Welcome home, John Sullivan


John Sullivan and Michael Bates, April 17, 2006. Photo by John Tidwell.Monday evening I attended a reception welcoming Congressman John Sullivan back from his month at the Betty Ford Center. Sullivan checked himself into the center for rehabilitation for alcoholism. Since his return, he has made himself widely available for interviews with print and broadcast media about the impact of alcohol on his life and his reasons for dealing with the problem proactively. (See below for links.)

Sullivan has said that he sought treatment because of the effect alcohol was having on his relationships with his family, and in particular that he wanted to set a better example for his oldest son, who is now a teenager.

The event was attended by his three Oklahoma Republican colleagues in the U. S. House -- Frank Lucas, Tom Cole, and Mary Fallin, each of whom spoke briefly in appreciation of Sullivan's work in Congress.

I've heard negative comments from a number of Republicans, in person and via e-mail, suggesting that it's time for Sullivan to step aside or expressing an intention to support a primary challenge against him.

If someone has a beef with Sullivan over his vote on the bailout last fall, I can understand. It was a significant lapse for him and for Sen. Tom Coburn, and I think that time has shown that the bailout was the wrong move for our economy. But I have to weigh that against Sullivan's consistent record as the most fiscally conservative of Oklahoma's House delegation, as a solid social conservative, and as someone willing to take a stand in support of genuine and effective enforcement of laws against illegal immigration, a position that puts him at odds with the Chamber of Commerce types. While I think his record is overwhelmingly positive on balance from the conservative perspective, it's certainly a conservative voter's right to decide use the bailout vote as a litmus test, although I think that's short-sighted.

But it would be wrong to push John Sullivan out the door because he sought rehabilitation for alcoholism. If Sullivan is punished at the polls for seeking treatment, it will encourage others in public life who are dealing with a personal problem like substance dependency or marital strife to keep hiding, instead of seeking help, until the problem blows up into a huge career-ending, family-wrecking scandal. Sullivan has been open about his decision to seek help for his problem with alcohol in hopes that others who need help will find the strength to seek it out.

It's telling that, of all John Sullivan's most vocal political enemies, on the left and on the right, not one has come forward with a damaging rumor alleging scandalous behavior on his part. If something were out there, it would have surfaced on one web forum or another. As I wrote in late May, when he announced that he had admitted himself to the Betty Ford Center, "I had never seen anything in his behavior even hinting at a problem and had never even heard rumors of a problem."

Some have complained about Sullivan's being on leave during the House's vote on the "Cap and Trade" bill. The margin was wide enough that Sullivan's lone vote would not have made the difference. The Democratic leadership's last-minute substitute bill made it obvious that they would keep rewriting the bill until they persuaded enough of their own members to vote yes for something. What passed was a 300-page substitute that isn't even complete. An entire section -- the heart of the plan -- hasn't even been written, much less approved. The Senate will pass a different version (maybe -- Sen. Jim Inhofe says it's dead in the water), there will be a conference committee, all sorts of unholy, corrupt provisions will be quietly inserted into the bill by the conferees and their staffers, and then it will go back to the House and Senate for approval. There are plenty of opportunities yet to kill this thing, and once the teeth are in the bill, there will be some substance that Sullivan and others can use to convert yes voters to no voters. Sullivan will be there when it matters.

Congratulations to John on seeking help when he needed it and on his successful completion of rehab. I'm happy to have Congressman Sullivan back in Washington representing Oklahoma's 1st District.


KTUL: Sullivan Got Sober for Family

Sullivan will tell you drinking did not hurt him that much. Even when he was drinking, he said he worked-out regularly and got his job done. It was his loved ones who paid a price.

"They wanted to do things, and I wouldn't the next day when I'm hung over or don't feel too good. I wasn't there for them either, and might be snappy with them, and tell them, 'Get outta here.' I'd argue with my wife, and I feel terrible about that. It's not the way I want to be." explained Sullivan.

For Sullivan failing his kids started with drinking when he was a teenager. He began by sharing some Coors Light with his high school buddies. He would drink on and off, binging and then giving it up for years. But abstinence was never permanent, so after breaking promises to quit he said he finally decided he had to put his family first.

KTUL: Sullivan: "People Or Things Didn't Make Me Drink"

"People or things didn't make me drink," he says. "That's not what it was. It wasn't like things were stressful. I just did. I'm an alcoholic ya know? And if I start drinking I want to drink more, not every time but eventually that does happen."

Sullivan says over time, the occasional binge evolved from light beer to vodka and a strain at home. He says he wants to make it up to his family and his constituents by turning it all into a positive.

"I'm sure some people are disappointed with me," he says. "But it's hard to apologize because I needed to get help and I did. And I wanted to come forward and do this in a way that was public because I want to help other people."

KOTV: Congressman Sullivan Discusses Time In Rehab

Sullivan said during his month long treatment he learned that he will face a long recovery, but that he can overcome it.

"I can't drink. When I drink, it goes in and I react differently than a normal person. The choice I have is to work hard, and do what I need to do, but also to not to drink the first one. It's not the tenth drink that gets me drunk. It's the first one that starts the process," said Oklahoma Congressman John Sullivan.

KOTV: Experts Say Sullivan's Battle Could Help Others

Sullivan says he appreciates all the support he's received, and pledges to remain honest about his treatment in hopes that others will choose to take the same steps he did.

"That's the reason I'm being so public about it, too. If it can help someone come forward to know that you need to get help, and you can get it. Don't be scared to do it, and you won't be judged or punished. But, come forward and do it," said Congressman John Sullivan.

(Photo above by John Tidwell, taken April 2006.)

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 6, 2009 11:55 PM.

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