Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

Lovingkindness for Mike Tyson

Iron Mike isn't getting the self-love he needs from recovery

Mean son of a bitch; loving father

Mike Tyson has written a huge (580-page) memoir, Undisputed Truth, which explains his rises and falls. It's not clear how many rises and falls there have been in his 47 years and how many more there will be. For instance, after writing this recovery-oriented volume declaring his commitment to sobriety for his family (which he made after the death of his four-year-old daughter), he again relapsed. But, in the new year, he wrote another declaration that wasn't a standard 12-step recovery tract so much as it was a moral vision: "I replaced drugs and liquor with a craving to be a better man."

Of course, my new book with Ilse Thompson, Recover!, is dedicated to the idea that a person's purpose and values are the main navigational tools in recovery. But Tyson's moral clarity just isn't that clear. His television appearances, lectures, articles—his memoir—are popular (I saw him at a sold-out New York Public Library lecture he gave in November), but they are see-saw affairs. He is humble, asks forgiveness, takes responsibility and expresses guilt—and just as often he boasts about, among other things, his boxing triumphs, his drug binges and womanizing, and his recovery.

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Some of the key stages in "Iron Mike's" journey were from being a bullied boy in a Brooklyn slum and then a minor street criminal, to being an up-and-coming boxing phenom mentored by legendary trainer Cus D'Amato, to becoming undisputed heavyweight champion and multi-millionaire, to squandering his talent and fortune on friends, ornaments, orgies, drugs. Now he's doing what he has been doing, really, for many more years than he was a boxer—a non-stop apology, boasting, and recovery tour.

Everyone of us faces the joint challenges of acknowledging our weaknesses and at the same time respecting and loving ourselves. I know—that's easily said. But it is when we love ourselves sufficiently—embodied in the Buddhist practice of Lovingkindness, which translates roughly into self-love or self-acceptance—that we become best able to change. As we describe this in Recover!:

A balanced view of yourself sees you as a complete, fundamentally sound person, one with both positive and negative aspects, neither of which define, support, or detract from your fundamental worth as a human being. It's like the difference in perspective between trying to make out the dirty pattern on the linoleum of an aged kitchen floor and looking at the whole planet from space. Self-acceptance is looking at yourself from the more complete, and therefore more forgiving, perspective of space.

Recovery doesn't always produce this result. Here is one "recovery" experience a man describes in our book:

Saying I'm powerless and going to 90 meetings in 90 days only reinforces my feelings that I am a failure. In all honesty I feel bad enough about myself as is. If I give up on me, who is left to carry on?

AA veterans have told me this is denial. Am I in denial? I know I drink too much; that is why I came to AA. I do know that when I am happy and doing meaningful work I don't care about drinking at all. And I know that telling myself how rotten I am won't change anything for me. In fact, it makes things worse. Which may be why I bought and consumed a bottle of wine after my last meeting.

Is what I am being told right? Right now I am lost and miserable.

While AA certainly helps some people, this man is far from unique. Ken Anderson, founder of Harm Reduction for Alcohol (HAMS), noted, "I have also seen many people whose drinking got worse while attending AA. I am one such person: During my time in AA, I nearly died of alcohol withdrawal."

And compare this with insightful analysis by Michiko Kakutani of the Mike Tyson who reveals himself on the pages of his memoir:

"There is a kaleidoscopic feel to the book" as "the older, more introspective Mr. Tyson" looks back, "with a combination of revulsion and regret, at his younger self, trying to come to terms with his contradictory, often self-destructive impulses. There are his grandiosity and self-loathing; his arrogance and vulnerability; his narcissism and naïveté; his neediness and isolation; his capacity for disciplined training; and his susceptibility to temptation and addiction."

Kakutani continues: "The book is peppered with boasts: 'I was Clovis. I was Charlemagne. I was one mean son of a bitch'; 'I was a titan, the reincarnation of Alexander the Great.' It's also filled with lots of self-abasement: 'I was a pig back then'; 'I was just a sewage rat with delusions of grandeur.'"

One just doesn't come away from reading Mike Tyson or seeing him speak with the feeling that he has achieved the kind of Lovingkindness required for true recovery.

Order Stanton's book (available February 4): Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program.

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! and developer of the online Life Process Program. He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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