The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was tragic. Addiction is a disease which afflicts so many, yet so few truly understand. Hoffman’s life may have seemed superficially great but addiction doesn’t discriminate and it supersedes circumstance.
I grew up in an upper-middle class town that was nestled just under 20 miles from New York City. We shared a high-school with a neighboring town with even greater affluence. Both towns were filled with high-powered professionals who commuted to Manhattan; as a result, most of the children were left un-parented. The environment was an incubator for addiction.
Throughout my high school years, I did exactly what I believed teenagers were supposed to do – experiment. After high school, I continued to dabble near the dark side. But discipline was always my hallmark and I believed that I had much to strong of a will to allow myself to lose control.
I later came to realize that it had less to do with discipline and more to do with genetics and a predisposition to addiction that ailed certain people and not others. And someone like me who does not battle addiction, can dabble if I want and easily leave it all behind. But others are not so lucky. I have seen friends that danced near the edge not fall, but JUMP into the abyss.
When you are an addict, staying clean is a full time job. It takes a conscious and concerted effort every single day to try not to fall off the wagon. Every day sober is celebrated as an enormous triumph – because it is. And the sober streak brings its own set of pressure as the day count mounts, it’s only a matter of time.
Actor and singer Russell Brand perfectly describes addiction in his blog “I will relinquish all else to ride that buzz to oblivion. Even if it began as a timid glass of chardonnay on a ponce’s yacht it would end with me necking the bottle, swimming to shore and sprinting to Bethnal Green in search of a crack house.”
Brand continues, “If this seems odd to you it is because you are not an alcoholic or a drug addict. You are likely one of the 90% of people who can drink and use drugs safely, I have friends that can smoke weed, swill gin, even do crack and then merrily get on with their lives, for me this is not an option.”
Addicts cannot dabble freely. They are forever imprisoned by their affliction. I have been at events where old party buddies randomly bump into each other after years apart. Then someone offers a little hit of something. The addict knows they shouldn’t and at first they decline. But then peer pressure sets in and the addict caves. And there begins the spiral downward that Brand refers to. At the end of the night, everyone goes home except for the addict. The addict is now on a course for a full-on bender, even disappearing for days.
Brand goes on to say that for an addict, drugs and alcohol are not the problem, reality is the problem and drugs and alcohol is the solution. Addiction is a haunting and unrelenting echo of a void that is unable to be filled.