Living in the Midst, Phillip Seymour Hoffman

I don't usually weigh in on celebrities lives. I know nothing really about them, except that they are humans like the rest of us. They have different talents perhaps than we do, talents that afford them the opportunity to spend more than the rest of us, to experience things that we cannot because of that money and over all, what some might call privelege.

Privilege has been around for centuries, it is the idea that someone because of position or station, or wealth or persona has somehow a different opportunity than the rest of us, or they avail themselves of different kinds of opportunities that the rest of us might not have access to.

Okay, maybe I watch too much Downton Abby, but I am being re-affirmed in my watching of a show like that. It shows privelege and it also demonstrates just how even the playing field really is when it comes to our human-ness. People do not magically have more power over themselves with privelege or money or station in life. They come with a very similar set of tools and foibles that the rest of us have. They cannot change their DNA or sometimes alter their own predispositions because apparently their money cannot always change their basic personalities. We always think that people with money or status have something more. They do, perhaps they have more opportunities to feed their addictions, or fight their addictions, but the truth is, they still have them. They have their demons just like the rest of us. They are still human beings with all the history of their own little worlds tied up in their emotional balls oftwine, endless twine. So for most it is in a neat little ball for some it just keeps unravelling.

For some 23 years, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was able to keep that ball of twine tightly wound up. It became so powerless over him, I think that he thought it would be impossible to be tangled up in it again. He just thought wrong. It did happen. He didn't get a pass or extra credit for the years he kept it tied up. I think like most people, if you believe you are an expert at something, you don't believe you need to work at it any  more. It is just there. Or, like a drivers license, you think that you will pass the test, that nothing will stand in your way and life will continue as usual, until it does not. 

When I was a very young child, I had an experience that allowed me to have an understanding and a reference point for addiction. I was in my grandmother's home in Indiana, with my dad. She had called him to help with his father who was suffering withdrawal from alcohol. He had been to the hospital before but this time he was at home and he was not there yet. My dad was in the back bedroom with him, the sun streaming through the window and holding him down on the bed. I ran in there because of all the noise and wanted to be with my dad. My grandmother did not want me to go in there, but my dad said "No, let her come in, let her see." So the chaos of that moment became something that was teachable to me, a little kid. My dad was very intelligent. My father wrestled with his father. While grandpa screamed about the monsters and spiders climbing on the walls until he was exhausted. Years later I would remember this when he was holding my hand or playing with me.

My grandfather had a very difficult life, abandoned by his own father, after he reached this country, he was a teenager left to make his own way. He tried many things and was not always successful, but he never gave up. He then had a terrible accident which left him in a great deal of pain and unable to do the lucrative work he once made a living at. In the twenties there were not the pain killers there are today, there was alcohol and that became his addiction. Over time it destroyed so many things, there was  soberity and then there was the disease. That is how I learned about it, as a disease that some people got and would never really get rid of, they had to fight it.

My experience forever molded my reactions to people suffering with addictions. I could see the pain on my father's face, my grandmother's face. I could see the hopelessness of what was happening. I could see my grandfather's fear, the chaos that was transpiring, that absolute loss of self control. It was very real because I saw it. I had an understanding from that moment on that followed me through out my life and that I was able to pass on to my own children. They did not see what I saw so the emotional depth, the primal connection to fear of it is probably not quite there, but I have done my best. 

Later we learned that DNA, genetics can predispose some people to certain kinds of addictions, diseases, and for many families alcoholism seemed to fit that. I learned so much of what my father was trying to convey in those moments, the reality, the fear, the uncontrollable nature of this kind of addiction. Later on I had the opportunity to understand by observation even more.

There are many kinds of addiction, love, sex, drugs, alcohol, money, same kind of biological reactions and disasterous outcomes. Recently a fellow writer Denise Montgomery equated it with a lovely, sweet puppy.


" PSH. Damn. Damn. 

Here's the thing: Overcoming addiction is very much like being forced to keep the world's cutest puppy, with the softest fur and the saddest eyes ever. who kisses you all over whenever you go near him, starving and begging you to feed him.

And you know for certain that that someday--you know not when--the puppy will in all likelihood tear your fucking throat out rather than kiss you when you feed it.

So if you want to live, you cannot go near that dog, no matter how wonderful and sweet and starving and whining and sad and pathetic and longing and miserable it is, no matter how many kisses and pets you've had in the past.

But you can't get rid of it. You have to live with that puppy in plain view and earshot every single second of every single day. And not give in.

If you are able to drink and/or do drugs "normally" (i.e., nonaddictively) thank your lucky stars.

There's a reason addiction kills so many. Because 99.99% of the time that puppy makes you feel wonderful. You just don't know which day or hour giving in and feeding the puppy will be the last thing you ever do."


I had suggested to Denise that this analogy needed wider distribution and she told me to feel free.

" Feel free, Sheila Luecht. There are so damned many uninformed people making asinine comments all over the place. Is it stupid to do heroin? Yes. Is it stupid to drink? To take Oxycontin? Valium? Sleeping pills? Everywhere there are humans, there are substances that alter human consciousness. Some are able to use them safely. Some aren't able to use them even once without developing full-blown addiction. I am not about to sit in judgment of those who try and fail to abstain 100% of the time forever and ever amen. I have nothing but brokenhearted sympathy for people who are carried away to their grave by an addiction they momentarily forgot to fight."





It doesn't matter how much privilege you have, how much money, success or connections, addiction is still addiction. You might be able to afford treatment, or find ways to hide it, but it is still there, something you personally must fight, that you must meet day after day because it is a part of you. People who have nothing still have addictions, immunity does not exist. Judgement of people who are addicted is hard for me. I see people doing it right now, judging this man Phillip, and I think of how one dimensional their life is, their experience. They are absolutely, blessedly clueless.


I will always thank my father for that moment, that opportunity. I will always thank both my parents for admitting that they had alcoholism in their families and I will always acknowledge that some people cannot know how devastating addiction can be because they cannot find the capacity for personal understanding. I hope that Phillip's children are not too shielded from the reality of what happened, and that they can embrace what is learnable here, understandable. I hope that his death will not be in vain for them, a waste, because it really is; but more of an awakening of the difficulties of life and the idea that we must all take a persistant view in maintaining our own lives in the most healthy way. I hope it teaches them compassion, that it teaches them love of their fellow humans. I hope it helps them live better lives, stronger lives.  


Copyright 2014 by SheilaTGTG55 

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Comment by Geezerchick on March 17, 2014 at 9:57am

Well thought out and well said. Thank you for your words. May they save lives and help people understand.

Comment by Sheila Luecht on February 5, 2014 at 10:28pm

Thank you for visiting Linda! Thinking of you, and sending Hugs.

Comment by Sheila Luecht on February 5, 2014 at 10:27pm

Thank you for reading Miryam!

Comment by Linda Seccaspina on February 5, 2014 at 9:38pm

Anybody that says addiction is easy to kick is very wrong. Well said Sheila.. Just got home from the hospital so I am late.. but always glad to see you here.


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