One evening in 2004, at the opening of the Drake Hotel in Toronto, someone took a picture of me that ended up on the establishment’s website. In it, I was wearing a corset, a pink leather skirt, and was swinging my drunky legs over an antique pommel horse in the foyer. Years later, I’d go on to write a whole book about being drunk, but only after admitting that my drinking was a problem. When I wrote it, I knew exactly what I was doing: I was telling people about the sort of person who couldn’t control herself, who occasionally had embarrassing pictures taken of her at events that unexpectedly ended up displayed for public scrutiny.
I joked with a friend once that publishing that book, Drunk Mom, probably reduced my chances of running in the next election here in Toronto. I don’t really plan on running for office, of course, but as it turns out, city hall may be just the sort of place where addiction can live flamboyantly for everyone to see.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford allegedly got smashed again last weekend, this time at the Taste of Danforth festival, and someone filmed it. This is different than the typical embarrassment and confusion that Toronto residents experience around their mayor—the sort of a man who, for example, exaggeratedly retches in front of reporters to demonstrate his displeasure with his political opponents. This, his apparent public drunkenness, is different because it’s actually sad. It’s sad to see someone, quite possibly an addict, self-harm so openly. Worse, that repeated venturing out while under the influence is, if anything, a telltale sign of degeneration of his condition.
Some people may be shocked by the timing of his supposed Danforth drunkenness, because, well, shouldn’t he be lying low after that whole crack-cocaine episode? But that’s the thing about addiction: It seems very scary right after any particular negative incident, but as time goes on, it appears to be less of a problem, and then eventually—for me, it was usually by the evening of the same day—it ceases to be a problem at all. This is why Ford got caught again and why he will probably keep getting caught: He doesn’t think there’s a problem, and neither, for that matter, does his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who is a classic enabler. “Rob doesn’t sit there in public and start hammering away on drinks,” Doug insisted. “It just never happened.”
Plenty of Torontonians want to see Ford fall. Many were frothing at their social-media mouths with delightful outrage as the Danforth drunkenness video circulated online. Embarrassing! Degrading! Disgusting! But this is the sort of “disgusting” that tingles. And, hey, I get it (though, for me, it’s usually with Lindsay Lohan). It is undeniably fascinating to watch someone make a mess out of his life so publicly, time after time, and to do it so defiantly.
It took only 10 days for more than 8,300 donors to raise $201,254 to buy the alleged tape of Rob Ford smoking crack-cocaine, many probably believing the video would force the mayor to resign. This didn’t happen, because the video never materialized. What did happen, though, is that Ford’s substance-related woes became official—there was, for the first time, even some talk of rehab. First, in May, Mark Towhey, Ford’s then-chief-of-staff, told him to go and do something about his problem. In June, Ford’s former campaign manager, Nick Kouvalis, said he wouldn’t help Ford get re-elected in 2014 unless the mayor went to rehab.
Towhey suffered the typical fate of friends of addicts: He was removed. Back when I used to drink, I hid away from all my friends, especially the ones who were too nosy. And, when they would pry, like Towhey probably did with Ford, I’d cause a fight and try to force an end to the friendship. Addiction is likely one of the only “diseases” in the world that turns people into assholes. Sure, some are assholes to begin with, but addiction tends to exacerbate that particular trait.
I’m not necessarily saying anyone is an asshole in this situation, of course, and it might be considered defamatory to call someone an “addict,” because, hey, a person isn’t an addict until he admits he is. Unfortunately, some people die from not admitting it. If Ford is an addict, I don’t think it’ll kill him, but getting caught repeatedly is a mark of someone who no longer cares about appearances. It’s the mark of an addict who is unable to admit it, but who is publicly—and subconsciously—crying for help.
If he’s the true addict I suspect he is, he won’t enter rehab, and he won’t enter rehab and he won’t get help because he doesn’t believe he has a problem. Defiance is the last thing to die in an addict before he gets to the place of hopelessness, and Rob Ford is a defiant man. But! Should we all write letters to him and tell him we care about him and that he should accept the gift of sobriety we want to offer him?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly want to help him. I’ve taken some defiant assholes to AA meetings, and it wasn’t fun. One ran out of the back door of a streetcar on our way to a meeting and almost got hit by a car. Another used to show up with a bottle of wine in her purse to meet me for “sober” coffee. I don’t need that shit and neither do you.
Plus, were Ford to admit publicly that he has a problem, his chances of winning the 2014 election would probably even increase; the public plea of an addicted politician is more powerful than private shame. As cruel as it sounds, it may just be in everyone’s best interest that the mayor doesn’t enter rehab—at least not while he’s still in office.
Jowita Bydlowska is the author of Drunk Mom.