Getting Over Sarah Palin

As Election Day draws near, it’s time for us to acknowledge: There’s a good chance that soon we won’t have Sarah Palin to kick around anymore. Our writer consults the experts on dealing with withdrawal.

As tough as it may be to accept, Election Day is fast approaching, and we’ll have to get over our addiction to Sarah Palin. We have to admit, it’s been lots of fun and games—Tina Fey’s impersonations, amusing song parodies on YouTube, a video pastiche of the Republican vice-presidential candidate’s puzzling “accent” (Wisconsin? Marge Gunderson?) over the years, late-show hosts’ monologues and porno flicks (Nailin’ Paylin). But it’s time to move on, get past her, acknowledge that, given the polls favoring the Obama/Biden ticket, she likely won’t be in the public eye anymore after the voting’s done.

After Nov. 4, psychologists predict, there will be legions of people all across America who will find a hole in their lives and time on their hands.

“We are all absolutely obsessed with Sarah Palin,” says Dr. Sheenah Hankin, Manhattan psychotherapist and author of Complete Confidence: A Handbook. “I’ve never seen this before. Even my patients want to talk about her all the time. After Election Day, even if we are relieved [by the results], we can expect to feel a huge sense of loss.”

Because of Sarah Palin, Tina Ulakovic can’t even enjoy her massages anymore. “Sarah Palin makes my blood boil,” says Ulakovic, a school nurse who lives in Highland Shores, Texas, near Dallas. “I think this woman should be brought up on charges—the lying, the mudslinging, irresponsibly inciting people. I’m more qualified to be vice president than she is, and I’m not qualified.”

“I talk about her even during my massages,” Ulakovic admits. “So my massages are definitely not relaxing these days.”

She’s not alone, so what’s going to happen if all goes as predicted this Election Day, and McCain and Palin lose? “People will feel a void,” says Cynthia Power, director of Life Enrichment Services, just west of Chicago, Sen. Barack Obama’s hometown. The center seeks to “help free clients from the bondage of addictions,” mostly the so-called “process addictions” like gambling, compulsive spending, cybersex, and real-life sex and love, as opposed to the substance addictions of drugs or alcohol. “You can become addicted to specific people, which is the case with Sarah Palin,” Power says.

The Sarah Palin phenomenon is analogous to an itch you just have to scratch. And scratch, and scratch. And think about scratching even when you’re not scratching. “She’s become a real compulsion,” Power says. “Most of us are voyeurs, and all those who are obsessed with her are intrigued by her combination of beauty and brawn. That and the fact that the beauty and brawn are there, but not the brain. And people are angry and appalled that she is unqualified to run for vice president, and yet she’s getting away with it.”

What Sarah Palin has done, though obviously unwittingly, is unify the nation. You betcha. We’ve become a country obsessed. Forgetting Sarah Palin is going to be one hard task, gosh darn it.

“Sarah Palin’s a good choice,” Joe the Plumber says. “I also think she’s hot. My wife looks like Sarah Palin when she wears her glasses.” “People can become dependent on anything, and anyone,” says Jim Balmer, director of Dawn Farm, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Mich. “They are neurotically obsessed with Sarah Palin.”

Sen. John McCain’s announcement on Aug. 29 that he had chosen Sarah Palin as his running mate astounded political observers, and the astonishment, along with the national preoccupation, has not stopped since. Sarah Palin has even appeared, playing herself, on Saturday Night Live.

Oh, memories. Hockey moms. Lipstick and pit bulls. Lipstick on pigs. Good times.

“Did you see Sarah Palin in that Katie Couric interview?” Ulakovic says. “Talk about deer in the headlights!” Or moose in the headlights.

Laura Gelles, a self-professed Palin addict, has spent “hours every day, reading and watching things about Sarah Palin.” When this Los Angeles freelance TV producer finds other demands on her time, TiVo comes to the rescue.

“I’m obsessed,” Gelles says. “It’s been fun. The whole thing is so unbelievable and it’s also frightening. What kind of candidate goes to a witch doctor for an exorcism?”

Joe the Plumber, a.k.a. Joe Rappa in Newark, Del., Joe Biden’s home state, says the campaign is the only thing his customers talk about—every single day at every single plumbing job. Rappa, who advertises as Joe the Plumber, says he has been a lifelong Democrat, except the year he voted for Ronald Reagan and this year. “Sarah Palin’s a good choice,” Joe the Plumber says. “I also think she’s hot. My wife looks like Sarah Palin when she wears her glasses.”

The big reason it’s so easy to laugh about Palin as opposed to, say, Dick Cheney, is that at this point there is little chance that the Alaska governor and former mayor of a tiny meth village will come to be a heartbeat away from succeeding a 72-year-old president. “Now, especially, it’s a safe place to vent our feelings of annoyance, rage, and frustration,” Power says.

Sarah Palin has quickly become the nation’s drug of choice.

Laughing at Sarah Palin is cathartic, and fun, and a great big comic relief from the current administration, the war, and a devastated economy. Balmer, the addiction counselor in Michigan, says the excitement many voters feel these days when they’re talking about Palin can spark their dopamine pleasure pathways the same way a hit of meth does. “Do their limbic systems light up when people talk about Sarah Palin?” Balmer asks. Doggone it, sure they do, folks!

An element, a big element, of jealousy—she’s young, she’s pretty, she’s gotten enormous breaks—plays into all this, Hankin says. “Jealousy is a killer thing,” Hankin notes. “And with her political background and seeming lack of qualifications for the job, people are very frightened of her. People also put down what they’re scared of.”

Don’t go cold turkey, therapists warn, since the shock to your nervous system would be severe. “This election is a reality show,” Hankin adds. “Palin is pure TV. People love drama. And we live in a culture that’s very big on blaming. All the blaming and finger-pointing raises the level of anger in this country to new heights.”

Palin serves another purpose, Hankin contends, “a way for people to feel angry with Bush.” This is convenient. “We can focus all our feelings on her, because so very much is wrong in this country and confusing,” Hankin says. “Sarah Palin is our addiction.”

As with any other addiction, people who need their daily Palin fix should expect to experience withdrawal pains from the daily headlines, the talk-show hilarity and all the communal fun they’ve come to count on to feed their daily habit.

“People who are obsessed with something, or someone, feel a big loss when it’s gone,” Balmer says.

So what’s a detoxing Sarah Palin addict to do?

Don’t go cold turkey, therapists warn, since the shock to your nervous system would be severe. As with any addiction, they say, people who withdraw suddenly will experience the opposite of what they feel when they are under the influence, becoming depressed, irritable, and empty. So, start slow. The time to start preparing is now. Tell three Palin jokes a day, rather than five. Limit yourself to one impersonation per day. From this point forward, the words “maverick,” “Bridge to Nowhere,” “earmark,” “shotgun wedding,” “Bristol and Levi,” “Miss Alaska,” and “Russia” are never to be uttered—even, or especially, if you smirk while saying them. No more winking. And do not, under any circumstances, buy those Kawasaki 704 eyeglasses or put your hair in an upswept do.

Palin addicts can expect to experience the five stages of grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her groundbreaking 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

The first stage is denial: “Say it ain’t so, Joe!” The second stage, anger: “Why, oh why, must we vote now and lose all this fun?” The third stage is bargaining: “C’mon, Sarah, how about a run for Senate?” Then, depression: “What will we laugh about now?” The fifth, and final, stage on the way to recovery is acceptance: “The people have spoken. Bye-bye.” How long will the grieving last? Perhaps until Obama’s inauguration in January.

Palinologists, and all those obsessed with her, will “probably keep using her phrases as part of the normal mourning and grieving process, much in the way that a new widow will continue preparing her late husband’s favorite meals,” Power says. “It’s a way of grieving, to eventually let go.”

So, pop open a fresh one, all you Joe Six-Packs out there, and get ready to drop Sarah Palin like a “g” at the end of a verb.

For a lot of people, the only thought scarier than quitting Sarah Palin is having her in office for four years. But not to worry. We’ll always have Wasilla.

Andrea Higbie, a former writer and editor for The New York Times, has also written for People, Salon, Glamour, Allure, Redbook, and Parenting. More by Andrea Higbie