Friday, April 12, 2013

If I were famous

As I was going to my class in Minneapolis the other day, I noticed this billboard.

This is Lindsey Lohan and it says "The Radio home of the train wrecks"

And as I drove my daughter to her school up north, there is this one.

This is Charlie Sheen and it says "The radio home of @#!*ing Crazy"

It must be the TMZ of radio for the Twin Cities.  I can't really speak to the programming, because I have never listened, and I don't think I will.  Besides, I really am picky about the voices of the talk-radio folks.  They can't be too phlemy, clicky, spitty or have any extra mouth sounds, or I can't listen.  I miss a lot of good shows because of this.  And don't get me started on audio books.  Or those TED talks.  I love them, but everyone's mouth sounds dry when they talk.

But I digress. (I hate when people say that).

I find these billboards so fucking mean and awful, that every time I drive by, I want to cover them up.  Yeah, addiction makes your life a train wreck.  Yes, it makes you act fucking crazy.  But don't make fun of people for how they behave when they could be struggling with this disease.  It isn't funny, it isn't cute and it doesn't help ANYONE.

So I sent them an email. And it made me feel better.

As a person in long term recovery, AND a person who puts myself out there about my addiction, your billboards with celebrities, such as Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen with the title "Home of the train wreck" are so offensive, shaming, and continue the stigma of addiction, that those of us in recovery try to fight each day. 
Addiction is a brain disease. If they had cancer, or diabetes, would they be on your billboard? But because addiction causes people to behave in a bizarre way, you make fun of them. You are making fun of sick people. And it is horrible.

There are 23.5 MILLION people in long-term recovery in this country. Why don't talk about that? You only perpetuate the shame and stigma of addiction. Which only keeps people sick and afraid to get help.

Not to mention, we have a bullying epidemic right? How are those billboards NOT bullying? Those are people. HUMANS. And you are publicly humiliating them. What does that teach kids? It's okay for YOU to bully, but not them?  
Betsey DeGree
(It never hurts to put down the blog address right?)

I got this response, in which deleted some things, as they were personal to the person from the station who sent it:

Dear Betsy, 
Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned note regarding our billboards. 
First and foremost - we are a pop culture station and we comment - whether you are a fan or not - on pop culture. 
Divorce is also tragic, but we have a billboard that refers to Tom Cruise's recent split from his wife Katy. 
They are not meant as serious social commentary .
They are meant as commentary on pop culture events. 
I appreciate your message and understand how you could see it that way.  I have empathy for addicts - to a point. 
If, in fact, addiction is Lindsay's actual issue.  As opposed to utter narcissism. 
However - and this is definitely an "however" - I will disagree with you on one score.  We are NOT mocking Lindsay's seeking treatment - if in fact she's sincere.  Her track record would indicate that she is not.   
She was ordered to treatment by the court after misbehaviors too numerous to begin to outline that have landed her in court repeatedly. We are mocking the ridiculousness of her years long criminal track record. 
The addicts I've known need reality checks on their behavior and its impact on their lives and those around them.  Our billboard isn't designed to be that reality check for Lindsay - it is however a statement of fact based on her behavior. 
Lindsay will never see our billboard. 
I do though hope her family - or some concerned friends, prevail on her to change her ways and get the help she needs. 
If it's an addiction - there's abundant help available.  If it's simply poor choices and self-absorption - well there is help for that too. 
I apologize if this board offends you.  It is not a lack of empathy for addiction and people who need help and sincerely seek it.  It's a lack of empathy for the bad behavior of celebrity. 
Thank you for taking the time to write me.  I hope you have a great week.

Oh boy, do I disagree with her.  So I sent a reply.

Thank you for your reply. I really appreciate that you took the time to answer me.

I am aware that there is lot of the help out there for addicts and alcoholics, as I am graduating with my Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counseling from Metro State, and will spend my time working in the field. 
As an advocate for recovery, I have a few points. 
I understand that you are a pop-culture station. I know a ton of people who listen and love your programs. I feel like those billboards maybe don't represent your station, from what I understand.  Some of them are cheap shots. That's my opinion.

Divorce isn't a diagnosable disease. But addiction/alcoholism are. No one dies from divorce (too often, anyhow.)

Listen, Lindsey has had plenty of chances to get help. She also has been given breaks that us average folks don't get. This could actually kill her. If I were a celebrity, with different consequences, and unlimited funds, I might be dead. It would be so hard to recover with that celebrity lifestyle. All of the parties, pressure, money, access. This story seems to repeat itself for so many addicted celebrities.  Their bottom is too often death. 
I have four kids, a house I can lose, all of these consequences to face. I feel like it's easier for me to recover, than it is for them. 
And if Ms. Lohan has true narcissism, which is a personality disorder, listed in the DSM-IV, a mental health issue that is almost impossible to treat, then that wouldn't be her fault either.

It's not impossible for celebrities to recover, it's just my opinion that it is much more difficult. There are plenty of people who are celebrities that do recover. Check out They always have good celebrity recovery stories.

Recovery, as you have probably seen in people you may know, is a long process. It has its ups and downs. People struggle and succeed. It takes what it takes. If it takes her 10 more arrests and 20 more treatments, then that's her course of recovery. We only learn to manage our symptoms for this chronic illness. For some people, it takes a lot to get better. Some people never do.

Lindsey or her family may not (hopefully) ever see the billboard, but my kids do. I do. All of us in recovery do. People who need help do. We are trying to change the conversation about addiction and recovery. So we can remove the shame, and help more people.

I just really believe that people with addiction problems, (and in my opinion, most of Lindsey's behavior is due to this), deserve compassion. It is a hard road.  In fact, all people deserve compassion. Just everyone.
I do appreciate your response and conversation. Have a great day.

Betsey DeGree

And I suppose, since all people deserve compassion, so do the people who thought up these billboards.

NOW-- (I know this is a long, maybe overactive post)  here is the deal.  People are a long way from understanding and accepting mental illness and also addiction.  Clearly, that powers-that-be at that station are not on board.  But mostly, it is the public humiliation that bothers me the most.  I know celebrities put themselves out there.  But no one deserves to be made fun of.  Especially when we are trying to teach kids and adults NOT to bully.

When we look at our kid's Facebook or Twitter,  do we want to see people calling them "train wrecks," "fucking crazy," or "fake?"  No.  So nowhere should this be okay.

Kim Kardashian.  From a distance, you only see the word,  "fake."
This one bugs me too.  .  

Anyway, that is my take on it.  I just gave that station some free advertisements for the 300-500 people who stop here each day.  I'm sure they appreciate it.  


  1. Betsey,
    I love your blunt honesty. It is so very refreshing to see! I love how you just go right to the source and fire back. You go girl! I don't think there is anything that can stop you!!


    1. Thank you Lorri! I've never been able to keep my mouth shut. Sometimes it's good....sometimes...:)

  2. Right on Betsey!!! I am so proud of you for writing them and telling you how you feel. That is so great.

  3. I am a LONG way from understanding addiction. But I am sick of celebrities like Lindsey being the poster child. She is a mess and she is NOT interested, in my opinion, in getting better. She could take herself out of the lime-light, if she wanted to! But kudos to you for taking on the radio station. The billboards are mean! But I would really think that it would be much 'meaner' if it was anyone but a celebrity up there.

  4. Super interesting post. I hadn't ever thought of advertising like this as bullying, but it is. You are absolutely right. It's bullying--for profit. Which kind of makes it extra bad to me. Being mean to people is bad enough, but to make money doing it is extra crappy if you ask me. And it's even *more* crappy to make money by being mean to people who are sick. I think that's like three layers of crappiness. And for what it's worth, I don't think being mean to celebrities is any less awful than being mean to non-celebrities. Celebrities actually are people too. Plus it, as you pointed out, even if the celebrity being picked on doesn't see it, it's a terrible example to set for others, and it absolutely shames and causes pain to others who can relate to the celebrities situation. I love that you contacted the station, and then posted to exchange here.

    1. Thank you. I feel better now. And they took the Charlie Sheen one down, and replaced if with a Taylor Swift one. I think it says "Swift breakups" or something. I haven't driven past the Lohan one.

  5. If you're interested in shaming and its devastating effects on the culture you've gotta read Brene Brown's first book. Which I think you have, if I recall our conversation a few months ago :) Shame is so wounding, whether its public or private. Thanks for taking on the tough conversations. You rock!

    1. Thank you Jenna. Yes, I've read it like we talked about. People just need to know right?

  6. So cool to find your article about these terrible billboards! I too sent them a message (in reference to bullying), but never received a reply. You are right about it all relating to mental illness, recovery, etc. Thanks for doing your part!

    1. GOOD!! I am glad you also sent them a message. I am going to start demanding that they not only take them down, but apologize. I think we should ALL do this. I am glad you did your part too and I thank you!!!