The tragic death of Zappos founder who aimed to Deliver us Happiness, Tony Hsieh is alas just another example of how wealth and power does not preclude others from being surrounded by folks who feed one’s addiction in exchange for goods and services. As Forbes magazine reported the answers to his death seem to have been rooted in a Covid period spiral where he turned to drugs and shunned old friends in exchange for a more nefarious crowd.
Jewel who great up on the streets of San Diego and who knows all too well the perils of drug abuse tried to help Tony back in August . As is reported Jewel met Tony in Richard Branson’s island and they became fast and good friends. He had invited Jewel to Utah to play at a private event for 50 folks. Upset at what she saw, Jewell left after a day as she was so distraught over Tony’s behavior. “I am going to be blunt,” she wrote in the letter, the content of which was shared with Forbes. “I need to tell you that I don’t think you are well and in your right mind. I think you are taking too many drugs that cause you to disassociate.”
She continued: “The people you are surrounding yourself with are either ignorant or willing to be complicit in you killing yourself.” If more folks were like Jewel, we might just have fewer tragic outcomes.
There are many different reports on Hsieh’s descent into alcohol and drugs his obsession with psychedelic drugs, mushrooms and ecstasy, trying to see how much food and oxygen he could live without, the use of nitrous oxide and his obsession with 26-day alphabet diet where he would eat only what a letter of the alphabet was.
The tragedy of Hsieh’s death is perhaps an intervention might have saved his life. Perhaps if he had a team of folks gathered around him and dismissed the people who circled around him who stood nothing yet a good time to gain from indulging Hsieh might have stood a chance. In other words, if there were more Jewels and less enablers enmeshed in a sea of wealth and drugs, maybe just maybe he would have stood a chance.
While wealth, power and prestige gives one many things access, and availability to power it does not cover up a fragile sense of self nor the
isolation of being on the top of the heap or being alone.
I often get calls from highly successful families, business managers, financial planners, estate and trust attorneys all are gravely concerned about their clients and loved ones: a CEO of a cruise Line, the owner of a Luxury Car Dealership, the Creator of a can’t-live-without-tech-app, the celebrity who can’t memorize her lines.
All have private, yet crashing public, problems. Invariably there always is a cadre of unhealthy people who surround the person who is experiencing a substance abuse or mental health crisis. It’s much in the same way the Emperor in the Emperors ‘new clothes is surrounded by “yes persons who tell him he is finely dressed in his underwear.
Sometimes as wealth grows so does ones’ ego and that allows one to build walls which protect them from taking a closer look at behaviors that would put a middle-income person out on the street. Money also affords the economic ability to cater to one’s whims and try everything and anything.
Wealthy people often rationalize their addictions and mental health disorders away. I am not like other addicts I am not like other addicts. Turn on a movie or TV show and you’ll find the stereotype of an addict — homeless, in a shamble, on the street. As such, wealthy people experiencing an addiction disassociate with what they think an addict looks like from their own self-image. It can be tough to crack the veneer of a high-powered executive, coiffed in suit and tie, or in golf shirt and loafers and see that addiction can happen to them
In addition, wealthy may experience:
- Fear of letting other people in, retiring, leaving work selling out Fear of leaving work. Highly successful people often see their position as validation for their hard work and achievement, and as such have a hard time taking a break. They believe if they take time away, the company will fail, or all their efforts will crumble. Add in an addiction, which may adversely affect their performance at work, and the fear of losing their career success builds in the mind.
- Financial Concerns So if addiction arrives on the scene, wealthy people may not want to invest in the right kind of treatment because they see it as a waste. However, addiction can cause lost resources and money because of poor productivity, bad decisions made while high, or even reckless behavior. In the end, it is important for wealthy people to understand that addiction causes more financial strain than seeking out effective treatment.
- There may not be an “ah-ha” moment. There is often a “rock bottom” for people who experience addiction — losing a job, spousal separation, foreclosing on a home — which serves as the signal to seek help. For wealthy people who are cushioned by financial and other resources, there may not be a bottom to hit, making it difficult to see the signs of a real problem.
- Disappointing family, friends and colleagues. Because wealthy CEOs and executives are in such an influential position, they don’t want to acknowledge their struggle with addiction and risk letting down the company and those closest to them. In addition, wealthy high achievers may have a great number of responsibilities such as mentorship, leadership and guidance and fear letting those around them know about their struggles with addiction will hurt them. However, seeing it as owning one’s responsibilities, not admitting the problem and seeking help can be the biggest let down.
- Denial and rationalizing behavior. Often people in this situation will find excuses for their behavior. I only drink when I’m stressed or I’m only taking the pills because the doctor prescribed them for me. Although these sound-like legitimate reasons, beneath the surface is avoiding the truth that there is a problem, and they don’t want to confront it. Confidence in one’s self is a key tenet of success, but the dangerous flipside of this token is too much confidence can forge walls of denial and rationalizing behavior.
- Fear of stigma. People in powerful positions are associated with strength, confidence, and a rock-solid moral compass. Unfortunately, our society still views addiction as a weakness or moral failure, which sharply contradicts the key qualities of successful individuals. Add in public visibility and it can be difficult for an influential CEO or celebrity to seek help in an honest and open way.
- Family related issues. Divorce is common amongst executives and CEOs who work long hours, travel often, and experience high levels of stress, so admission to alcohol or other substance abuse issues can complicate divorce proceedings and custody battles. And the love one has for their children or the comforts of marriage serves to perpetuate the destructive behavior for fear of losing the façade of the perfect life and family.
- Fear of a permanent record. In addition to fear of shame related to addiction, successful wealthy people do not want this condition in a legal or insurance record, a paper trail that follows them the rest of their lives. Therefore, getting control of your addiction is important to avoid any high-profile legal repercussions.
- A sense of entitlement. People in this situation often see their achievement as proof that they are deserving of something more. If they experience an addiction, the sense of entitlement. People in this situation often see their achievement as proof that they are deserving of something more. If they experience an addiction, they look at all their success and believe there couldn’t possibly be a real problem. I built an empire, am I so weak to fall to addiction? In turn, this self-image creates an Emperor’s New Clothes situation that makes it difficult to find help as the person is surrounded with people on his/her payroll, coworkers and teammates. Finally, their fear of losing their livelihood is often greater than their willingness to speak the truth.
- A way to cover other physical ailments. According to Dr. James Flowers of J Flowers Heath Institute, wealthy people who experience a physical ailment such as an injury or chronic pain may turn to prescription pills, including opioids and the potent drug fentanyl, to manage the pain. Due to the highly addictive nature of these drugs, addiction is common, and users often abuse them. Furthermore, wealthy people addicted to prescription drugs have been known to shop around doctors to get new prescriptions written to keep up the habit.
- The circumstances surrounding a wealthy and high-achieving individual experiencing a substance abuse, process disorder or mental health issue requires a unique set of tools and treatment options to ensure recovery. And just because a person of this caliber is used to luxury experiences, does not mean luxury must be the only quality looked for in a treatment program. Too often I’ve heard from high-end clients how their treatment center with the great view and Olympic-sized aquatic complex and golf course nearby was essentially a luxury spa and didn’t give them the help they needed. An authentic recovery program is the right approach.
Effective treatment centers start where the client is—a multi-modal approach that addresses family dynamics, friends and loved ones, and
even consult co-workers and employees across companies and business pursuits. The idea is to remove the “yes man” mentality that feeds the wealthy person’s ego. Furthermore, treatment centers recognize that these types of clients should not receive special treatment, a commitment to every client with the same level of dignity and respect. It was Mrs. Betty Ford who was one of the first women to advocate for shared rooms amongst clients — movie stars, executives or shopkeepers — with a vision for equality.
In thinking about the holiday season and thinking about the ways in which millions of people are busy buying gifts intended to deliver happiness, in much the same way Tony Hsieh set out with Zappos please think about the loved ones you know who are struggling with substance misuse and anxiety, depression in this Covid lock down world, and give the gift of health. Addiction In The Family: Helping Families Navigate Challenges, Emotions and Recovery available on Amazon and bookstores everywhere may be just the Hanukkah gift or stocking stuffer to help your boss, the CEO, your husband, wife partner on the road to help.