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Word to Charlie Sheen: It’s a Family Disease, Dude

Charlie Sheen, mental illnessGood Lord, what have I come to? I spent Sunday night toggling back and forth between writing this blog and TMZ’s live minute by minute web feeds from Charlie Sheen’s show at Radio City Hall in New York City.

What is WRONG with me?

Every time I think of Sheen with that smug look on his face I think of his father, Martin Sheen, and brother, Emilio Estevez. I saw one brief interview with them. Martin Sheen talked about how his son, Charlie, is sick and we must treat him like a person who is sick, as though he has cancer. Emilio said nothing.

This must sound crazy to someone who has never loved an addict or alcoholic and sought help in a 12-Step program. It is in these programs that alcoholism and addiction are presented as illnesses:

“An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human illness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But no so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all things worth while in life.”  (Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 2)

How could anyone possibly muster that kind of compassion and sympathy for Charlie Sheen? (Who told the audience at Radio City Hall that his favorite cuss words were f**k and Denise). Easier said than done. But that fact that Charlie’s father and brother are trying and telling the world they are trying, is monumental.

I cannot imagine what it must be like watching my child implode. I have a daughter and just the thought of seeing her hungover and strung out would very likely break me. I have friends whose children overdosed and died. I have friends who are watching their children implode right now. And many years ago, I was that imploding child – stumbling into the house stoned and drunk, lying and wearing that smug face I now see on Charlie.

All chronic, potentially fatal illnesses are family illnesses. I know. My father was an alcoholic and had cancer. I had far more sympathy for his cancer than his alcoholism. In fact, I had no sympathy for his alcoholism. I despised his alcoholism and I let that rage bleed into my feelings toward him. I took out my anger at his illness on him. I would never, ever do that to someone with cancer.

Which is why I admire the hell out of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. As agonizing as it must be to watch your son or brother self-destruct, I cannot fathom what it would be like to see and hear it over and over on the television, radio and the internet.

I have alcoholism and bipolar disorder II – hypomania. These are the same illnesses Charlie is believed to have. I don’t know what he has. All I know is that I want Charlie to hit bottom – hard and fast. I want it over for Charlie, for his family and for us. Now.

Photo by Alison Mikelson, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

Word to Charlie Sheen: It’s a Family Disease, Dude

Christine Stapleton

Christine Stapleton has been a journalist for 35 years. She is now an investigative reporter for The Palm Beach Post. In 2006, began writing a blog for PsychCentral called Depression on My Mind. Her latest blog, Addiction Matters, draws on her 19 years of sobriety and her coverage of the drug treatment industry in South Florida.

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APA Reference
Stapleton, C. (2011). Word to Charlie Sheen: It’s a Family Disease, Dude. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Apr 2011
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