Skip to main content

Toronto mayor could be your neighbor

By Patrick R. Krill
November 19, 2013 -- Updated 0007 GMT (0807 HKT)
 Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is surrounded by the media as he leaves his office at Toronto City Hall on November 15.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is surrounded by the media as he leaves his office at Toronto City Hall on November 15.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Patrick Krill: We laugh about Toronto Mayor Ford's stunts, but addiction is serious
  • Krill: High-functioning addicts with big jobs are all around us, disguising their addictions
  • Krill: They think if they were addicts, they couldn't go to work every day; others believe it too
  • He says friends, family need to stop excusing their behavior because they're professionals

Editor's note: Patrick R. Krill is an attorney, clinician and board-certified, licensed alcohol and drug counselor. He is the director of the Legal Professionals Program at Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center.

(CNN) -- If you're not Canadian, chances are you have never been as acutely aware of the political happenings of that country as you are now. Rob Ford, the embattled and out-of-control mayor of Toronto, has made sure of that, with his erratic behavior blazing across our screens more boldly and brightly than the reddest maple leaf that nation has ever produced.


Ford's booze-soaked stunts and possibly drug-driven debacles -- now feeding the tabloids and late night talk shows more meat than they could digest in a year -- are probably nothing you haven't read about, talked about, thought about, or, unfortunately, laughed about.

Patrick R. Krill
Patrick R. Krill


But what you might not have thought about is this: You know this man. You know and respect this man. He works with you. He works for you. He lives next door to you. He's related to you. He might even be you. He is, in fact, everywhere. And there's nothing funny about it.

Oftentimes functioning at levels you would never expect from someone with an addiction, the Rob Ford in your life is trying your case, prescribing your medication, running your company, investing your money, flying your plane and governing your city. And guess what? He or she is doing it from the grips of a progressive disease, making it look easy until, well, one day it suddenly looks horrible. I know -- I've been there.

Was my own powerful reckoning with alcohol as excruciatingly documented and publicly consequential? Mercifully, no. Not even close. Could it have been, under different circumstances? Yes, perhaps. When you laugh at the mayor of Toronto, you are laughing at the struggles of countless people like him that you'll never know about. People who you otherwise admire and sometimes even vote for.

You see, the biggest difference between Mayor Ford and millions of other alcoholics and addicts who have built a successful career isn't that his behaviors are so much more shocking, it's that his are alone in the center of a spotlight, on full display like the unsightly scar most of us are able to keep private. And he's the mayor of one of the largest cities in North America.

Rob Ford: According to Rob Ford
Toronto mayor showdown
'SNL' mocks Toronto's embattled mayor

But if you dim that light and pause those digital recorders, you'll see the mayor is not alone. He's surrounded. Surrounded by a vast sea of others shrouded in the same, strong, delusional fog of denial. A fog that's born from the marriage of disease and diploma, sickness and success. And, you're surrounded by them, too.

Hiding in plain sight, addicted yet outwardly successful professionals are a carefully disguised contradiction. We don't have a problem with our drinking. Other people have a problem with their drinking. You know, the type of people who couldn't do half of what we've done. The people who couldn't even get our job, let alone do it. Those people.

Even when startling evidence to the contrary begins piling up, as it so clearly has with Mayor Ford, we stick to our story and cling to our capabilities. To paraphrase the mayor, if we were alcoholics, we couldn't show up to work every day.

Could we?

Yes. And we do. Until the bitter end and long after the other relationships in our lives have tanked, we suit up and show up. We're professionals. And as long as we've got that, we're not alcoholics. We're not addicts. Or so our inner monologue goes. But, if you pierce through that devastatingly convincing argument we sell ourselves, and you, each of us is a walking bundle of profound denial, tightly bound up by an impressive tailored suit, spotless lab coat or an elegant black robe.

Bolstered by a track record of academic or professional victories, we've got a deep stockpile of accomplishments to call upon in our war against reality. We have a formidable arsenal of achievements deftly deployed against you and your little idea that we need help. That's cute -- that you think we need help. But you don't get it. We're not the kind of people who need help. Do you even understand how talented and smart we are?

Although denial is the hallmark characteristic of all alcoholics and addicts, unfortunately for us ours comes with a resume that pumps our ego and demands your respect. Until, that is, it eventually doesn't.

Last year I was sitting in my office with a client -- a highly successful, highly regarded attorney with a highly advanced drinking problem -- who after years of fervently denying his problem finally found his truth. He looked me dead in the eye, breathed a slow sigh of calm relief and said plainly: "The jig is up." From that moment forward, his life changed. His denial had collapsed, thankfully before he did.

So what was responsible for his long overdue recognition of the obvious and surrender to reality? It was the fact that those around him had stopped excusing his reluctance to seek help out of deference to his professional stature. No longer were people overlooking his sickness out of respect for his career. More important, neither was he.

As our science moves toward a better understanding of addiction and our culture moves toward a greater acceptance of it, it's important to keep in mind that this disease walks upright through all corridors of our society, even those in the house of that accomplished professional next door. We might want to stop laughing now.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Patrick Krill.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT