Thursday, February 6, 2014
He Was Just Another Addict, But Aren't They All?
In fact, my reaction to his death last weekend was quite honestly, "Who?"
While a few of my Facebook friends noted his passing, and the talking heads began to proclaim the tragic loss of "one of the greatest actors of our time" all I could note was that his face was vaguely familiar.
But he was no one special, not to me, and not really to the thousands who will proclaim his loss and for a moment focus on the tragedy of another of our entertainment icons being consumed by his or her addiction, but who in a few months, weeks, or maybe even days will forget.
Hoffman was no one special to the people who will use him as another face in the war on drugs, another reason to beat their chests about how better laws, tougher sentences and more arrests will protect our society from drugs.
In reality, he was no one special to those who will try to turn the focus to the addiction, to people who are making their way through life seemingly complete but with holes that they try to fill with drugs. Even though they will be closer to the reality of what is needed to fix the problem, they'll be shut down by a society that still likes the idea of the gunslinger west where we could fight everything out. We can't fight mental illness and legislate it away, so we don't want to talk about it or recognize it as one of the biggest problems our society faces.
Besides, we want to think of mental illness as the homeless man in dirty clothes on the corner talking to himself, not the long string of a Hollywood millionaires and musical legends who despite fans, success and all the money they could ever need for treatment are found dead with needles in their arms or pills in their stomachs.
Often in their bathrooms.
Just like my son.
To be quite honest, my second reaction to Hoffman's death was anger. Anger that so many people cared about someone just because they were able to do the thing they loved and do it well. Anger that with all the success he had, despite the fact he'd been to rehab twice, he still didn't take advantages of the resources he had to get help. Anger that the media and our society turned him into someone special when in reality he was just another addict.
Just like Ethan.
Following on the hills of my anger was sadness. Not specifically for him, but for everyone who battles addiction. It isn't the availability of the drugs that is the problem, it's the craving. It's the lack of understanding in our society. It's the lack of care that will see them beyond the intense period of rehab and support them through the days following when life is still lacking something that they feel only their drug of choice can give them. It's a society that makes seeking a facelift or fake boobs far more acceptable than seeking care for a mental illness, because it's OK to want to look good but if you can't feel better with a prescription, well there's really something wrong with you.
Somehow we think you can't really be successful, or attractive, or popular or rich if you have a mental illness. So if you're any of those things, or ever want to be any of those things, then you cannot have a mental illness. So instead of accepting counseling or being truthful, the rich and powerful and the poor and downtrodden and those who just can't seem to find their way or feel like they don't quite fit in anywhere choose to self medicate. And it feels good, for a while, and then they are addicted and no matter how they try to convince themselves otherwise, they still don't feel good any more.
So they drink and drive, or take too much, or kill themselves slowly over time by using up their bodies faster than they can repair themselves.
Just like Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Just like Ethan Dale Funk.
Just like the many boys I've come to know through the memories of their mothers. Just like thousands of boys and girls and men and women do every day, killing themselves in numbers we cannot even begin to comprehend or maybe even care about until one of those lost lives is one that touches our own.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was nobody special. He wasn't the face of drug addiction and the war on drugs. He wasn't the face of mental illness. He wasn't even the face of a Hollywood icon. There is no one face. There are really thousands and thousands of faces with blue eyes and brown, bright smiles and never seen laughs, impeccable dressed and in need of a bath, those mourned by thousands and those buried in a pauper's grave with the name John Doe.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was nobody special, just like Ethan Douglas Funk and all those other faces were nobody special -- except to the people who loved them.
Hoffman was special to a woman and three children who aren't yet in their teens and who will never know their father in the way they needed to know him. At his age, he was probably still special to his parents and to a best friend or two who knew the demons he battled, but couldn't help him fight them. Those are the people who will wake up every day as I do with questions about why, and what could they have done, and whose lives are irrevocably changed by his death.
For them, for Hoffman's family, my own, and the thousands like us, I grieve, I say a prayer, and I continue to hope that somehow we can take off our gunslinger hats and talk about the real problem, even though it scares us.