Barriers to recovery: suppressed pain
Fame: The personal and family impact of being prominent/famous.
“Who are you: a real person or the object of projected fantasies?”
When addicted, recovery is not so much about how outsiders perceive, define, and interact with us, but understanding the emotional intensity associated with fame and seeking ways to diminish its power over us. The struggle is really at our inner core – our sense of being.
Becoming famous or growing up in a family with a famous parent has it own energy and dynamic. For those of us living in the spotlight, our personal experiences are so very different from what the public imagines or projects onto us. And our public image comes at the price of hiding our genuine selves. Either we live in fear that with one misstep, everything could fall apart, or we convince ourselves we are invincible and can do no wrong – a sentiment common among newly-minted tech barons and celebrities.
Whether we are the famous person or a family member, fame is always there to be reckoned with – a powerful force in our lives. Equating fame with invulnerability is a trap for many struggling with addictive behaviors. Equally self-deluding is attempting to recover while also protecting that all-important public image.
What does prominence/fame mean?
- Being known for our name, our brand, our company, our relationships – whatever brings us into the public eye.
- Exceptionalism: athletic, good-looking, highly intelligent, charismatic, artistic, etc.
- Being a big fish in a small pond. “Our family company employed everybody in town, and they all knew who I was.”
- Always being “on”: Wherever we go, people might know who we are.
- Being objectified: People respond to who they think we are.
- Transforming the room: We are the person everyone wants to meet.
- A conduit to the prominent one: As the son or daughter, confidante, or entourage member, we can get you close.
- Being too important to recover.
What is the experience of being prominent/famous?
Private and public
For the self-made, the prominence that comes from success affirms our aspirations and dreams. However, it comes at the price of increasing isolation due to our lifestyle and security concerns. As adults, the overwhelming desire for privacy conflicts with dependency on servants, socializing, and maintaining a public image. We can’t simply withdraw and hope it all goes away. Fame has its own energy and will put us in the public eye whether we like it or not. And there always the nagging fear that we need to keep going or it will all fall apart. Don’t stop now!
Those of us with new wealth or prominence look to the rich and famous as models for how to live our new life, without comprehending the accompanying risks and vulnerabilities. And our family, friends, and business associates are only too happy to join in. Why not celebrate the big contract, award, or stock option with alcohol, drugs, and peak experiences?
Can’t live with it, can’t live without it
We all like to tell ourselves that fame is a pain in the ass because we are recognized by sight or by name. Many more people know us than we know them. But the name is also an ace up our sleeve when we want special favors or need to get out of a jam.
‘Can I touch you?’
People use us as an instrument to confirm their own delusions that being famous or suddenly wealthy means living a charmed life. It can be almost impossible to develop genuine relationships; few can be trusted, save childhood friends and family members.
Responding to the image
We are treated by the general public as “not normal” . . . larger than life . . . somebody special. This applies not only to the famous but to their children, staff, and advisors. Soon, we begin responding to the public by acting in kind, believing our own hype, and assuming an artificial life or personality.
As children growing up with a prominent parent, we witness the transformation when people meet our parent, as well as our parent’s transformation in relating to admirers. We also see the personal disparity between the public image and personal behavior.
The drive for success
As we work hard and are rewarded for our success, the cycle becomes self-fulfilling – and addictive. We become consumed with our work and won’t even consider taking time off to deal with our personal issues or other addictions (i.e., go to treatment).
For the big name in a small town, getting out of dodge seems like an easy solution, but our problems leave with us. Hiding out only works for a while. If we can’t actually skip town, we stay home and take a magic carpet ride or use Mommy’s little helpers to escape our notoriety.
How prominence/fame impacts addiction and recovery
The experience of being famous or prominent impacts – and complicates – our addiction and recovery alike.
Fame can be intoxicating
For the well-known, the public applause and admiration can create its own addictive cycle. “Getting out of the limousine as a child with my father made me feel special, a feeling I could only recreate with drugs.”
Restoring public image
Are we seeking treatment to get well? Or are we here to fix our image, dry out, and then return to the good life? Aided and abetted by lies or misleading information from our publicist, staff, and family, we try to perpetuate the myth that all is well. This dishonesty is the antithesis of what is needed to begin recovery.
We know best
If our success was due to our hard work, talent, and brains, we believe that because we knew what to do to be successful in life, we know what to do for recovery. We won’t take feedback, and we don’t need your advice.
Difficulty trusting others
It’s always difficult to sort out the motives of those close to us or those who want to be close to us. We’ve been burned by people who violate our trust, appear to be trustworthy but are not, or who get vicarious thrills from being our friends. But sticking with our original set from our youth has its own dangers because they won’t challenge our dysfunctional behaviors.
Being a commodity
We become a commodity – a means to make money – for those who benefit economically from us. We are sent to treatment when our productivity diminishes and are expected to sober up and return to work. Relapses will be tolerated until our liabilities are too great – then we are goners.
Ulterior motives from peers and staff
Being in the presence of money and fame distorts many people at a core, emotional level. Over and over and over again, we are exploited by people who want something from us or to be near us. Why should we try to engage in authentic relationships? How is a treatment setting any different? And how should we interpret the requests from peers for money and from treatment centers for donations?
Issues of abandonment
With parents caught up in the limelight, high society, and workaholism, it’s easy for children to be neglected and left in the hands substitute caretakers. When divorce or parental chaos strikes, the impact is exacerbated.
Lack of empathy from others
“I’d trade places with you in second.” “If you don’t want to do what we tell you, go out and use some more and come back and see us.” How many times have we heard this garbage? We have a right to our stories and a right to get well.
Loss of self
Who are we? Are we the famous person? The brand name? The son of the governor? The star? Are we superior to other people because we are prominent? Or are we simply people with significant problems that will take us down unless with do something about them?
Helps us and hurts us
It’s not easy for us to talk about something that both helps us and hurts us, often in dramatically different ways. Being famous or growing up in a prominent family can be so much fun, but it also can cost us genuine relationships and drive us to compare ourselves to other, more famous people.
In treatment, isolation from peers, as well as from our authentic selves, can keep us from lasting recovery. The challenge is finding safe spaces where we can experience true intimacy and healing from interacting with others.