The Bush recovery is a myth. It’s safe to say this precisely because of Bush’s self-declared decades of active alcoholism, and because he’s never entered recovery or honestly admitted to an addiction.
Republican candidate for president George W. Bush, like most who decide to quit drinking, did so on his own without help, press reports following the revelation of his 1976 DUI arrest reveal. An estimated 70 percent of people who decide to quit drinking do so without any outside help, professional counseling, or support group meetings, and Bush is apparently among that majority.
“Well, I don’t think I had an addiction,” Bush told the Washington Post for a July 1999 profile. “You know it’s hard for me to say. I’ve had friends who were, you know, very addicted. . .and they required hitting bottom [to start] going to AA. I don’t think that was my case.”
Speculation in the national press, which went into a media frenzy over the report that Bush was arrested 24 years ago for drunk driving, ranged from the suggestion that if he never went to A.A. he is not really recovered, to the opinion that if he quit on his own, it was not a big problem in the first place.
The truth probably lies somewhere in between. Alcohol abuse can be a very serious problem in itself, but if it progresses into alcohol dependence, the solution can become much more complicated.
However complicated it may have been, Bush described it rather simply.
It appears from all reports, that candidate Bush did abuse alcohol for a long period of his life, but in 1986 decided to quit, because it began to “compete for his energy.”
“I am a person who enjoys life, and for years, I enjoyed having a few drinks. But gradually, drinking began to compete with my energy,” Bush wrote in his autobiography. “I’d be a step slower getting up. My daily runs seemed harder after a few too many drinks the night before.”
Apparently, it was anything but simple.
On July 28, 1986, George W. Bush woke up with a hangover. It had been a loud, liquid night at the venerable Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs as he and friends from Texas celebrated their collective 40th birthdays. Now, as he embarked on his ritual morning run through a spectacular Rockies landscape, Bush felt lousy.
… A charismatic partier since his school days, Bush liked to drink what he called the four Bs – beer, bourbon and B&B; But he had begun to realize that his drinking was jeopardizing his relationships, his career and his health. Although friends say Bush did not drink daily or during daylight hours, even those closest to him acknowledge privately that if not clinically an alcoholic, Bush sometimes came close to the line. Sometimes he would embarrass himself; more often, he didn’t know how to stop.
Bush himself acknowledged in a recent interview: “I realized that alcohol was beginning to crowd out my energies and could crowd, eventually, my affections for other people. . . . When you’re drinking, it can be an incredibly selfish act.”
Neither was the description of the previously mentioned invitation to the senior Bush to “go mano a mano.”
There was at least one incident that his parents witnessed. When he was 26, he returned home inebriated one night to his parents’ home in Washington – with his then-teenage brother Marvin in tow – and plowed his car into a neighbor’s garbage can, dragging it down the street. When his father asked to see him, George W. challenged him to go “mano a mano” outside. The senior Bush promptly got his son a job at a social service program in Houston, helping underprivileged kids.
“My dad was not happy,” recalled his sister, Dorothy Bush Koch, who witnessed the episode. “My dad did not think that was attractive or funny or nice.”
“We did not know that he had an alcohol problem and we saw him a lot,” said Barbara Bush. “That is not to say that we never maybe saw him when he’d had a little bit too much to drink. But nothing, nothing bad and he certainly never did anything bad to our knowledge. So we were sort of surprised when he gave up drinking and very pleased for him, because he seemed to feel he had a problem.”
None of the above describes the behavior of a man who is an “occasional drinker” who’s never “crossed the line.” Nor does it sound like the behavior of a man who “drinks like a gentleman.” The descriptions of his friends and family follow the same pattern,stopping short of saying he was an alcoholic, but there’s always “he didn’t know how to stop” or “he never drank during the day.” Not surprising. Lots of alcoholics learn how to hide or cloak their drinking. Not drinking during the day means most people will say “I never saw him with a drink.” My favorite trick? Drinking at home before going out, I’d be assured to get the buzz I was looking for without appearing to drink very much.
And in many families where alcoholism is a problem, appearances matter, and if you’re the alcoholic you learn that you’ll be pretty much left alone as as long as you keep up appearances. And you’ll be enabled in that by those around you, who will only notice when you fail to keep up appearances and then only to say how “unusual” it was. And, of course, if your family is wealthy and well-connected enough they can clean up your messes, and enable you into a job far enough way that they won’t see what they don’t want to see, and no one else will see what they don’t want them to see, and appearances are still maintained. Over and over again. And never suggest that anything’s wrong.
In that sense George W. Bush has been enabled all of his life, with about 30% of the country, a good many Republicans,and now even the Democratic majority in Congress voting not only to extend the war in Iraq, but to also continue funding Bush’s “abstinence-only” education and with more money than Bush asked for.
Curiously, in Bush’s “abstinence-only” program you can discern a kind of reflection of Bush-like approach to addiction, one that doesn’t require much introspection or anything except rigidly cleaving to specific set of rules. In Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism Michelle Goldberg writes about a faith-based recovery program called Set Free Indeed,which was by a charismatic evangelical, recovering crack addict, former prostitute (and satanist who, according to her testimony, participated in animal sacrifices using, cats, pigs, dogs and horses) who was suddenly “saved” when her grandmother prayed for her.
And then, when she was nineteen or twenty — she said she doesn’t remember — she was saved. It happened suddenly, after her grandmother prayed over her. “I tell people I died that day — I died a spiritual death. The old Tonja died and the new one resurrected.”
After that day, she said, she never relapse. “I took Good at his word: He who the son sets free is free indeed. I believe that. I didn’t look back.”
And while I wasn’t able to find any specifics on the Set Free Indeed recovery program at their website, this bit from Golderg’s book was telling.
All these hurting people came together, and Myles offered them the promise of relief. Unlike AA which says the demon of addiction will be with you forever, Set Free Indeed says you can wipe the slate clean. You can be reborn.
“My name is Tonja,” Myles told me, “and I am not an addict.”
Recovery, then, is a one-time-only affair rather than an ongoing process. (Thus some of us call ourselves “recovering alcoholics” instead of “recovered alcoholics.”) And, it doesn’t appear to require much more than belief, as Justin Frank pointed out about Bush.
There are lots of different ways of managing anxiety, and, there are several of them that have come out since he stopped drinking. But, of course, the first way to manage anxiety is through alcohol. But, by being a born-again Christian, he can also manage anxiety by being connected to God, by feeling that he’ll be saved in any kind of a rapture, by feeling that he’s always on the side of the Good.
God, in that “name it and claim it” outlook, has simply “fixed it.”
My own experience with recovery is that, no matter how long I’m sober, it requires some work; inner work, that is. When I’m not doing it, I know about it even if I’m miles away from taking a drink, because I recognize (or someone points out to me) the “dry drunk” characteristics from the previous post. And that’s when I have to go back to what I learned when I walked through the doors of my first AA meeting: the Twelve Steps, that have adapted to everything from codependency to over-eating and sex-addiction.
And it’s when I return to those steps that I’m almost certain that George W. Bush is not a recovering alcoholic. He never indicated any inclination to make a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of himself, and appears constitutionally incapable of “[admitting] to another human being the exact nature of [his] wrongs.” Never mind making a list of all the persons he has harmed, and becoming “willing to make amends to them,” or “[making] direct amends to such people whenever possible.”
Given a near pathological inability to admit mistakes, a degree of denial so great that he now reads the latest opinion polls on Iraq as being in his favor, and a belief that his strategy in Iraq is working, it’s unlikely Bush is any more likely to embark on a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of himself, or admit to anyone else what he finds, than he was in 1986.
After presiding over 152 executions as governor of Texas, spending no more than 30 minutes on each case as Alberto Gonzales brought them before him, and mocking Carla Faye Tucker before her execution, it’s understandable that he might have preferred to clear brush on his ranch or work on his golf swing.
It’s why in the midst of a long downhill slide and mounting U.S. and civilian casualties in Iraq, he could say earlier this year “I’m sleeping better than people would assume.”
And after a war that has cost over 3,500 U.S. service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis their lives, left many with physical wounds and psychological torment that will be with them all of their lives, driven Iraqi women and children into the sex trade, left religious death squads free to hunt and kill Iraqi gays, and an occupation likely to span decades (and one that Bush has said he hopes will last for decades) and rack of similar costs during that time … It’s hard to imagine Bush having time to “make a list” of those he’s wronged. And even if he were willing to make amends (which would require acknowledging something to make amends for) it’s hardly possible for anyone to attempt. Let alone a man of Bush’s intellect and abilities.
So,no, Bush isn’t and has never been in recovery, and it’s unlikely that he ever will be.
He’s basically a drunk who just happens to have been “between drinks” for a very long time. In that sense, and many others, he was a candidate well matched to a country that shares some of the worst traits of addiction, and that was primed and ready to make his presidency one of its most destructive and most enabled.
He was, finally, a president as sick as we are.