HIV — Has Charlie Sheen Got What He Deserves?

HIV — Has Charlie Sheen Got What He Deserves

After Charlie Sheen opened up about having HIV on the Today Show, many people responded negatively — but if it is the unfortunate consequence of a sex addiction and knowing how the illness of addiction works, we commend him – as we believe his revelation can only help the many suffering silently because of the stigma of addiction — be it to alcohol, drugs or sex — to reach out for help before it is too late.

On November 17th, 2015, American actor Charlie Sheen sat down for an exclusive interview with NBC’s Today Show to let the public know that he was diagnosed as HIV positive four years ago. Sheen rose to fame in the late 80s, especially for his role as a rookie broker in the blockbuster Wall Street. In more recent years, however, he has drawn media attention for his wild partying ways, and his stints in rehab. His cocaine addiction, alcoholism and penchant for sex with females (from all wakes of life) has become the face of the Charlie Sheen that most people know today.

After reportedly spending over $1 million on prostitutes in just one year, professionals and media personalities alike were quick to say that Sheen was not just suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, but also sex addiction — a type of process addiction in which people are constantly on the search for sex (often with extreme fantasies and fetishes) the same way that a heroin addict can think of nothing but his next heroin fix.

On NBC’s Today Show, Sheen told reporter Matt Lauer that he wanted to publicly speak about his HIV status to quiet the rumours that were spreading like rapid-fire through the press. A publicly promiscuous person, rumours included claims that Sheen knowingly transmitted the virus to sexual partners and was continuing to do so. In the interview, Sheen said that since his diagnosis he has not slept with a single woman who was not completely aware of the situation. He also made sure that any recent sexual partners were contacted. And, he said, that by divulging this information to his sexual partners, he had set himself up to be taken advantage of. And while he could not say how many people he had paid, he did say that he has spent millions of dollars trying to keep his HIV status out of the media.

Now, Sheen wants to free himself of these ‘shakedowns’ as he refers to them, and at the same time open the gates to a public discussion of what HIV is, how it can be treated, and of course aims to help break the stigmatisation of both HIV and the disease of addiction.

Supporters (and critics) of Charlie Sheen since his Interview

While the interview was still running live, social media lit up with an outpouring of support for Sheen. Many people voiced that they were proud of him for opening up, that they would support him through this trying time. But then there were the negative comments — comments that linked his past behaviour in the throes of addiction to his current state. Some people out there feel that Sheen ‘deserves this disease’ due to his past actions, but that mentality needs to stop NOW.

Addiction is a disease that not many people truly understand. Unfortunately, it is still viewed by millions as ‘poor life choices’ or ‘lack of will power’, but that is simply not true. Addiction is a disease in the brain, and it must be viewed as such.

In Support of Charlie Sheen, His Addictions, His Family and His Health

In a time like this is it important to focus on breaking the stigma of these diseases, and bring to light the good that can come of events such as these.

I think I can certainly speak for many people when I say that we are 100 per cent behind you and are inspired by you. Please know that your words of experience, strength and hope will help many other people suffering from HIV and addictions feel a little less alone. Because of what you have said, because of your fearlessness in de-stigmatising your illness, others who are anonymous, unknown, and in fear will identify with you and take courage. Surely this brings us closer as a society to living realistically with HIV which is now of course, a treatable illness — as is addiction.

On a more general note, and building on what Charlie and his doctor had to say about his co-occurring addiction issues, we need to respond to those who would have us believe that both HIV and addiction should be a source of shame. That includes the individuals who attempted to blackmail Charlie. Let us point out that whilst these illnesses may seem ostensibly to be the result of a person’s individual actions and choices — this is a misleading way of looking at it.

Addiction is a behavioural illness which contains about as much choice as deciding whether or not to take off a leg which is gangrenous. It is a frontal lobe pathology. In other words, that means that addiction affects a person’s forebrain, the seat of sensible decision making. It is an illness of poor decision making. If it was not, then tens of millions of people would not cause significant harm to themselves and their own children because we are just not wired that way. Humans are wired for survival and protection of their offspring, and so something has to go pretty wrong with that wiring to allow seriously self-destructive behaviour.

The neuro-chemistry for serious addiction issues is often (if not always) inherited, further reducing the culpability the moralists would like to spear us with. I’m not suggesting that sufferers of HIV and addiction should not take responsibility for their treatment. Of course they should. Just like diabetics — they have a chronic illness which left untreated may result in death.

What I am trying to say, is that we need to remove the moralising,  stigmatising, ostracising and finger pointing when it comes to these illnesses. Until we do, the sufferers will live in fear — reducing their likelihood of treating them effectively and ultimately creating a society that cannot face the issue — elongating the pain and suffering in a way that is partly avoidable.

So Thank You Charlie, for sharing your pain and fear with us. You have done us a great service.

Alastair Mordey Programme Director, The Cabin Addiction Services Group