Paula Abdul’s public addiction

Paula Abdul’s addiction confession to Ladies Home Journal was about as anticlimactic at “Star Trek” topping the box office this past weekend. There has long been speculation about Abdul’s potential drug abuse, because her primary role on “American Idol,” with its 25 million viewers, has meant that just about anyone who watches television has been privy to her symptoms. There was the on-camera speech slurring, the heavy eyes, the air of sluggishness and general “weirdo” behavior that led many to wonder what was ailing Idol’s most charitable critic.

But along with conjecture that Abdul depends on prescription pills to get through the day, there has been a series of confessions and denials that complicate the picture. So when LHJ reported last week that Abdul said, “I could have killed myself…. Withdrawal—it’s the worst thing…I was freezing cold, then sweating hot, then chattering and in so much pain, it was excruciating,” many assumed she was finally admitting her addiction. But Abdul immediately recanted, telling a Detroit radio station that she checked into La Costa Resort and Spa not for rehab, but because she “just wanted to chill out and get massages.”

Abdul wouldn’t be the first Jewish girl to appreciate a good pampering. And one thing Abdul does want her public to know is that she’s a good Jewish girl. According to Wikipedia, her father is a Sephardic Jew, born in Syria and raised in Brazil, and her mother is a Canadian-born Jew originally from Manitoba. There are countless websites devoted to analyzing Abdul’s Jewishness, including a youtube video of her discussing her roots with a Chabad rabbi. 


Abdul has also been candid about her history sustaining multiple severe injuries for which heavy medication was necessary. Despite this, she told People magazine in 2005 that she was “not addicted to pills of any kind,” though according to MSNBC, she also said, “If people only knew what I’ve gone through with pain and pills. I’m dancing for joy at the fact that not even a year ago I was in so much pain I could barely get up.” MSNBC also notes that in November 2004, Abdul was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a chronic neurological disorder that causes severe pain, for which Abdul admitted to self-treating with a once a week injection of an anti-inflammatory drug.

The back and forth doesn’t necessary indicate Abdul’s private denial, though that may be the case. It does however reveal her reluctance to confront her demons in public. Most people who battle addiction are forced to come clean with their family and friends either before they check into rehab or just after—what they certainly don’t have to do is confirm it with the American media who will spin, speculate and prognosticate about possible outcomes. We live in a society that tends to humiliate its victims, that finds some secret pleasure in the misfortunes of others, especially when they’re rich, famous or (heaven help them) both. Sometimes the social stigma that goes along with illnesses like addiction or depression, force those suffering from them to go into hiding, to withdraw from the world. (Daphne Merkin’s essay on depression published in yesterdays New York Times Sunday Magazine illustrates this well.) Or like Abdul, they continuously deny that there is a problem, surely anticipating the firestorm of public discourse that would descend on a most personal and intimate struggle.

How can we blame her?

Abdul on her Judaism:

Abdul’s nightmare dissected by CNN pundits here.