A Lesson in Boundaries from Charlie Sheen

March 20, 2011

A lot’s been written lately about Charlie Sheen and his bizarre, bitter ranting (check out my friend Chris Wells’ great article about it on AOL News), and the news that he’s about to embark on a 21-day live tour that will net him $7 million made me sad for him. Someone (CBS) finally stood up to him and said, “Your behavior is unacceptable,” yet others have rushed in to laud and applaud him, enabling his violent, delusional conduct.

There’s a great saying in Twelve Step circles: You hit bottom when you stop digging. Charlie Sheen has no incentive to stop digging. Every time he does something stupid, immoral, or illegal, his money and fame come to the rescue.

Lost your wife because you held a knife to her throat? No problem, get a couple of porn stars to move in with you. Lost your lucrative day job because you refused to get real help for your drug problem and then very publicly insulted your boss? So what? Sue CBS, and launch a lucrative live tour.

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The “Glamour” of Mental Illness

December 29, 2010

New research conducted by mentaline.com reveals that approximately 11% of teenagers think mental illness is “fashionable.” Three percent of them have even faked having a mental illness, believing that this would make them “unique,” more like celebrity sufferers, or “just cool.”

Of those teens who’ve faked illness, the most popular choices are:

  • Eating disorders – 22%
  • Self-harming – 17%
  • Addiction – 13%
  • Depression – 12%
  • Bipolar Disorder– 9%

As someone who’s suffered from both an eating disorder and depression, whose husband has bipolar disorder, and whose sister has overcome self-harming, I’m fascinated by this data. In a way, I can even relate to these kids.

But the funny thing about mental illness is that, while it may look cool or glamorous from the outside, when you’re trapped inside it, it’s the least glamorous thing you could ever imagine.

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The Martyr Syndrome in Marriages with Mental Illness

October 18, 2010

In the Catholic tradition, a martyr is someone who dies for his faith. In the first and second centuries, many Christians were put to death by the Romans, who had outlawed the Christian religion. England’s Henry VIII created a number of martyrs when he ordered the execution of priests, monks, and powerful men such as Sir Thomas More when they refused to renounce the Pope’s authority during the separation of the Church of England from the Catholic Church.

Today, people still martyr themselves for their faith, most notably Islamic terrorists. (It’s debatable, though, whether terrorists are really sacrificing their lives for their religion, or whether they’re simply doing it to inflict suffering on those they fear and/or hate.) However, this is not the most common type of martyr you’ll run into nowadays.

Today, you’ll find a lot of “everyday martyrs,” people who willingly—and unhappily, often vocally—sacrifice their own needs and desires for the sake of someone else.

Notice the words “unhappily, often vocally” in the sentence above. I’m not talking about a parent who gladly puts her child’s needs before her own. I’m talking about someone in a codependent relationship who suffers because of another person’s behavior, complains about it, seeks sympathy and support from others, but refuses to do anything to change the situation.

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Eulogy for my Grandma

September 24, 2010

On July 13, my grandmother passed away. My sister called me on the 10th to let me know the end was approaching, and I flew home the next day. My grandmother smiled when I came into the room–it was the last time any of us saw her smile–and she inquired about John. I told her that I was pregnant, but I don’t know if she heard me or understood what I’d said. I hope she did, but at least I know that the news of the pregnancy served to cheer my grandfather up a bit in the days following her death.

About 15 months before my grandmother died, my mother-in-law passed away. Being home for Grandma’s funeral was a very different experience than accompanying my husband to Mary Ann’s.

Mary Ann was an alcoholic. She drank herself to death.

Which is not to say that her family didn’t love her. They did, but it was a difficult kind of love. It was a love for the woman she had been, and not for the woman she’d become. You see, addiction cuts you off from acknowledging the effect of your actions on other people. If you must drink, then you must drink, and you can’t afford to see what your drinking is doing to the people you love. For many years, it was hard for Mary’s family–her three children, her spouse–to be around her, and her death, although sudden, came as (I’ll say it) a relief. Relief that they wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore. Relief that a problem had been removed.

When Grandma died, we were relieved that she was no longer in pain (her lung had collapsed, her back was broken), but we were not relieved that she was gone. Grandma lived for her family; she gave us all so much.

And that, I think, is what I took away from the contrast between the two experiences: I do not want to be a burden on my family. I don’t want to be so self-centered that I can’t see that I’m hurting the people I love.


Here is the short speech I gave at my grandmother’s funeral:

My name is Heather, and I’m the oldest of the grandchildren. One of my very first memories is of the lengths I would go to to spend time with Grandma and Grandpa. I was about two years old, and my parents put me to bed. I knew, however, that Grandma and Grandpa were sleeping on the pullout couch in the basement, so after my parents left, I crept out of bed, snuck down two flights of stairs, and asked my grandparents to read me a story. A few minutes later, my mother appeared at the top of the stairs, frantic because she was unable to find me. I, of course, was happy as a clam, laying in bed between Grandma and Grandpa. Wherever they were, that’s where I wanted to be.

A few years later, Grandma and Grandpa took me and my sister to their Sunday school class. We were a few years younger than the other kids, which is usually a recipe for being teased or ignored. Well, let me tell you, not that day! Those kids loved Grandma and Grandpa almost as much as we did, and they wanted to know everything there was to know about what my grandparents were like outside of class. My sister and I were the most popular kids there that day.

So that is what I will remember most about my grandma–her unfailing love and kindness. Growing up, Grandma was always there with a hug, a smile, and a chocolate bar for us in her purse. Even when she was calling us by the wrong names–Misty, the name of our dog, was her favorite one for me–we knew that Grandma loved us dearly, and we loved her dearly in return.