Recovery Plus: reclaiming lives
48 April/May 2017 T
and Donald Trump
Donald Trump has never touched alcohol, puffed
a joint, or smoked a cigarette. Surprised? I was.
Yet the origins of that lifestyle might explain
the infuriating, bizarre, unhealthy manifestation
of his oversized personality – more so than the
armchair diagnoses trickling down your news
feed. To some, he’s an unrepentant narcissist.
To others, he’s an antisocial sociopath. Some
suggest he’s living with early onset dementia.
Despite the 1974 Goldwater Rule making it
“unethical for psychiatrists to give a professional
opinion about public figures they have not
examined in person”, mental health professionals
have publicly entertained what’s wrong with the
leader of the free world.
But there’s one explanation I haven’t seen yet:
one that helps us truly grasp how his mind
works, and maybe even helps us find empathy.
To understand Trump’s contradictions – from
his combative, yet people-pleasing manner
to a superhero complex with a weakness for
constant affirmation – “The Donald” narrative
has to be flipped from one focused on lavish
greed to one of desperately unfulfilled need.
Trump’s older brother Fred Jr. died tragically of
complications from alcoholism at the age of 43
in 1981 when Donald was 35. Trump has said
that Freddy’s lifelong habit of drinking and later
years of decline had a “profound impact” on his
personality. I’d argue it shaped the inner turmoil
feeding his world view: deep insecurities, brutal,
codependent relationships and an insatiable
need for approval. Simply put, Donald Trump is
an untreated Al-Anon.
Wait – what’s an “Al-Anon”?
Back in 1951, Lois Wilson was at a crossroads.
Her husband Bill had found a solution for his
drinking problem and risen to national acclaim
as the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
While Bill W’s success with AA was (and still is)
a life-saving achievement, the reality for Lois
and others like her was more complicated. Her
husband flourished, but she still carried the
trauma from his years of emotionally abusive
behaviour. Wanting to “strive for her own
personal growth” Lois founded Al-Anon, an
organisation offering “a programme of recovery
for the families and friends of alcoholics”.
Al-Anon meetings are independent, but they
lean heavily on the AA model, including an
emphasis on sharing personal stories and
following the 12 Steps in Bill W’s Big Book.
No two people are alike, of course, but there are
some defining traits of an untreated Al-Anon:
ÂÂ Masking low self-esteem ~ “I’ve never had
problems with self-esteem”
ÂÂ Overestimating agency and control ~ “Only I
can fix it”
ÂÂ Denying healthy feelings for fear of being
vulnerable ~ “I haven’t cried since I was a baby”
ÂÂ Outsized displays of unprovoked anger ~ “I
could say, ‘Oh I’m not angry.’ I’m very angry”.
As a longtime member of a 12-Step group. I’ve
spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours in
the shared company of people recovering from
substance abuse and addictive behaviours, many
of whom attend Al-Anon meetings. When I
first saw Trump talk about his brother’s death,
I’d never heard him speak with such obvious
About the author
Eric Pfeiffer is a writer and
editor based in Los Angeles.
He covers politics, tech, and
culture. You may have read
his work on Yahoo and a
number of publications based
in Washington DC. He recently
won the National Magazine
Award for his Donald Trump