a symptom of a problem that needs resolution. To assume everyone affected by addictions are affected by the same problems as you where are silly. In regards to Seamus and being courageous, I think being a celebrity and struggling with alcoholism and coming forward the way he's done in the public takes a great deal of fortitude. Someone who's a survivor of sexual trauma as you used as an example who comes forward about their abuse are courageous but it's also a requirement to their healing. However in overcoming alcoholism going public with your story isn't required to heal, he could have done this himself without coming forward. Did you come forward publicly the moment you decided to become sober? It's easy to stand on your judgmental soap box and use your struggle to judge others but I think you've missed the boat on this one Bob. Seamus didn't need to go public with his personal struggles and the fact that he did, that's courageous.

  • Maggy Carter
    January 10, 2016 - 14:17

    I don't always agree with Wakeham but all the things I like about him are evidenced in this column. He's honest and he has guts. He's not afraid to put it out there and to put himself out there. He's self-deprecating - in other words he's no hypocrite. And he has a thicker hide than most in his profession, which is probably a good thing given his comments often elicit outrage from some quarter. The push back on this O'Regan thing is pretty tame. And that, I think, is because he has essentially nailed it. We all sympathize with Seamus. While he hasn't overwhelmed us yet with his intellectual prowess or his hard hitting oratory, he is by all appearances a nice guy, honest and well intentioned. We all hope he can get this monkey off his back. Alcohol abuse is endemic to Newfoundland. It's been the curse of the Island for so long it wouldn't surprise me if geneticists at MUN discover it imbedded in our DNA. And while I understand why Seamus might want to finesse his issues with alcohol, I prefer the 'devil had me by the throat' bluntness from Wakeham. Because we can't afford to soft-sell for impressionable youth just what a bloody curse this thing can be - to the individual, the family, friends and the entire community. Does anyone doubt the degree to which it can be found at the root of evil in society? It is ubiquitous. Rather than just pocket the proceeds from its sale, government must find ways to loosen its grip on our otherwise outstanding culture. I hope Seamus lick's it before it damages his health or his career. And when he does, let's hope he can bring his political clout and celebrity to the adoption of a more healthy, balanced, substance abuse free lifestyle by Canada's youth.

  • james
    January 10, 2016 - 10:32

    He seem to have a problem with the word rehab it aint no wellness center bub grow up

  • Shaun
    January 09, 2016 - 21:01

    Alcoholism is the symptom not the issue. I commend you Bob for overcoming your own struggle with addictions but it's pretty well documented that alcoholism is a symptom of a problem that needs resolution. To assume everyone affected by addictions are affected by the same problems as you where are silly. In regards to Seamus and being courageous, I think being a celebrity and struggling with alcoholism and coming forward the way he's done in the public takes a great deal of fortitude. Someone who's a survivor of sexual trauma as you used as an example who comes forward about their abuse are courageous but it's also a requirement to their healing. However in overcoming alcoholism going public with your story isn't required to heal, he could have done this himself without coming forward. Did you come forward publicly the moment you decided to become sober? It's easy to stand on your judgmental soap box and use your struggle to judge others but I think you've missed the boat on this one Bob. Seamus didn't need to go public with his personal struggles and the fact that he did, that's courageous.

  • godoggygo
    January 09, 2016 - 17:18

    What a surprise. I always thought of Wakeham himself as an example of self aggrandisement and self absorption.

  • Anon
    January 09, 2016 - 15:44

    The media did more than criticize Ford, they denigrated and demeaned and belittled him, (Peter Jackson called him 'Crack Pipe Rob"), now because of alcohol addiction, but because of drug addiction. That's the point.

  • Deb
    January 09, 2016 - 11:40

    Great column Bob. Yes this problem knows no socio economic boundaries. Great on Seamus, although the thought of being under watch 24/7 is scary. My own thought on him is that is is/was not a raging alcoholic. I don't think he could have pulled off the early morning show for as long as he did. I think he's nipping something in the bud before it becomes a terrible problem. Good Luck

  • Erin Bonisteel
    January 09, 2016 - 11:02

    While this article speaks truthfully to the devastating addiction that is alcoholism, I felt uncomfortable reading this seemingly bitter portrayal of Seamus O'Regan. Maybe it's just me, and my misinterpretation of the language used "in the limited, shallow way that social media dictates." Mr. Wakeham starts off his opinion article contrasting characteristics between himself and Mr. O'Regan, opening with a comment on the politicians sexual preference. While this comment was not intended as derogatory, it, along with the approval of Brian Tobin was largely irrelevant. Let us not also omit Mr. O'Regans credentials- in addition to being "just another pretty face with a good set of tonsils", he also happens to have a Masters degree in philosophy from Cambridge University. Mr. Wakeham does not fail to clearly establish himself as an individual also battling alcoholism, for 32 years- undoubtedly a long, hard, and never-ending battle. I do hope that he sees himself as courageous, despite seeing it as a "word that was loosely tossed around" in response to Mr. O'Regans public statement. What's so different from a child facing a deadly illness, or a sexual assault victim going public, relative to a life-long addiction? Like the child, the illness is something an individual battling an addiction has to fight every day, often for the duration of their lifetime. Like the sexual abuse victim, addiction is also (unfortunately) disputed with regards to its legitimacy, and the way it's portrayed in society. Going public with such personal information in a position of vulnerability, (particularly in O'Regans case, under the constant watch of the public eye), is not something that should be belittled. While I don't deny the importance of holding our political representatives accountable for their ability to carry out their jobs, encouraging video surfacing "of him having a glass of wine" is not conducive to his treatment, and quite frankly, doesn't help anyone. I would argue that his statement, whether or not it would have come up in media regardless, is courageous. I, along with many other Newfoundlanders, we're warmed at the overwhelming positive response and support for Mr. O'Regans humble addressing of us, "the public". We're all human- no matter what profession we fulfill in this society. If we continue to question and criticize anything to do with terminal illness, addiction, or mental health (all very real, and detrimental illnesses) and our healing processes, we risk fueling the fire that is the stigmatization of mental illness and addictions. I commend Mr. Wakeham on his fight, and second his wish that Mr. O’Regan, too, will persevere.

    • T G Hogan
      January 10, 2016 - 18:42

      Erin, I feel much the same as you do, but I don't think I could have expressed it so eloquently. I hope people support this man and give him a chance.

    • TJ
      January 11, 2016 - 13:55

      My god what a windbag, your comment is longer than Bob's opinion piece.

    • Ray Winsor
      January 11, 2016 - 14:50

      Twitter account wouldn't be much good to da missus!

  • Anon
    January 09, 2016 - 10:19

    Bob, when you worked for the CBC, were you not also on public money, same now as O'Regan, while, at the same time, trying to address the drinking issues? However, good for you and O'Regan for your efforts toward controlling alcoholism. Also, do we have, in our society today, a serious issue with alcohol abuse that has been swept under the carpet, so to speak? Certainly the ads from our own taxpayer funded government owned NLC does everything to promote alcohol use, as well as the media and our social structure in romancing the idea of using alcohol. Many are in denial refusing to admit that alcohol is a drug like any other drug, and should be treated as such. The media wasn't too kind toward Rob Ford because of his drug addiction , belittling him in public forums, but, if it were alcohol, would he be treated the same?

    • Kev
      January 09, 2016 - 13:17

      The media criticized Ford for his behaviour, lies, and abuse of the Pi Lux trust and resources - not for his alcoholism.

    • Bert
      January 09, 2016 - 14:17

      Their is a big difference working for the C.B.C. than being an elected representative. With the C.B.C. if the manager so wished any employee could be terminated immediately, whereas a politician is there until the next election if "HE" wishes.

    • Dolf
      January 10, 2016 - 09:28

      Bert, 'any employee could terminated immediately'....union affiliation would dictate otherwise I think.

  • Ev
    January 09, 2016 - 10:08

    Now toss drugs into the mix, we have another addictive scourge in our society. Satan must be rubbing his hands with glee.

  • Peter QUINLAN
    January 09, 2016 - 06:32

    Excellent column. And Best of Luck To Seamus.