BY: JANA GREENE
He had enjoyed 23 years of clean time, previous to his relapse. Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
In the announcement of his recent death from a drug overdose, CNN refers to Hoffman as “everyman,” and indeed, he was extraordinarily talented while still remaining personable. I know in my head that people with two decades of sobriety “fall off the wagon,” but it is always jarring to my heart when I hear about those occasions. Addictions will not be taken for granted.
There seems to be a slight shock that Hoffman, who suffered the same disease as Amy Winehouse, died from the same disease. His spin was not that of a train wreck, but of an accomplished and revered performer.
The article goes on to describe Hoffman as an actor so versatile that he “could be anybody.” I’m not sure the author of the piece really appreciates how true his statement is.
We are everyman …. everywoman. We alcoholics and addicts. We are legion.
Hoffman is Winehouse,
Who is the twenty-year old kid who died in the bathroom of a fast food joint with a needle in his arm,
Who is the elderly gentleman in the nursing home, stealing pills from a roomate,
Who is the wealthy businessman drinking in the wee hours of the morning to get going,
Who is a soccer mom who cannot stop at three glasses of chardonnay,
Who is me.
If the silence of those ripped from the landscape of the entertainment world is deafening; the gaping voids left by loved ones lost to addictions are life-swallowing sinkholes.
We alcoholics and addicts…..
We are not weak. The strongest people I’ve ever met have been recovering alcoholics.
We are born with super dopamine-seeking brains, susceptible to a hijacking of our brain chemistry. We know that our choices can keep our disease at bay, but we usually have to learn that the hard way.
We don’t want to make excuses for the train wrecks we pilot; we just want you to know they are not by design.
We are sensitive, and are often creative forces to be reckoned with.
We contribute to the landscape of the world. We make music and poetry and art. We make business deals, and partnerships. And we value relationships more than you can imagine.
We love deeply, intrinsically…..sometimes so deeply that our souls cannot seem to bear it sober.
We punch time clocks and live ordinary lives. And truth be told, it isn’t always the pain that makes us want to drink and use, but fear of the ordinary.
We love our children fiercely. Yes, we would change “For the sake of the children” if only we could.
We have heart. We grieve so for hurting people. We often lack the instincts to handle that grief without self-destructing.
We really don’t want to self-destruct at all, but we don’t always know how to keep it from happening until the process has begun.
We crave the ability to handle life on life’s terms “normally,” like you do.
We don’t mean to embarrass you.
We don’t want to inflict the pain on others that our brain chemistry urges us to. Addiction is as a plaque in the arteries of the spirit, a disorder of the brain. Like any mental illness, nobody wants to have it.
A good portion of any recovery program worth it’s salt is accountability. We want to make ammends with you (and if we don’t want to, don’t despair….we are working on it.)
We are brought to our knees in a desperation that normally-wired brains cannot fathom. And we can get better – if we stay on our knees.
We need each other for survival. We sit in meetings in drab church basements drinking lukewarm coffee with others like us who are cut from the same colorful brilliant, thread-bare, sturdy cloth – because we want to go on living and contributing to the world, just like you.
We need God most of all. He is the Power Greater than Ourselves that can restore us to sanity.
We are “everyman” and “everywoman.”
And we get sober. We even stay sober, with work. With the understanding that our disease will not be taken for granted.
But we need you to understand some things:
You can support people who are trying to win – and daily WINNING – the footrace with tragedy.
You can try not to shame them. They feel guilty enough.
You can start here to educate yourself on the realities of alcoholism and drug addiction.
You can know that you are NOT ALONE – if you are everyman or everywoman, too.
You can ask someone who struggles with addiction – past or present – to church. Our spirits, above all else, need to be nourished.
You can ask a recovering friend to go to the movies with you, or out to dinner, or for a walk on the beach. Our minds and bodies need to be nourished, too.
You can ask questions.
You can pray for us.
You can just not give up on us.
You can know this, mothers and fathers. Your child’s addiction is NOT YOUR FAULT. You did not cause it.
You can be tender to us in recovery, just as you would anyone in treatment for a disease.
By simply talking about it, you help strip away the stigma. Because the only thing worse than battling a disease is battling a disease that many people don’t believe exists. A disease that – if treatment is not embraced as a way of life – can be fatal.
Please take a moment to consider the loss of life and talent that alcoholism and drug addiction has taken from the cultural landscape.
And then think about the voids left by the vastly more important “everyman” lost or still in the trenches of addiction – the children, spouses, friends and family that you love.
Amy Winehouse, musician; Brian Jones, musician with The Rolling Stones; Chris Farley, comedian, actor; Cory Monteith, actor and singer; Darrell Porter, American professional baseball player ; Elisa Bridges, model, actress; Elvis Presley , musician, singer, actor, cultural icon; Freddie Prinze, actor; Hank Williams, Sr., country music singer-songwriter; Heath Ledger, Australian actor; Howard Hughes, business tycoon, movie producer and director, aviator, engineer, investor; Janis Joplin, musician; Jim Morrison, musician, singer; Jimi Hendrix, musician and singer-songwriter; John Belushi , actor and comedian; John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who; Jon Bonham, drummer and songwriter for Led Zeppelin; Judy Garland, actress and singer; Keith Moon, drummer for The Who; Kurt Cobain, Nirvana singer; Len Bias, Boston Celtics player; Lenny Bruce, comedian ; Marilyn Monroe, actress, model, singer; Michael Jackson, singer and icon; Richard Burton, actor; River Phoenix, actor; Sigmund Freud, considered by many to be the founding father of psychoanalysis; Tommy Dorsey, jazz musician; Truman Capote, writer; and Whitney Houston, singer and actress.
For a more comprehensive list of the famous who have passed away due to substance abuse, click here.