We watched just over a week ago as newscasts around the country revealed the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had allegedly overdosed in his New York City apartment. Although most of my articles stem from something in the entertainment world (I do work for a television news show, after all), I am not actually obsessed with celebrity culture. I don’t usually feel any extensive sadness for the passing of a well-known star. However, I felt overwhelmed with grief when I heard about PSH. Besides the fact that I found him extremely talented and unconventionally attractive, drug abuse hit home with me – it is something that has affected my life for years. There is nothing more heartbreaking, nothing more selfish, and nothing more destructive in a relationship than drug abuse.
If you don’t know an addict, I’m sure it can be difficult to relate to PSH’s situation. Some have said he himself took that fatal dose that ultimately ended his life – so who can be blamed but Philip? Those who have known addicts or struggle with addiction themselves, know there is something much deeper to the problem.
I lost my best friend to drug addiction. They did not die, but everything I knew and loved about them is irrevocably gone. They broke my heart. Time and time again I tried my best to help them – but you can’t help an addict until they are ready to help themselves. There is often an underlying reason to the addiction – a mental disorder, maybe a history of family abuse – that if only treated, may be the change these addicts need to get better. In the meantime you put up with the lies and the drama and the manic episodes because you love them, but the relationship ends up feeling one sided. So you take a step back, as I did over and over. You pull away from them for a few weeks, then next time it becomes a few months, and then finally you lose them for good.
I was told that Mr. Hoffman’s partner had allegedly split with him recently, to “teach him a lesson.” Whether or not this is true is obviously personal to his girlfriend, but I can relate. You end contact with your loved one, hoping that by cutting ties you may also choke off the options they have when the chips are down. You refuse to be an “enabler.” You hope that by ending your relationship they will realize the error of their ways, run out of places to turn, and vow to come home and get sober. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case, as shown in PSH’s life.
Although I am still coming to terms with it, addiction is a disease. True addicts simply cannot turn off their need for their substance of choice. It comes first and foremost, before their friends, before their family, and when paying the ultimate price – before themselves. They have to really hit “rock bottom” before they come crawling back. Sadly, some never recover. It is an uncomfortable choice all friends and family of addicts have to make – do we see them through this, despite the hurt they’ve brought us? Or do we shut the door to them, hoping that in time they will return, ready to get clean? All the while you’re both feeling betrayed and abandoned.
I flirted with both options when dealing with my friend. At times I shut them out, only to be pulled back in by my own weaknesses. We stayed in touch through even their darkest days, which was really the hardest part – not speaking I could handle, because I wouldn’t let my mind wander. When you really get into it with an addict at their lowest point, you see the awful things this monster has turned them into. This thing has grabbed a hold of someone so beautiful and made them unrecognizable.
Homelessness, solicitation, medical complications – these are all side effects of drug abuse, and all consequences that my best friend faced. When they finally got clean, several years of my life had gone by, and I was no longer the young, impressionable woman I once was. I stopped keeping up hope that one day things would be different. Because for someone who had sunk so low – there was no returning to where we used to be. No matter how clean and sober they remain, our relationship was shattered, and both of our lives altered for good.
In the days following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing, different news stations were covering heroin use in America. Many of us know someone who is a heroin user, or has tried it. It’s becoming unfortunately common, as is drug use in our country. The difference between a casual user (is there such a thing as a “casual” heroin user?) and an addict, is that the recreational user’s life is not completely taken over by a substance. People experiment – whether it’s to party, to fit in, or to “expand the mind,” but those people can often count on their hands how many times they’ve gone down the rabbit hole. Addicts can’t. Addicts lost count.
I’ve also heard about “functional addicts;” people who take drugs often and believe they can get along with out them, they just don’t want to. These people hold normal jobs, do normal things, appear to be average in every way… but over time they are destroying themselves – maybe not as rapidly as the addicts we think of, but slowly and surely they will disintegrate just the same.
After living through years of a drug induced hell I have rid myself of all related influences in my life. I don’t pretend to be perfect – I’ll still have a glass of wine every once in a while – but I know the damaging effects these substances have not only on our health but on the people who love us most. I don’t judge those who still partake in these activities, because I’ve been there too. Instead, I cry for them. I cry for their friends and family who wonder “what did I do?”
I cry for the mind they will spend years living in once they gather up their thoughts.
I cry for the years they will never get back, and for some, the years they will never live.
RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman, and to everyone else we’ve lost to addiction.