That was because I had spent the past year blowing all my cash (including a lucrative book advance, which had given me more money than I’d ever had in my life) on strippers and alcohol. I never drank much until a year before then, but that life got the better of me quickly.
That was simultaneously the worst and most consequential day of my life. The next day, I came clean to my therapist, who suggested I start going to Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings. I worked to repair the relationships with family, friends and acquaintances whom I had been treating horribly. Any good fruit in my life now sprang from that horse manure of a day.
So, when President Trump brought up Hunter Biden’s addiction to attack former vice president Joe Biden on Tuesday night, I immediately thought back to that summer. As saccharine as it sounds, the president of the United States is also the president of screw-ups, addicts and hopefuls like me and Hunter Biden. But Trump’s comments made clear that he believes that an addict’s actions can be used against our families to attack their character.
That will make us less willing to talk about our problems and get the help we need. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says explicitly that stigma can make people with substance abuse disorders less willing to seek treatment. And that makes sense. If your addiction is going to be used against you, why try to get better?
Hunter Biden’s problems with alcohol, drugs and women have been well-documented. (News reports show that, contrary to what Trump said Tuesday, Hunter was not dishonorably discharged from the Navy Reserve when he tested positive for cocaine in 2014.) Those demons were enough of an issue that when the former vice president began running last year, the New Yorker published a piece asking whether they would “jeopardize his father’s campaign.” That story ran a few days before I finally hit bottom myself.
I don’t know Hunter Biden, but I do know that worrying that your own actions could hurt the people you love is one of the things that tears an addict up inside. I knew I was miserable, but I also knew my actions contradicted all the good things my family had taught me, which is why I never told them the truth. The lies didn’t fix anything, though; I just felt even guiltier, which of course made me drink more and go back to strip clubs. I felt like I didn’t deserve my family, and I feared any bad thing that happened to them would be God’s retribution for me running so astray.
When my mom finally confronted me, she thought I was deceiving her because I thought lying was fun. It was the opposite; I knew my actions were wrong. I couldn’t bear to make her think that she had failed as a parent, and I didn’t want the people at her church to associate her with my filth (when, in fact, they were the ones who told her not to give up on me).
Trump’s attempts to dismiss the late Beau Biden’s good work Tuesday by returning to Hunter Biden’s failings (“I don’t know Beau. I know Hunter”) also hit home for me because I always worried that my sister — who along with being my best friend is the best daughter, wife and teacher I know — would have her reputation dragged down because of me.
I don’t know the inner dynamics of the Biden family. But I am sure the things Hunter did must have broken his father’s heart. I am sure they had conversations like the ones my mom had with me. So Joe Biden could have, rightly, brushed off Trump with another “will you shut up” or refocused the conversation on Beau, whose death he’s still so publicly grieving.
But instead, he met the moment head-on. “My son, like a lot of people you know at home, had a drug problem,” he said — before saying that Hunter has fixed them, and then uttering the words every recovering addict wants to hear: “I am proud of my son.”
Addictions require shame the same way fires require matches. We tell ourselves that nobody would want anything to do with us if they knew the truth. By trying to hit Biden with his son’s problems, Trump took a blowtorch to countless addicts’ shame, igniting our worst fears that we could harm those we love.
Trump has said he doesn’t drink because of his brother Fred’s battles with alcohol. But when it comes to his opponents, Trump is perpetuating the idea that addiction is a moral failing deserving of scorn.
Almost 20 million Americans above age 12 had a substance-use disorder as of 2017, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Many of these people fight with everything they can to stop using. And once they get sober, they have to spend every hour trying to avoid the same things that trigger them. All that is already hard enough. Addicts don’t need the president making it even harder.