yes, i know, we all have thoughts on phillip seymour hoffman, and i won’t be saying anything here that’s revelatory or new, but i still feel the need to say it.

i have an addict in my family, one who has struggled with drugs every bit as serious and frightening as the one that killed PSH. it’s been a weird, hard, bewildering handful of years since that addiction became apparent, and i spent a lot of time feeling the things that people seem to find it acceptable to feel in public about addiction —accusatory, self-righteous, incredulous of the disease model, angry, deeply sad.

lately, i’m starting to understand addiction for what it is, not some selfish thing the addict is doing TO me and other people. and i’ve been heartened by the discussion i’ve seen around PSH’s death and what addiction really means — an awfully lonely existence, one most addicts would desperately like to leave behind, and a compulsion that makes it exceedingly difficult to do so. in popular culture, the idea of “addict” is synonymous with burnouts, losers, slackers, the homeless, filth, STDs, basically the Untouchables of our society. that leaves aside all the middle class white kids i know in WV who started snorting pain pills in the back corners of the choir room in high school, leading them down the path to what is now a wholly unmanageable life. that leaves out people of great talent, with impressive work ethics, who nonetheless struggle to get the monkey off their backs. everyone struggling with addiction deserves a way out, even the people it’s become acceptable to verbally shit on, or to jail instead of trying to help them, because they’re not contributing in some Randian sense. frankly, that’s bullshit. i know firsthand what a manipulative emotional succubus an addict can be. i also know how badly the addicts in my life want to change. tough love may feel like the right answer, because it affords us the illusion of control — over the addict, over how we feel about it, over how much we give to someone who seems incapable of giving back, over the chaos of addiction that breaks so many of the rules of normal human interaction — but in reality it only increases the shame and secrecy of addicts, making them that much harder to identify and seek treatment for.

the only thing i’ve ever seen come close to working is compassion. the last few days have seen essay after obituary after thinkpiece of admiration and generosity of spirit toward one of our era’s greatest talents and, now, most tragic figures. if we could extend some of the same love, patience and understanding toward the addicts in our own communities, we might find there are lives to be saved, and people to bring back from the edge that phillip seymour hoffman walked over on sunday.

there are lots of AA and al-anon meetings in Athens.

6 thoughts on “on PSH and addiction

  1. Compassion and tough love are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I’ve seen compassion without tough love slide into enabling more times than I have fingers on which to count. It’s a tough row to hoe and while there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach, there is a certain amount of toughness that is almost required by those who love addicts and want to see them living healthy lives. I’m guessing that you’re talking about tough love without real love, which seems unlikely to benefit anyone.

    • Aunt Sharon, you’re totally right. I didn’t mean that compassion and toughness are exclusive at all. I meant the kind of thoughtless, reactive “toughness,” like a girl I know whose parents we apt to kick her out of the house at random intervals because they thought they needed to be “tough” in that way, rather than the clearly communicated setting of boundaries and explanation of what will happen if those boundaries are crossed. Lovingly detaching, decreasing codependence and knowing when to say you’ve had enough and walk away to attend to the business of your own life are all very tough, and I think they’re reflections of compassion for the addict and for ourselves.

  2. “that leaves out people of great talent, with impressive work ethics, who nonetheless struggle to get the monkey off their backs.

    “the only thing i’ve ever seen come close to working is compassion.”

    I certainly needed to read these two things today. As someone currently dealing with his own struggles not at all unlike addiction, I really appreciate your post. You made someone feel a little better, even if in a little way. Thanks for sharing, Rachel.

  3. As the child of a very loved (and heartbreakingly, now deceased) addict, I thank you endlessly for this post. When you love an addict, at some point you realize the addiction is not an offense to you personally, and compassion is all that will get you — and your loved one — through the day. Every time a celebrity dies related to an addiction, the ignorance in the comments section of every news story sickens me. This country has a long way to go in understanding addiction. Posts like this help. Thank you.

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