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 firstname.lastname@example.org.