Shedding a Lars Von Tear
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Shedding a Lars Von Tear


Many of us have now heard about Nymphomaniac writer/director Lars Von Trier’s public statement of concern that he will not make another decent film now that he is sober. Of course, this is a hot topic of discussion—not necessarily because of the worldwide fear that Von Trier may not make another movie but because his sophomoric exclamation lends some unfortunate credibility to one of the more common lies reluctant alcoholics tell themselves so that they can keep on drinking. My suggestion is that Von Trier run these moments of clarity by his sponsor before sharing it with the world.

When Comedian Greg Giraldo died in 2010, a “sober” friend of mine called me to vent. I put sober in quotations to indicate that while Andre (not his real name) hadn’t drank in five years, he also hadn’t attended a meeting or worked a step in that time and his bitter disposition was an accurate representation of this. Andre had been friendly with Giraldo and was angry that Giraldo’s relapse had resulted in his death, especially since—Andre felt—Giraldo’s return to drugs was largely responsible for the level of success he had reach in his career.

It was hard to hear that someone thought a person’s drug addiction was not only a good thing but was also the main reason their life was going so well. I challenged Andre’s rationale and then he challenged me to come up with the name of one person who was sober and also at the height of their career. There are, of course, many highly successful sober people (far more that choose to keep their sobriety anonymous) but in the moment I wasn’t able to think of anyone. This then led to me comparing my sober and flailing career to that of the drinking and thriving Chelsea Hander, resulting in a month-long depression and reason number 47 as to why I really have to weed toxic people out of my life.

While there are a million reasons why recovering alcoholics decide to drink again, one of the most popular I hear is the fear that they won’t be able to (or aren’t able to) tap into their God given talent without the help of drugs and alcohol and even that help looks a lot more like a hindrance. I have no idea what was going on in Von Trier’s life that caused him to get sober but my educated guess is that whatever he was doing had stopped working.

There is no doubt that it’s really really hard to accept the totality of a severe lifestyle change like sobriety. Unlike the soft stance one might be able to take on quitting sugar—by treating themselves to a cupcake every now and then or even smoking, by taking a couple drags off a cigarette when they are drunk—there is rigidity with sobriety that is terrifying to people considering it. I told people during my first five years in 12-step that I wasn’t drinking right now but that I highly doubted I would never drink again. Part of me said that to downplay the perceived grandiosity of lifetime abstinence and avoid interrogation but another part of me needed to believe I might have a drink again once my life was back on track. What I am taking from Von Trier’s fear is that he knows he needs to get sober—he might even want to be sober—but he is scared the world will reject him as an artist and that they won’t be able to or want to accept him for who is as a sober person. I think anyone who has pondering quitting drinking or drugs can relate to that.

But with all the understanding and compassion in the world, I have a bone to pick with Von Trier. If he wants to belittle the great Jimi Hendrix by alluding to him not being worth a damn without heroin, then that is cruel and sad but at least it’s unbeknownst to Hendrix, who never had the opportunity to show the world what he could or couldn’t sober. But to drag the Rolling Stones into it—a band who has not only churned out countless hits and maintained an impressive fan base for five decades, but has also managed to stay together and tour for 50 years despite their sobriety and aged, drug-abused bodies (and a long-standing rift between Keith and Mick)—is nothing short of blasphemous and criminal. You know something, Von Trier? I would bother with the Rolling Stones sans booze any day of the week.

Photo courtesy of Siebbi (Lars von Trier) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.