So, as we all know by now, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is gone. Dead from an overdose. This is sad on multiple levels- not only because he was an amazingly gifted actor and artist, but because he was a human being- someone's son, father, husband, brother, friend. His passing will leave a void in the landscape of everyone whose life he occupied, just as the passing of anyone does for their loved ones. A person is dead, a human life extinguished- certainly, this one fact we as a human race can come together on to offer our collective sympathy, right? Right? Many of us seem able to do that, but many for some reason seem incapable of not just rousing the slightest murmur of condolence, but of restraining themselves from publicly condemning this man. Why? Because he used drugs.
Don't get me wrong, I am not defending heroin- in fact, I hate it with a passion, as you will find out in a minute. But I am truly baffled to my core as to the attitude some people have that this one truth about this man's life manages to wipe out every good thing about him and makes him ineligible for human sympathy. Some user comments I have read during my internet browsing:
nimbus 25 minutes ago0 3
Do we always have to feel sorry for drug addicts who die of an overdose? Whether they are known or not. I feel sorry for children who have terminal cancer and did not choose to die.
Dr. Nardon Snarp 1 minute ago0 0
Only liberals would sensationalize a heroin junkie.
Tim 24 minutes ago1 3
Didn't suffer fools?! He WAS a fool. He deserves only disdain for being a loser and throwing away everything, including life.
And so on. Beyond being affected by this simply because I am a human being on this planet, it hits home in an especially close way for me because through really hard work and by working a continuous program of action, I have managed to find a reprieve from a life of active addiction (which I am thankful never included heroin), and I am living a life of meaning today. My long-time love though, has not been so lucky. He has been battling heroin addiction for a long, long time, and by default, so have I. By the grace of God, he is currently living away from me in a sober house, but he is struggling.
Heroin haunts me- lately not in a visible way, but it is insidious. It's what's hiding in the shadows, lying in wait under my bed, and behind my closet door. It's what I fear is going to be on the other end of the phone when it rings late at night. I live with the knowledge that I may very well get the phone call that Mr. Seymour's wife and children probably got today, and that hurts. But honestly what hurts me more is thinking about the comments people have made about PSH, and about how I am going to feel if those same comments are made about the love of my life.
Is he an angel? No, and I'll be the first one to tell you. Addiction has brought him to make some truly horrendous decisions that have both deeply hurt him and those around him. But does the fact that he struggles with an addiction to heroin wipe out the good things that he has done in this world? I can't accept that it does, no more than anyone else's faults and sins negate their good deeds. Everywhere we go, he manages to touch the lives of those around us. We were out this summer on a day that was really hot, and there was a teenager dressed up in a Little Caesar's Pizza outfit, really sweating hard. He gave his last two bucks to this boy so he could get a drink. On another day we were walking down the street when this older woman who appeared to be homeless came wandering towards us, muttering loudly to herself. Rather than treat her as an object to be avoided, he stopped, looked her in the eyes and asked, "How are you doing today?" Even if just for a moment, he had a positive impact on these people's lives because he crossed their path. I find it hard to believe that had they known his battle with addiction they would have been impacted any less.
And not being able to truly speak for others, I can at least definitively speak for myself. This man, in spite of his addiction, has made an indelible impression on my heart, and my life has been so much richer because of it. My memories of him are so colorful and full of life- One time when I was having a really difficult period, he serenaded me with Unchained Melody in a parking lot. I was also really sick for a long time and had to have a PICC line put in, and was very self conscious of it. He kissed up my whole arm, including the covered hole where the line threaded through and told me that it didn't matter to him. He has brought me breakfast in bed, made me laugh until my stomach hurts because his laughter is so contagious, wiped my tears while I've cried, and for the first time truly made me believe that I am wonderful exactly as I am. In no way am I saying that life with an addict has been glamorous and free of problems, nor would I recommend it to anyone- quite the opposite in fact. Nights spent in the hospital, phone calls at 2 AM, not knowing where he is for days at a time- there have been periods when it has been a nightmare and I have been pushed to the edge. I have walked away before, and while he has been moving forward in a positive direction for a while now, I will walk away again if that changes. My point though, is that moments of my life have undergone positive transformation because of his presence in them, as I imagine the lives of Mr. Seymour's loved ones were likely impacted, and whether my love dies in his sleep as an old man (which I hope he does), or because of a drug-related incident as a younger one, the idea that those good things don't count because he lives with addiction is inconceivable.
Substance abuse is such a complicated illness- part genetic, part environmental, part choice at times (other times not), and part biology. This post is not to debate root causes of addiction (which do have a basis in genetics and biology), but I think it is relatively safe to say though that if someone is truly at peace inside, not just on the surface, but in the depths of their soul, that they don't inject heroin into their veins. I know that my love is hurting in a way that when he uses it's because he can't see another way out. I'm not saying that there isn't one, because I know there is, but he is not capable of seeing it, and I have to conjecture that the same was true on some level for Mr. Hoffman. Are there other people who deal with demons who don't use drugs? Lots of them. Are there better ways of coping? Thousands of them. But instead of skewering people and condemning them for their humanness, can't we just relate to the fact that they're hurting, just as we sometimes do?
As I come to the end of writing this, I suppose that what I'm hoping for is some kind of middle ground. We don't have to approve of Phillip Seymour Hoffman's choices, or the choices of anyone who uses illegal substances as a coping mechanism- and as a society, we shouldn't- heroin is a dangerous and frightening drug, I know this firsthand. But this was a man who was clearly hurting, just like you've hurt, just like I've hurt, because we're human. There's nothing wrong with taking the approach of 'hate the sin, love the sinner'. You can disagree with drug use and still mourn someone's passing. You can disagree with drug use and see good things in a person, and remember that they're loved by many people. You can even disagree with drug use and see common elements that unite you to that person. You can condemn unhealthy behavior without condemning a person, and in fact, you can love them in spite of it.
I end this hoping you know that whatever battles you are overcoming or demons you are struggling with in your own life right now, you are not on your own with them. Grief, loneliness, pain, and heartache all belong to the realm of the human experience, not to you alone. There is a solution, and you are enough <3