When Friends Spiral Out of Control

Charlie Sheen is a tired subject. Every word that could possibly be written about him has already appeared in print. Every news outlet that might want an interview has aired said clown show. And yet, every day, he’s back in the news—whether it be for his winning turns of phrase, or, yesterday, his firing from Two and Half Men. The whole circus is a hilarious/depressing/outrageous/just plain scary combo platter of crazy. (My personal favorite piece of news was Sheen’s tweet yesterday that he is looking for a summer social media intern. Now there’s a resume builder.)

Perhaps I shouldn’t even be broaching this subject, but there’s one question I’ve been wondering about and here seems to be the appropriate place to ask it: Where are Charlie Sheen’s friends???

I have no idea what happens behind Sheen’s closed doors—aside from the freeflow of tiger blood, obviously. But there have to be people who’ve been friends with him since way back when and are trying to get him help. Or intervene. Or something. Right? Or is he so far gone that everyone in his life has given up?

I’m incredibly lucky in that I’ve never witnessed a friend go on a downward spiral that required an intervention. No serious addictions, no friends in abusive relationships, no one in need of capital H Help. (Knocks on wood.) I’ve also never had a friend go so far off the deep end that I had to remove myself from the relationship, which I have to imagine has happened with at least some of Sheen’s old pals. Doesn’t there come a time when you must say “I can’t be party to this anymore”?

If I did find myself in the position of good friend to a self-destructive individual, I like to believe that I’d do whatever was necessary to help. But I also know that it’s not always so easy. Giving help often means being the bad guy. Or having uncomfortable conversations. It requires butting your nose where some might say it doesn’t belong. These things can destroy a friendship. The easy way out, in these situations, is to stand by your friend. But we all know about how easy and right aren’t always in sync. Old news.

Have you ever witnessed a friend’s descent into self-desctruction? Probably not Sheen-style, but a milder form? What did you do? And do you wonder where Sheen’s friends are, too?


Filed under The Search

13 responses to “When Friends Spiral Out of Control

  1. JB

    I’ve never had a friend as self-destructive or out of control as Charlie Sheen! I have had a couple of friends with eating disorders, though, who I have (along with other close friends) confronted about their self-destructive habits/illness. It is very scary to sit a friend down and say, “I can see what is happening and I will do what it takes to make it stop.” In both cases, the eating disorders were not yet totally out-of-control (i.e. absolutely starving themselves to death).

    One of them had to confront that fact that she had learned her eating disorder from her own mother. They both hardly ate anything at all and exercised an unhealthy amount and had created a bad home environment concerning food. Fortunately, both she and her mother were able to seek help and, as far as I know, are much healthier now. The other friend wasn’t as far into the destructive behavior as that–she was playing around with laxatives and occasionally throwing up after heavy meals. She was one of my housemates in college and the other housemates and I confronted her about the eating issues. It was heartbreaking and difficult to talk about with her. But she actually seemed relieved that we said something and gave her a place to talk about the unhealthy things she was feeling/experiencing (much stemming from a dysfunctional dating relationship). Being able to talk about it with us helped her to see that she needed some additional help (counseling) as well as to begin making some changes, eventually leading to her breaking up with the guy. We also held her accountable to developing healthier eating habits, which (as far as I know) have lasted.

    In both of the situations, I was terrified to confront my friends. I was afraid it would end my friendships with them. I found the opposite to be true–they were grateful that people cared enough to want to get involved in their struggles. It is never easy to overcome illnesses like eating disorders and I do not want to be naive about this. But I do think, in both cases, having the ability to talk about their struggles with friends (rather than keeping them secret) helped both of my friends to become healthier people.

    • LRM

      I spent last Saturday with a friend from out of town who has been dealing with an eating disorder for almost 10 years. I thought she had “gotten over it” but I noticed that she was not eating. But it wasn’t that she would just order a small meal and pick at it or push it around, she would pretend to eat and hide her food in napkins on her lap. I was shocked by this behavior. I am at a loss how to confront the situation. It is possible her mother also has an eating disorder. Also, since we live in different states I do not see her as much and do not know if this was a one time thing or if she does it constantly. Any advice?

      • Though I’m no expert, I’d say there’s probably no way that your
        friends behavior with the spitting into her napkin was a one-time
        thing. I don’t think that’s the type of thing someone does just once,
        and if it were, the one time would likely not be while out to dinner
        with a friend.

        My suggestion, though again I’m certainly not an expert in this arena. is to confront her. Be honest. Tell her that you noticed this
        behavior and that it worried you. Tell you care about her and just
        want to be sure she is ok and healthy. I’m not sure what more you can
        do than that… as friends, we can’t force people to get help.
        If that doesn’t work and you want to go the extra step, you could always talk to someone in her life that you know (husband, family member,friend) who sees her more regularly. They might be able to do something?

        • JB

          I wish I had some great concrete advice. I am certainly not an expert in this. The best advice I can give you is to help your friend find the help that she needs from people who really are experts.

          It’s so hard to know exactly what to do when you don’t live nearby. (I’m in the same boat with both of my friends I talked about–I think they’re ok, but I don’t see them very often anymore to be sure.) Perhaps a delicately worded email expressing your concern or a kind phone call when both you and your friend have the time to talk.

          Depending on the level of your friendship and how open she is to talking, you could encourage her to reach out to friends or family in the area. And then tell her you’re going to call her in a week to check in on how those conversations went. You can’t manage her life and you can’t make her do anything she doesn’t want to do, but you can help her and encourage her to take the steps needed to get help.

  2. Anonymous

    I had a friend that I went to school with and worked with for a number of years. The final “nail in the coffin,” so to speak was when I went with her to a bar so she could hear a guy she liked play in a band there, and she started drinking. When I went into the ladies’ room later that evening, she was in there putting on her bra (which she had removed without taking her shirt off out in the bar on a bet). Even after the age of 45, she was still into heavy partying, including drugs, and she kept nagging me about why I wasn’t joining her. In retrospect, I should have called her on the things she was doing to harm herself, but at the time, I didn’t have the confidence in myself to do so, so I used the excuse of making a move across the state for a new job to avoid dealing with it. I haven’t talked to her in … years.

    As far as wondering where Sheen’s friends are, I’m more concerned with where his family is. Friends definitely are (or can be) positive influences, but if your family – who is actually related to you – doesn’t care enough about you to set limits and pull you up short when you mess up, it’s pretty hard to appreciate and heed the concern of friends who try to do the same thing. He may have alienated his family, too, but that’s a different story for a different day.

  3. Lorrie Paige

    Friend or no friend, you can NOT help an adult who doesn’t want help. Friends HAVE tried, but he doesn’t want to listen to them. He has admitted that on TV. And I heard it from his dad Martin Sheen that he and others have tried to help him.

    I strongly believe that this is all not only due to his emotional problems but a lot of it is a publicity stunt. I believe he IS employed somewhere; he would not be doing all this for no money. Someone must have paid him to do the Internet show. Think about it: He is an entertainer, entrepreneur. Those types are ALWAYS thinking of ways to make money (as an entrepreneur myself, I’m constantly thinking of ways to make money in self-employment; that’s just how we are)–cashing in on their celebrity. He’s doing a fantastic job of that, so I give him credit for marketing skills and gaining multiple thousands of followers. But I think it’s helped fueled by maybe bi-polar issue or some other emotional issue possibly by previous drug/alcohol use.

    I’ve read his net worth is 84 million. I suggest he stay single (he’s DEFINITELY NOT marriage material–never was), not work for someone unless he shows himself responsible so as not to screw with other co-workers, producers, crew, etc. money, and live whatever the hell life he wants. At his age, he’s financially set for life. Just keep paying those child supports and do whatever he wants. It’s his life. If he wants help, hopefully he’ll ask for it. So far he does not want it. All his friends can do is be there whenever the SECOND he asks for help.

  4. Kate

    Actually, no. But I bet I’ve given MY friends a scare a time or two. I’ll admit, I was acting a little crazy the last year of college. I was in a horrible, destructive relationship I couldn’t get out of and had no idea what to do with myself. I was going to these nutty personal growth seminars and lost 20 pounds. Yeah. Coo-coo for CoCo Puffs. Then, I met my now-husband (ditched the other guy) and we got engaged three weeks later. I’m sure they thought I had completely lost my marbles. But they stayed close by and waited for the storm to pass. It was a tough time in my life and I’m glad I had good friends around, which is why I have a little sympathy for Charlie. But then again, I wasn’t blasting my friends on the radio…

  5. Pam

    I had one friend go into full fledged bi-polar meltdown… and yes, I had to walk away from the relationship because it was downright TOXIC.
    I met her when I was friends with a mutal friend… we both had children about the same age, were married to men who worked away from their families and were addicted to videogames/internet and completely tuned out from the marriages. About 2 months into our friendship, she left her husband unexpectedly and suddenly and I tried to be supportive and help her out.
    My then husband and I helped her move her items from her marital home into an apartment, then when she got public housing we rented her a truck, left our children with a babysitter, and spent a day helping her move. When she needed something for her kids she would call me or my husband and whine about how horrible her ex was being… or how her mother would no longer look after her kids, or how it was unfair that social services required her to have a job to support herself… or any number of things that she felt were unfair in the world. Maybe they were unfair, maybe they weren’t… I can’t really tell because nothing seemed to go right for her.
    She started to go downhill after welfare told her she had to get a job to support herself and her children (and the court told her that her ex husband would not be forced to pay her more than the table child support, if she needed more to live she’d have to earn it herself) because she was an able bodied, educated person… and they gave her training and put her into a well paying job, which she purposely got herself fired from. I helped her get into university, found her a daycare provider, and helped her fill out the forms for subsidy for daycare…
    About 6 months into her university program she suddenly started calling at all hours of the night, showing up at my home, or sending weird emails accusing me of dating her boyfriends (whom I had never met, and since I was rarely even seeing HER I had no idea what she was talking about)… she started drinking heavily, taking all sorts of over the counter drugs, and seeking prescriptions from doctor after doctor…
    She eventually lost her sons because she handed custody over to her ex-husband… she called in tears because a social worker came to take the kids away from her after she had signed an agreement to give custody back to her ex. No one was “nice”, everyone was the enemy and no one could do anything right… she got kicked out of university, lost her student loans, no longer had child support, and then lost her house (because it was social housing for women with CHILDREN)… she soon spiraled wildly up and down on the bipolar roller coaster, drinking, doing drugs, sleeping with random men, moving in and out of different men’s homes, losing job after job…
    I felt bad, but i could no longer trust her around my children (who were always with me until I divorced), I never knew what state she’d be in, what she’d say, what she would take (she stole from me a few times) or who she’d be with. As far as I know she STILL hasn’t cleaned up, still no longer has any access to her children…etc.

    • S

      When you talk about a full-fledged bipolar meltdown – do you use the word “bipolar” in a medical sense or just casually like some people do?

      Because bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness and this phrase should not be used lightly. I’ve been in a relationship for 10 years with someone who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 4 years ago and just walking away from an ill person is easier said than done, not only as a friend, but even more so as a partner, who’s desperately trying to get the person back that they fell in love with.

      You’re constantly torn between wanting to help and not being able to do anything unless the ill person accepts the help that is offered.
      It’s very frustrating, heart-breaking and sad.

      • E

        I know this is a little off the main subject of the original post, however, I agree with some of the others who have stated that you CANNOT help an adult who does not want help. No matter how much you want something for another, it will not happen unless that person wants it too. I am the mother of an adult son who is “classic” bipolar. He does not work … he is paranoid about being around other people. He has alienated his siblings. His father has minimal dealings with him and I suspect that he is bipolar too. No one knows how frustrating it is to try to help someone who is not rational and does not believe they need help. He has threatened suicide more than once. It breaks my heart and I try to be as supportive as possible. He has no job, no money, no insurance (please, don’t try to tell me about “free programs”) few friends … I am at a loss of what to do …

        This is a serious mental disease. So for one to judge another’s family or friends just because they are not as public is a little unfair. Some of my friends (who don’t understand what it is like to deal with someone like my son) say “be tough” just let him go, he will “figure it out” or ” you are just an enabler.” What if he does kill himself, then what? Isn’t it better to be an enabler?

        • S


          I couldn’t agree with you more. “Tough love” is not going to work on someone who is mentally ill.
          I have a very hard time trying to figure out what to do because my husband is pretty much in the same situation as your son… he has no job, he alienated his brother and his parents have minimal contact with him/us. He doesn’t have any friends and is very inconsistent with therapy. I am his only support and I do feel responsible for him a lot of the time.

          I’ve felt frustrated, alone, helpless,… you name it. I’ve thought about walking away many, many times, but what is going to happen to him then?
          Who cares about someone who can’t care for himself? There aren’t enough resources in this country for people who seriously need help.

          I know this is a little bit off topic, however, I think that a lot of people who go down a destructive path need help from friends and family, not be abandoned by them.

  6. I have been a bit of a lurker for probably about a month now. I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I have been addicted to it ever since (if that’s even the right word). I mean to comment about your blog-iversary, but missed that and felt compelled to comment here as it got me thinking about things. Floundering friendships, to be exact.
    I haven’t followed the Charlie Sheen circus all that closely. I’ve seen bits and pieces of interviews and I have a general idea, but not even a good big picture of it. But I can’t help but think, do the people who used to be his friends (or still are his friends) feel a little bit responsible for his behavior? I can’t help but think that a part of me would feel a little responsible if I’d been his friend. Fortunately, I’ve never been put in a situation like that and so I can’t really say for sure.

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