03/01/2011 06:04 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Explaining Charlie Sheen

This is how the disease of addiction works. It takes over a section of your brain, working like a moat around the castle that is your ego. It is the most efficient parasite in the world, especially when well-fed by intoxicating substances. It will have you deeply convinced that defending your disease is defending your life -- the pleasure and passion that make existence worthwhile. You may accept intellectually -- or for the cameras -- that you have a "problem," but that acknowledgment can be the ultimate form of denial. See, I admit it, so I can't really be one of "them." Those dysfunctional addicts, who don't use substances to "enhance" their lives, like me. Of course what you're really thinking -- feeling, really -- is "don't take my candy! I will die without it!"

Yes, that's the ultimate irony. That which is killing you feels like that which is keeping you alive. Armies of intervention mass around the castle, and you perceive them as out to kill you. They will make your life drab, pedestrian, joyless. So to yourself and to the world you paint your insanely bad behavior as some sort of life-affirming "magic."

I was no sitcom star, nor was I wealthy or famous. But I was well-educated, talented, loved by family and friends. I was a long-term survivor of HIV who'd reached the era of wonder drugs so I wasn't going to die after all. But despite these blessings, I could not stop using crystal meth. To support my habit, I sold it. After a first arrest, I tried to stop selling and using, but I'd developed another addiction -- fast cash. So I successfully forged my death certificate (true story) and got out of everything. Six months later, someone pointed out to the police that I was still in the same apartment, still selling. This time I was sentenced to 16 months as a guest of the California Correctional System -- out in 9.

Prison was the only thing that could treat my third addiction -- getting away with things. Despite our differing economic status, I know that I have that in common with Charlie Sheen. Prison was indispensable in teaching the cure for that. Not sobriety -- though that happened -- but the idea that consequences are spiritual principles. You do A, B, and C, and D tends to happen. You sell drugs, you eventually get caught. You trash your hotel rooms and your bosses, you lose your job. That's the way the world works, but if you've successfully managed to sidestep consequences for years you become convinced that the rules that apply to others don't apply to you. Both Charlie and I could point to many examples -- we perceived them as signs pointing the way forward when they really read: "Danger. Bridge Out Ahead."

It hard to be optimistic that Charlie will get off the road in time. His ego has him by the throat, and he may have enough money to fend off a sufficient amount of humility to get sober. He claims, ridiculously, to have cured his addiction with his "mind." Guess what, Charlie. A diseased mind cannot cure itself. The parasite has equal access to every mental, physical, and emotional tool you have. The only element it doesn't have access to is that which is spiritual.

It's no surprise that Sheen's reaction to any mention of AA -- a spiritual program -- is "bye-bye." His vehemence is in direct proportion to the reality that it's got the only decent track record in town. His disease will demonize the one route that might actually lead to getting better. It tells him that under no circumstances should he ever let down the drawbridge to his castle, to be overrun by the well-meaning intent on lobotomizing everything that makes him special.

Charlie Sheen will hit bottom when he stops digging. Until then it's a sorry, cringe-inducing spectacle. His ego is like a helium-filled balloon that drifts above the trees below, convinced it is flying instead of a dead thing that floats. The good news is that there's a seed in that balloon, the spirit of someone who is kind and loving and charming, a man that seeks to serve instead of dominate, make amends instead of justify. When the balloon finally pops and plummets to the earth, the seed has a chance to germinate, to become alive again.

Until then it is pointless to condemn the networks. They are businesses that put on whatever draws ratings, and let's face it, a train wreck makes fascinating TV. It might just be the best thing for him. He thinks he is winning us over with "his side of the story," but he is evidently confusing us with his studio audience. Through the haze of his high, he just might see the horror in our faces and surrender.