Skewer the Stigma

By Jana Greene

He had enjoyed 23 years of clean time prior 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 that 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 the truth of his statement.

Skewer the Stigma

We are everyman and 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 roommate,

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 hijacking by 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 cause; we just want you to know they are not engineered by design.

We are sensitive and 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. 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 that from happening once the pernicious process has begun.

We crave the ability to handle life on life’s terms “normally”, as others are able to do.

We don’t mean to embarrass anyone.

We don’t mean to inflict the pain on others that our disordered brain chemistry urges.  Addiction is as a plaque in the arteries of the spirit. Like any mental illness, nobody wants to have it.

A good portion of any recovery program worth its salt is accountability. We want to make amends (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 colorfully 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 winning daily – the foot race with tragedy.

You can try not to shame them. They feel guilty enough.

You can begin to educate yourself on the realities of alcoholism and drug addiction.

You can know that you are not alone – if you, too, are everyman or everywoman.

You can ask someone who struggles with addiction 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 with us in recovery, just as you would anyone in treatment for a disease.

By simply talking about it, you help strip away the stigma. 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.

For everyman and everywoman.

Take a moment to consider the loss of life and talent that alcoholism and drug addiction has taken from the cultural landscape: Amy Winehouse, musician; Brian Jones, musician with The Rolling Stones; Chris Farley, comedian, actor; Cory Monteith, actor, 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, aviator, engineer, investor, movie producer/director; Janis Joplin, musician, singer; Jim Morrison, musician, singer; Jimi Hendrix, musician, singer-songwriter; John Belushi, actor, comedian; John Entwistle, bass guitarist for The Who; Jon Bonham, drummer and songwriter for Led Zeppelin; Judy Garland, actress, 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, cultural icon; Philip Seymour Hoffman, actor; 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, actress.

For a more comprehensive list of famous people who have died due to substance abuse, see Wikipedia’s List of Drug-related Deaths.

Finally, think about the voids left by the vastly important “everyman” lost or still in the trenches of addiction – the children, spouses, friends and family that you love.

(This article originally appeared in Jana Greene’s blog, http://thebeggarsbakery.com. It is also a featured piece in her book, EDGEWISE: Plunging off the Brink of Drink and Into the Love of God available at http://amazon.com.)

Jana Greene is a Jesus freak, wife, mother, recovering alcoholic, author and blogger at http://thebeggarsbakery.com. In 2001, she surrendered her will to Jesus, and is still surrendering it on the daily. She writes to let others know where to find the Bread of Life. She lives with her husband, daughters and kitty cats in North Carolina.

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