Lohan's approach to sobriety flies in the face of AA traditions, but here's hoping it works
“My truth is that I really do want you to win. I really do,” Oprah Winfrey tells Lindsay Lohan in a trailer for OWN's new “docu-series” about the troubled star. “If that isn't what you want, I'm okay with that. I will tell these guys to pack up and leave today.”
“No, it's not that I'm not ready to do that. I do want to,” Lohan insists.
“You need to cut the bulls—. You really do,” Winfrey replies.
It's a very strange exchange, because in it, Winfrey packages Lohan's recovery with the reality show, as if the two are inextricably linked. “These guys” are the film crew Winfrey is paying to follow Lohan around.
But the idea of a public recovery goes against the fundamental idea of Alcoholic Anonymous: It's right there in the name. The idea is that people work through their addiction to alcohol privately, with a support network of people with similar goals. They're free to be honest and open about their struggle, because, well, they don't have cameras following them around.
Lohan talks in the trailer about attending the group's meetings. Whenever I report on a celebrity going to AA, someone in the program writes to tell me not to do that. And this person always tells me that making the recovery process public, it hurts the celebrity's chances of recovery.
Worse, if the celebrity relapses, it leads people to foolishly generalize that the program must not work for anyone.
With “Celebrity Rehab,” Dr. Drew suggested that recovery need not to go hand-in-hand with anonymity. But he was widely accused of jeopardizing his patients’ recovery for the sake of making himself more famous.
“Lindsay” seems to go further than “Celebrity Rehab.” The show doesn't just document the recovery; it presents itself as part of the recovery. Lohan is putting her attempts to beat alcoholism on public display, leaving her open to another barrage of late-night jokes if she fails. It's a public shaming approach to recovery.
An aside: People who make fun of Lindsay Lohan for having a disease are despicable. If you ever have a friend or relative dealing with the disease of drug or alcohol addiction, you won't think it's funny at all.
It's up to Lohan to manage her life. No one, including Oprah, can force her to change. But other people can hurt her attempt. In a post today on Salon, Dan D'Addario says Winfrey may be doing that.
“Oprah Winfrey is just the latest media figure to capitalize on the travails of the Lohan family, and the trailer for ‘Lindsay’ would seem to make it clear that she's really going for it,” D'Addario writes. “She's finally merged the two strands of Oprahism — celebrity culture and frank, prurient interest in people at their low points — in her new relationship with Lohan, and has, as usual, framed the whole thing as a pursuit of higher truth.”
But Lohan has also merged two strands: Her pursuit of sobriety, and her pursuit of a comeback.
Lohan's career problems stem from a mix of unfortunate roles (she was widely mocked for “Liz & Dick,” a movie that was far from her only her fault) and a reputation for flakiness. How much those problems are related to alcohol only she really knows.
The flakiness was painstakingly detailed in a January 2013 New York Times Magazine piece about the filming of “The Canyons.” The trailer for “Lindsay” show suggests that Lohan's breakdowns and delays have imperiled the OWN series, too: “This is exactly what everybody said was going to happen, and I believe differently,” says Winfrey.
The show's trailer rather shamelessly teases whether Lohan is drinking again.
Her “sober coach” is asked if she's still sober.
“You know -” he says, pauses, and the trailer cuts away.
But Lohan is exploiting Winfrey, too — using the show as a comeback vehicle. And in doing so, she's also exploiting herself. She's using her battle for sobriety as a commodity, a thing to be watched for entertainment, instead of a battle she has to win before she can return to the business of entertaining.
Who knows? Maybe she's found a process that will work for her — and might work only for her. She was a child model at 3, a Disney star at 11, a Mean Girl by 18. Maybe she needs the sense that millions of people are watching her, on guard, ready to pounce if she takes a drink. Maybe she needs an audience to commit to something.
But how terrible that would be, because the people watching aren't necessarily her friends. Some of them are voyeurs, and some want someone to look down on and judge. Lohan seems to badly need people in her life who don't want anything from her: Even her parents have long seemed bent on catching some of her refracted spotlight.
Lohan may not even have the option of recovering in anonymity: She complains in the trailer that she doesn't want “them” – presumably more people with cameras — following her to an AA meeting. The other people at the meeting probably don't want that, either.
So understand this: Lindsay Lohan is not following the traditional approach. I hope that her public approach works.
But if it doesn't, here's hoping she can take the anonymous path — reality show and comeback be damned.