When I read of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, I was saddened as so many others were. Every time I read a sad story like this, I wonder how a rich and famous person could just throw away their luxurious life. I wonder why they use drugs at all, especially in light of the many celebrity deaths we’ve all heard about: Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, River Phoenix, John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin, Marilyn Monroe.
But then I remember: I am an addict, too.
I’ve been blessed with lengthy sobriety. Yet I recall while I was addicted, I knew about the deaths of my favorite celebrities. I told myself thattheir drug use wasn’t like mine
. I thought of myself as different: I am not going to die like they did. Apparently addicts don’t connect the dots like other people.
Hoffman’s sad story really hits close to home in light of my experiences. My family, friends and even my children witnessed the before and after of my addictions. I failed classes in school, wrecked cars and was fired from jobs. I also experienced divorce, homelessness and jail, all as a result of addiction. I knew the dangers, and I read the sad stories. In spite of the love of my parents, my wife, my kids, my friends and my responsibilities, I kept chasing the high anyway.
Two of my very best friends from high school chased their addictions like I did and died from drug and alcohol overdoses. I survived, but I paid a heavy price along the way. Celebrities don’t make the only sad stories.
Over the years, I’ve made an effort to warn people about the dangers of drugs. I even went back to school to become a licensed drug counselor. For three years I worked with people who suffered from addiction as I did, paying it forward, if you will. My message to anyone listening: Addiction takes everything and everyone prisoner, not just the addict. Addiction affects a person’s physical and mental health, education, jobs, finances, relationships, family and the community at large. The damage is holistic in nature; addicts hurt more than just themselves. Every time.
Yet another sad story struck home recently, when I found my daughter unresponsive, barely breathing. I later learned it was the result of an overdose on prescription meds, in combination with oxycodone bought off the streets. Her breathing stopped completely before the paramedics arrived. There is no describing the sheer helplessness of that moment, the horror of holdingmy
child in my arms while she was dying, my mind desperately trying to piece together what life is going to be like after I bury my little girl. The paramedics saved her life, but brain damage from the overdose has left a lasting mark on her life and mine.
My main point is simple: Alcohol and drug abuse lead to destruction and death. Advances in medicine and technology have not changed that simple truth.
My other point is more complicated, though, for those who have loved ones who are bound by addiction: Whether a friend, parent, spouse, sibling or child, we cannot control what our loved ones do. We can love them, pray for them; sometimes we can do little things to help. But in the end, they are going to do whatever they want. They will have successes, and failures. They will live, and die. It is their life, not ours.
It is possible to live in peace in spite of the many sad stories. Understanding the difference between what you can and cannot control really helps. I have finally learned that I can only control me (most of the time), but I cannot control anything or anyone else. That epiphany has made life’s difficulties and tragedies more bearable for me.
I love my family and my friends. I hate it when tragedy strikes the people I love. My condolences go out to the Hoffman family and friends.
I am happy to report the sun rose again today. Those of us who carry on still have each other.
And life goes on.
And life is beautiful, in spite of the sad stories.
Learn from history’s sad stories.