I took the news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing stoically, mostly shrugging it off and watching the collective wail for wasted talent echo through social media. I have a friend who works in drug rehab and when I ask her how her practice is going she always responds, “some are going up, some are going down.”
Hoffman’s story was not to be a simple one day meme however, people were rattled, he was middle-aged (we’re the same age actually) he had small kids waiting for him in a park and he never showed (because he was slopped over in a crappy bathroom dead). The story was just getting worse and worse and hitting closer to home. The announcement yesterday of four drug dealers being arrested who possibly sold to him seemed almost triumphant, but I had to wonder, how long did the police know about these people and did they just sit by not bothering until a famous person died.
Perhaps I’m being far too cynical here.
I am thankful that I am not a drug addict or alcoholic. I’ve never even flirted with it, but some family members have. A person or two from each generation has had to struggle with it, depression too. Luckily no one I know of has met Hoffman’s fate, I like to think it’s because my family is strong for each other. We also understand that addiction is a disease not a personal failing. Because of my family’s tendencies I never tried “hard drugs” too fearful that my synapses would fire in a perfect combination and I would wind up slumped over dead next to a toilet some day. Fear had a lot to do with my aversion of drugs – solid, healthy fear.
Russell Brand has become an uncertain poster child for “drug addict who stayed sober” and his articulate description of his addiction actually did help me understand the desperation. Debbie Bayer, who has worked in addiction for over 20 years wrote one of the best descriptions I’ve seen on just how little control an addict has.
And I worked in drug rehab.
As a college sophomore, I got an internship at a residential drug treatment facility helping the president of the organization write a book about AIDS and drug abuse (I was a journalism major). It was 1986 and I had never met a “drug addict” before. I was full of shit of course, I had, I just didn’t realize it out of youthful oblivion. I was not connected with the residents through my work but we ate lunch together every day.
They would swap horror stories about their experiences with bawdy, morbid humor. There were often guffaws over stories that left me pale. One of the residents, after telling something particularly terrifying, looked at pasty-faced me, then at the bemused table of other residents and said, “I don’t think we have to worry about her shooting up.” Dude, you were so, so right.
My son will face these temptations at an earlier age than any previous generation.
The bombardment of the web, of kids with more money than ever before, of overworked parents who might not be able to watch their kids as closely as they’d like, of the snotty 14 year old drug dealer two lockers over. I worry about it all. I hope he’ll come through unscathed, we talk about it, he knows I have his back. Please just make smart choices.
Mr. Hoffman, you’ve gotten us thinking and talking. Perhaps your tragedy has saved dozens of lives as people get help, others may proffer a hand they might not have given last week. Maybe, just maybe, a few more minds understand the nature of addiction and will turn from disgust to compassion.