Voices: Ben Affleck disappointed us all just when we were cheering him on

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

You have probably seen the photos. Even if you didn’t want to see the photos – they’re uncomfortable to look at – chances are they have popped up in your news feed. They’re paparazzi shots, dating back to 2018. Jennifer Garner is sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, her estranged husband Ben Affleck in the back seat. Garner is driving him to rehab. She’s seen in one of the images, stoic, handing him a paper bag from a fast food restaurant.

The photos, we now know, marked Affleck’s third stay at a rehab facility. Affleck has openly discussed his alcoholism and his sobriety, including in a New York Times profile last year, in which he said of this particular incident: “Relapse is embarrassing, obviously. I wish it didn’t happen. I really wish it wasn’t on the internet for my kids to see. Jen and I did our best to address it and be honest.”

It’s likely that Affleck’s latest comments on his sobriety and his marriage, which he shared during an interview with Howard Stern on Tuesday, wouldn’t have made as many headlines as they have if we hadn’t seen the photos. But we have, and they are a part of the narrative now. And they are a big part of why the internet collectively bristled when Affleck told Stern part of the reason he relapsed was because he felt “trapped” during his marriage to Garner.

“We’d probably be at each other’s throats,” he said, describing what his and Garner’s lives would be like if they were still together. “I’d probably still be drinking. Part of why I started drinking alcohol was because I felt trapped.”

He added: “I was like, ‘I can’t leave because of my kids, but I’m not happy, what do I do?’ And what I did was [I] drank a bottle of scotch and fell asleep on the couch, which turned out not to be the solution.”

A lot of people understandably groaned at the idea of Affleck seeking to place blame for his alcoholism on his marriage to Garner. Because, well, as far as we can tell, she did more than her part in supporting him, right? We saw the photos. We know who was driving the car that day. We know who was handing him food. We know who did the right thing by transporting him to rehab even after a drawn-out split (the pair separated in 2015 and finalized their divorce three years later, in 2018).

Author Roxane Gay, as always, put it best when she tweeted: “I was rooting for Ben Affleck but to blame his drinking on his marriage to Jennifer Garner is so silly. She dried his ass out multiple times! After they broke up even. Mmmmm. He best take himself to a meeting or something.”

Affleck himself sought to do some damage control on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Wednesday. “We talked a lot about my family, divorce, alcoholism, struggling with real things, how you have to be accountable and loving, how I work with my ex-wife, how I’m so proud of the way we work together for our kids, [do] the best that we can for them,” he told Kimmel. “I was really happy with [the interview]. I thought, ‘Wow, I should do more honest, exploratory, self-evaluating things.’ Then I start seeing all this stuff come up on Twitter. And I was like, ‘What is this?’”

This is when Affleck told Kimmel about a website who had, he said, “done the clickbait thing” and had “taken the conversation that I had had for two hours and made it seem as if I was saying the exact opposite of what I said”.

“It made me out to be the worst, most insensitive, stupid, awful guy,” Affleck said.

To which I must say, once again: ugh! I mean, really? The clickbait argument? That’s what we’re going with? I can imagine that it’s jarring when people focus on one thing you said during a longer conversation, but Affleck is 49 years old. He has been a Hollywood actor for roughly 24 of those years (I’m using the 1997 film Good Will Hunting as the starting point of his stardom). How is it not clear by now that if you say something on tape, on the record, then people will discuss it? That simple fact can’t possibly be a surprise to him in 2021.

This is all a great shame, because there is something genuinely healthy in the way Affleck has discussed his sobriety and the possibility of relapsing. “It’s important to be mindful that the whole key to sobriety is recognizing that the potential for relapse exists,” he told news.com.au last year. “You see people with 20 years, 30 years sober also relapse.”

“It’s scary and it’s complicated,” he added. “People aren’t even sure exactly why that happens. For me, I’ve noticed my relapses have been associated with feeling like I was all better. I’d say to myself, ‘It’s not really a problem anymore, and I can drink like a normal person. I’m fine now.’”

This kind of self-aware, insightful commentary wasn’t absent from Affleck’s interview with Stern. “Alcoholics Anonymous, I think by and large, is a good organization – it’s not the only one,” he said. And then he shared this tidbit, which I will be sure to remember as well as the rest of the interview: “The cure for addiction is suffering. You suffer enough that something inside you goes undone. And I’m lucky, because I hit that point before I lost the things that were the most important to me. Not my career or money. It was my relationship with my kids.

“When I felt that it impacted them, I recognized it. It was the worst day of my life. I made amends, and for a while I thought, ‘Maybe this is temporary. Maybe this is going to go away.’ But since that day, I swear to Christ, I have not ever wanted to drink once.”

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