Understanding Eden, Addiction and the Reality TV Spotlight for the Sober Living

02/09/2017 10:46 am ET Updated Feb 09, 2017
Eden Sassoon of <em>Real Housewives of Beverly Hills</em>
Bravo Media
Eden Sassoon of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

When Michael Cook interviewed Eden Sassoon at the start of this season's Real Housewives of Beverly Hills http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/real-housewives-of-beverly-hills-eden-sassoon-no_us_587ecc44e4b06a0baf649173, Huffington Post readers got a glimpse into the life of an entrepreneur who overcame addiction. Since then, Eden has been under fire from fans of the show for her incessant harping on cast mate Kim Richards' sobriety. Also at issue, her statements about what role Kim's sister Kyle may or may not play as "enabler."

A prior conversation with loose-lipped Lisa Rinna may have been the instigating factor for Eden, who likely also watched past seasons or picked up old issues of Us Weekly detailing Kim's erratic addict behaviors. After all, the older Richards sister once shoplifted from Target during her darkest days. This season though, Kim seems to be on the mend, sober and coherent while awaiting the birth of a grandchild.

Is Eden emotional because she lost her own sister to addiction and as a former addict herself, her heart bleeds for Kim? Or is she stirring up trouble unnecessarily while delivering a story line? Lastly, is Eden acting based solely on her own instincts or was she prodded by Lisa Rinna who has a contentious history with Kim? After all, it was Rinna who referred to Kim's sister Kyle as an "enabler" while discussing the situation with Eden when we've seen no such evidence to support that. Given the circumstances, it's understandable that Eden would want to urge Kyle to keep a vigilant eye on Kim and help her sister in any way possible.

Ilana Breslau, a psychologist specializing in addictions with a private practice in Manhattan and an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, says: "The issue with enabling is that the 'enabler' fixes or manages the mess-ups of a substance misuser, and that allows the user to maintain the status- quo without facing the consequence of their use." Kyle may not have exposed all of Kim's baggage on camera, but we've never explicitly seen her in denial that her sister has a problem, or 'fixing' the situation to look like something it is not in any provable way. Continues Breslau in her definition of an enabler, "It's not helpful to ‘protect' the substance user by covering for them, but that should not be done in an angry or punitive way." According to Breslau's definition, I would assert that "enabler" is not an appropriate term for Kyle and her relationship to Kim.

I asked my friend Christian Snow, a faithful Real Housewives of Beverly Hills viewer (which qualifies him as an expert for the analysis of this show) his thoughts on the season thus far. He agreed with my theory that a lengthier conversation took place between Eden Sassoon and Lisa Rinna, that there was more to it than what we saw on camera, and plenty to add to Eden's concern for Kim and her desire to push Kyle to act. After Christian and I speculated, Eden herself sent me an email stating "Yes, that is a fact." This was directly in response to the question of “Was there more to the conversation that was left on the cutting room floor?” I immediately wrote back to Eden requesting more information about the entire conversation that took place with Rinna. Eden did not respond to my request for further details.

"I feel the general consensus on Eden wasn't a good one." Christian tells me, "Here's what I think happened, I love Lisa Rinna but we all know her mouth gets her in trouble and she will be the first to tell you that. I think she got carried away by revealing too much - and possibly untrue - information to Eden about Kim Richards. Do I think Rinna went into meeting Eden with the intent to stir the pot? Not necessarily. Do I think that what Rinna had to say is what caused Eden to come on to Kim and her sobriety too strongly? Absolutely. I believe Eden was sort of thrown into the bin of fire, if you will. But I do not believe that Rinna did it on purpose with ill intent! After all, her lips were made for talking (that's her tagline)... and by God that's what they have and always will do. It will be interesting going forward to see how Eden handles the situation with Kim. I think if she manages to not come on so strong, viewers will favor her more than they do now."

I want to add to Christian's words my own gut feeling on Lisa Rinna. Because she's personally had bad blood with Kim Richards, it's extremely difficult for her to let go of the associated negative emotions - even after being asked to accept Kim's sobriety without further questioning. There is way too much history and hurt between Lisa and Kim (see: past seasons of RHOBH). Because Lisa is unfiltered and impulsive in nature (not to mention, she is dealing with producers and is in front of those cameras), her gossip is the inevitable result. I’ve wondered if Kim being in this environment (although not a regular cast member this season, she appears recurrently and will be dealing with the aftermath of Lisa Rinna's words and Eden's meddling in future episodes) will adversely affect her sobriety course.

"What I think is helpful to maintain a major change in habit like becoming sober is: support, compassion, and understanding," says Breslau, "What that looks like is different for different people. I think the 'unpacking' of what went wrong that led to relying on substances and figuring out how to cope better with emotional or situational triggers is best done in a safe, thoughtful and non-judgmental place. That can be with a therapist, a trusted family member or friend, depending on the circumstances (reason for use relating to emotions like managing anger, helplessness, guilt) and co-morbidities (often co-morbid with anxiety, a mood disorder, or trauma history). What is definitely harmful to people is shaming them for their past mistakes. Similarly, demanding that someone behaves differently can be unproductive without the tools and support."

Is a reality show what Breslau describes as a "safe, thoughtful and non-judgmental place"? It would seem unlikely based on the above description. Breslau responds: "That depends on how the person is going to feel about the television show later on, much like anything else about one’s private life being broadcast publicly. So if she feels like her story could be helpful to others, maybe it will strengthen and support her recovery. But if she ultimately feels ashamed or embarrassed by what is presented in the final cut of the show then I think it can be harmful. The thing about reality TV that’s different from giving an interview or publishing an essay or book about one’s experience is that one has very little control in how the producers edit the final product. And what makes for the most interesting reality TV is inflammatory and provocative material. If someone is choosing to present their past substance-misuse on reality TV, I would recommend being clear about one’s motives for doing this and the myriad of ways it can play out, and clarifying with the producers how they will handle the issue and what angle they are working from to make sure this aligns with what one wants to get out of it."

If we look to Kim's past, appearing on earlier seasons of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills seemed detrimental to her sobriety based on the sequence of events. She went downhill after a particularly harsh season for her character - and I stress the word "character" because as we watch shows for entertainment value, real lives are exposed in this non-fictional context.

Eden has expressed that she wants to be a beacon of hope for former addicts or those struggling with addiction. As a Pilates studio owner, hair care heiress and entrepreneur as well as single mom devoted to a life without alcohol, she wants to inspire the downtrodden. Her message, as she sees it, is that there is life after addiction and that if you clean up your act, you can be successful and (she hoped when joining the cast) compassionate and devoted to helping others. Unfortunately for Eden, her meddling backfired despite her having good intentions. Lisa Rinna did not help matters by raising the red flags for Eden, suggesting things were currently at a dire point for Kim and that Kyle was an impediment to her sobriety.

Banji Ganchrow, a writer, is a friend of mine who ran an adolescent substance abuse program and specialized in addiction. She also watches RHOBH regularly and says: "I think if the addict in question is working her program, going to meetings and has a supportive sponsor, she should be fine (with the reality show). I am more concerned with all of the drinking going on around her with the other ladies. In this case, I totally see where Eden is coming from, but she needs to mind her business."

In Eden's discussion with the other Lisa in the cast, Lisa Vanderpump, she clarifies her intentions and concerns stemming from her relationship with her late sister Catya who died of addiction. Perhaps some of the audience is seeing what drives Eden to intervene. Lisa Rinna's motives however, will continue to be questioned by viewers. Christian adds that Rinna is not operating malevolently, rather, without thinking. I believe there is a bit of both going on and that Rinna forgets what the camera will capture and what will be played back to viewers. She has already hinted to fans on Snapchat that she may not be back next season (if there is one. A rumor is percolating that the current season may be the last) due to what will unfold over the next few episodes.

I can't help but constantly wonder why those who live in luxury choose to put themselves in the spotlight and risk not only their privacy but their reputations and peace of mind. With the excitement and challenges that being a reality star brings, frustration and the intense craving for a more “ordinary” existence often results. If you listen to the podcast Reality Life with Kate Casey, she interviews former reality cast members, many of whom have gone on to live regular lives and work ordinary jobs. While these people don’t mind engaging with fans, they enjoy the respite that a little less fame and recognition brings. Eden Sassoon will eventually realize that channeling her desire to help others into public speaking, aligning with organizations and reaching out to women in need without TV cameras rolling, is the more rewarding route for her mission.

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills airs Tuesday nights on Bravo, 9/8c.

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