Faith Works 11-12-16
In Defense of Weiner
Yes, the election is over. No, I'm not writing this out of some covert interest in supporting Trump or undermining Clinton. Sure, you never wanted to hear about him again. But bear with me.
As someone whose work as a pastor and as a court staffer puts me in proximity to people with problems, I find in Anthony Weiner a very interesting and salutary . . . and very tragic tale.
Lots of people have personal problems. This is true, correct? Thank you -- of course we do. Habits we'd like to break, practices we know aren't good for us, addictions we can't manage, secrets we keep stumbling over for fear someone else will trip on them. It can be a weakness for eating ice cream, or a turn of phrase we know we should stop using. Our weight and health could be better than they are, but we do the opposite of what we should; emotionally, we let ourselves be whipsawed by people or situations we could and should learn to rise above . . . but don't.
Add in a public position, of even a modest sort, and you see a strange intensification of this persistence in problematic behavior. I've had to watch, over the years, teachers and counselors, social service workers and clergy, professionals and supervisors all keep on making moves that put them and their circumstances on the line, when they are surrounded by people trying to draw those lines more clearly for them, with supportive presences nearby ready to reach out and pull them back. This includes any sort of self-destructive behavior up to and including suicidal actions.
Why didn't Anthony Weiner get help? He could afford it, he had access to it, he got second and third chances while living in some of the least forgiving lifestyles there are (politics & media). I know nothing more than any one reading this does, but I can't imagine that among his wife's friends and co-workers, let alone his own, there weren't suggestions, recommendations, commands -- and again, the ability to take the time, pay for the treatment program, get on the list and maybe even nudged to the front of the line. But no.
So I wanted to write this to just encourage us all, Dems and GOPs, the amused or the appalled, anyone who has seen even just a part of this circus pass by our perch, to consider what Anthony Weiner's example is telling us.
First, that an addictive behavior of any sort is hard, hard, hard to break. Surely whatever satisfaction he gained from his online stupidity was counterbalanced by the known threat to his life, his marriage, his role as a parent, let alone to his wife's career and goals. Yet he continued. That's not an excuse, it's just a reminder: these sorts of compulsions are terribly strong. Like cigarettes, some stop cold turkey at the first date who says "your breath smells awful," and some smoke until they die of illnesses directly related to that practice. There are always stories of those who can stop cold, but there are so many more tales, some I know all too well, of people who tell me through tears "I wish I'd never started" as they are dying . . . and hoping to wheel out for one more smoke.
Second, that getting help requires an all-in from the immediate family and friends involved. Again, I know nothing about Weiner's situation, but I do know that a little denial, a bit of enabling, can be so destructive when any addict is ready to seize on the first out they can find from a hard path towards freedom. Yes, the person with the problem has to want to get better, but it's also true that everyone around them needs to support that move, and it's amazing how often folks will speak and act towards the status quo rather than the harder work of recovery. That's not blame, but it is a part of the accountability that the supportive community around a person has to provide.
And third, I'd say, in general, if there's not a spiritual component, such a move from addiction/habituation to freedom & recovery is significantly harder. The personal motivations need to be rooted beyond the self, and the vision of a future has to be for something more than the purely selfish. AA talks about a "higher power," and it's a powerful part of their process. If you are trying to overcome a challenge like this entirely on your own, you are setting yourself up for failure the first time the path gets too hard. Sometimes, as the old story goes, someone has to carry you.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's a big fan of budgets, and writes a version of this darn column every fall. Tell him about your adventures in budgeting and giving at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.