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Chris Christie, the Addict?

Based on his eating disorder, his denial behavior and his emotional outbursts at his disempowered critics, you might want to view the governor as something other than another deceiving and ruthless politician.

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By Joe Schrank

01/15/14

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This, at least, is obvious: Chris Christie has had better weeks. His reputation as a tough, straight-talking, no-nonsense politician is at risk of being replaced by one of hubris and arrogance. The most dogmatic of voters will surely pick one side or the other depending on their political leanings. But this is the moment where he loses some of the middle. 

And what a reversal! He’d actually done a remarkable job of luring more than a few Democrats to his side, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. To that group, he’d managed to tap a nostalgic sense of America - the one before we traded common sense and direct communication for party-line fanaticism, political correctness, and chai-tea lattes. What’s emerging in its place is the cliché image of the fat boorish American - both unyielding and inclined to pick fights with weaker opponents. 

The truth, of course, is somewhere in between. Like most of us, Christie is more complicated than political oversimplifications would have you believe. But now that we’re talking about him non-stop, isn’t it time to talk about the elephant in the room? And by that I mean the fact that he is almost surely an addict.

Addiction is truly an individual phenomenon. There are standard diagnostic criteria used by treatment centers and insurance companies, but if we can be honest here for a moment, many of us find the manifestation of addictive behaviors getting the better of us more often than we’d like to admit, and in situations that often have nothing to do with our favorite forms of intoxication. And to me, this is quite clearly what’s happened to Chris Christie.

Lets start with the obvious: His apparent-to-the-naked eye eating disorder. While he may try to make light of his gluttony by devouring donuts on Letterman, the truth is that he’s got a problem with food that’s threatening not only his health, but also his life. In 2013, Dr. Connie Mariano commented that Christie was vulnerable to stroke, heart attack or diabetes and that his health was a legitimate voter concern should he actually make a 2016 run at the White House. What did Christie do in response? He lashed out at the good doctor, saying, “She should shut up!”

The remark will sound familiar to anyone who has pleaded with an alcoholic to cut down on his or her self-destructive behavior. Chris Christie suffers from an eating disorder. And just as it is with so many alcoholics and addicts, Christie himself knows the risks but thinks the consequences are not his problem. Even after bariatric surgery, Christie’s weight loss - if he’s had any at all - has been slow, suggesting that the governor is thinking of the surgery not as a way to get a running start at tackling the problem but as the entire effort he had to make toward a solution. He wants to be a limited participant in his own recovery. And that never works.

Spend enough time in AA meetings and you’ll eventually hear that, “It’s not just the drinking, it’s the thinking.” While AA can be aggravating in its overuse of pat slogans - for some reason, many of them come with the added aggravation of rhyme - there is wisdom in this one. Addictive behaviors manifest themselves in maladaptive thought processes and behaviors that end up making life difficult for the alcoholic and even more so for the people around them. They won’t do it again, they promise. But they usually do.

A common example of this kind of thinking is the conviction that rules and standards of behavior are not for us, but for others. Christie, for example, is a vocal critic of wasteful government spending, and has spoken at great length about the need to rein it in. But that didn’t stop him from taking a New Jersey State Police helicopter to his son’s baseball game in June 2011. Yes, I know, it showed that he would go to any length to show up for his son. So he’s a good father. I get it. That doesn’t change the fact that he used state resources for personal reasons. 

I can’t tell you which of the following he used to rationalize it - “Nobody will ever know” or “Surely, they don’t mean me” or “I’m trying to be a good father, here!” - but you can be pretty sure it was one if not more than one of the above. Because that’s how addicts think.

Not surprisingly, as Chris Hedges recently wrote, "He is gripped by a bottomless hedonism that includes a demand for private jets, huge entourages, exclusive hotels and lavish meals...A 2010 U.S. Department of Justice inspector general’s investigation of Christie’s spending patterns in the federal job he held before he became governor called Christie 'the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification' and someone who offered  'insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification' for stays at exclusive hotels such as the Four Seasons.'"

Clearly, the concept of the rules being for others permeates the entire bridge fiasco. As we are learning, this was the modus and mindset of the Christie administration - and from the top down. So apparent and palpable was it, as the New York Times reported a few days ago, that an indicted under sheriff and Christie ally openly boasted in 2010 that  Christie would "have the whole thing thrown out." Sure enough, Christie's choice of State Attorney General overturned the grand jury indictment of the man, his sheriff boss and another colleague, infuriating some of the jurors. Christie's AG then proceeded to have the prosecutors of the case fired.

ON THE MATTERS OF EMOTIONAL OUTBURSTS, BULLYING AND "IMAGE CULTIVATION"

Many people who suffer from addiction have other issues, such as mood disorders. For evidence that Christie isn’t entirely in control of his emotions, one need only consult YouTube for a well-stocked reel of Christie having angry outbursts to questions that didn’t deserve it. You can call it being a no-bullshit kind of guy if you want. I call it acting in ways that are unacceptable.

 

MAN IN DENIAL: Here is the nasty FU side of Chris Christie setting the tone for his administration - the tone he denies he ever set:

 

I’m no saint - I’ve acted unacceptably myself - but give me the benefit of time and perspective and I can usually see it for what it is. It’s the suffering addicts who can’t bring themselves to admit that they’ve got something to apologize for. Alcoholics don’t like their individual truths to be challenged. 

A favorite tactic is to banish from the kingdom. Christie apparently has lists of enemies who dare to disagree. When they do, they are banished or vindictively punished in some way. Just ask the mayor of Jersey City who was offered a helping hand and mentorship until the mayor dared to endorse Christie’s challenger in the gubernatorial race. The plug was pulled immediately and all offers quickly vaporized. 

Alcoholics are often enigmas and contradictions. Christie frames himself as a straight-talking man of the people, seeking to appeal to the very people he screams at when he is challenged by them: vets, teachers, blue collar workers. Like alcoholics, Christie also has a penchant to “display” whoever he is critiquing. Thus, the spectacle of Christie screaming like a drunk frat boy at a young guy returning from war who was questioning him about government aid to attend law school, stating to the law student that if he spoke in court as he did to Christie, his “ass would be thrown in jail.” This behavior is almost always followed by his staff posting videos of the governor's reactions on YouTube, of which there are 600.  

The numerous media documentations of Christie having an angry outburst, in opposition to his characterization by many as a law-and-order governor, raise questions beyond those of addictive behavior as well as doubts about his capacity for self-control in challenging situations, such as foreign affairs, when calm, non-reactive thinking is crucial and vengeful behavior can prove to be massively lethal. 

Another touchstone in assessing Christie is that image cultivation is everything to alcoholics. In a bizarre moment, the governor vetoed a “Good Samaritan Act” that would have allowed immunity for drug charges to someone who phoned 911 in a drug-related emergency. He later changed his mind when his friend, Jon Bon Jovi, implored him to do so. Earlier letters from parents and pictures of dead kids didn’t shift his thinking; elbow-rubbing with Jersey royalty moved a mountain. Why so? Because in an addict's mind, specialness is what he deserves in life and, in Christie’s case, as he considers himself Jersey royalty, only a member of the same caste such as Bon Jovi could influence him.

Similarly, like an alcoholic in crisis and need, Christie found it in him to walk arm and arm with Obama when he was overwhelmed with Hurricane Sandy.

Addicts also like to tweak the world to their liking. One of the basic themes of AA and recovery is what we refer to as “acceptance.” For those who follow a 12-step recovery plan, our group meetings generally end with imploring God to grant us acceptance of how things are, not as we would have them be. 

While it is possible that Christie’s son Andrew is indeed a collegiate caliber athlete and has Ivy League academic horsepower, it is more likely that Christie wants to think of his son as having those gifts and decided that it should be so. Andrew attends Princeton, where he is a catcher on the baseball team. The Princeton baseball website says, “Andrew adds depth to the catcher position,” but there are no reported stats for the governor’s son on the site. Did I mention that his father sits on Princeton’s board of trustees?

BACK TO THE BRIDGE

And, then again, there is the matter of the bridge. First, Christie belittled and mocked the press for having the temerity to scrutinize the situation. Then he got caught with the smoking gun email. In a two-hour press conference, Christie managed to deliver contrition without personal implication and did his damndest to convince the rest of us that the whole fiasco was something that had been done to him and not by him. The poor guy! His own staff has betrayed him! And he trusted them! Can we not feel his pain?

If there is one thing that addicts do almost as well as feeding their addiction, it is to blame others, to avoid responsibility, and to act victimized, all at once. With Christie, we’re at the metaphorical moment when he can no longer deny that the drug test has shown opiates in his system. Yet, the man whom the press has long reported is an in-your-face manager, seeks to sell us on the idea that he’d eaten a poppy seed bagel that very day. We’re the crazy ones, in other words. 

Another apt comparison might be to that of the indignant parent of the child caught getting high with the bad kids at school. Christie has attempted to distance himself from David Wildstein - a man he has known since high school, funnily enough - and who to this point is shouldering at least some of the blame that Christie himself deserves. Christie himself smells like pot, you say? Well, that’s easy to explain. He just had the misfortune of hanging around that Wildstein kid at the wrong time, quite likely after he’d smoked a big fat joint with the other bad kids. Our Chris Christie? Heaven forbid, you can’t be serious! He’s a straight-A student. Maybe even destined for Princeton!

Like many before him, Christie may end up being consumed by his addictive behaviors, including abusive behavior to gain controlling power over others to his own benefit, and in the process undo what good he’s done to this point by harnessing his undeniable talents. Richard Nixon, you may recall, thought there was only one authority he had to answer to, and that authority was named Richard Nixon. Like Christie, Nixon had an enemy's list and a group of white-collar people around him who spoke and acted like thugs. He also had a serious drinking problem.

Joe Schrank is an addiction specialist who was one of the founders of  The Fix.

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