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05 February 2014

The Addict as Sin Eater: For Philip Seymour Hoffman

1967-2014


I've read a lot of crap out there related to the untimely passing of the great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. 

The strangest though not completely unforeseen notion is of people blaming him or denouncing the severity of his illness, as if he should have been stronger because he had so much to live for--money, a great career, children, a partner, the admiration of millions for doing what he presumably loved, or at the very least what he was born to do. 

But I think most people are getting it wrong.

One blogger even implied that the chances Hoffman took in his work as an actor equated to a lifetime of taking chances, living on the edge in his personal life, ala James Dean or some other mythical figure, and somehow that's what we should take away from this sad situation, sort of an occupational hazard. Just par for the course for a risk taker.

You don't need to convince me that a lifetime spent in the film industry couldn't simply just suck the soul out of someone, especially an emotionally available person like he appeared to be (at least on screen or stage), and bring out any weaknesses to the point of destruction. I get that. But to boil it down to saying Hoffman took chances and one too many when he injected himself that last time--well, that idea doesn't work for me because addicts detest danger. 

Contrary to the stereotype, living life addicted is the safest, easiest way of avoiding taking any chances. Every day is the same. You seek access to the object of desire, find ways to move everything else out of your life so you can explore completely the depths into which you plunge so regularly, then seek shelter and patchwork strategies to keep yourself going so the cycle can repeat--these temporary fixes can even be disguised as long periods of sobriety.

But this is the lure of addiction. It is so much easier than being real, having to face things, confront people. 

And most vitally, you eat the sin so everyone else can point to you and say, "You're the addict, you're bad. I'm glad I'm better than you." Every addict deals with this reality, especially if they seek recovery and healing. 

It's as if you are the one selected by some hidden, secret society to assume the dysfunction of the entire system--the relationship, the family, the community. Someone has to take on the weight of the grief and emotional longing, someone has to allow the shadow to overcome him, so everyone else can stay in the light. There's one in every social unit. It's a game we all play that allows the dysfunction to exist up to a certain point, perhaps right up the point when the addict dies from the end result of the compulsion. Then and only then do we stop and say, "How tragic! Or ask, "Why didn't he seek help? What else could I have done?" Up until that point, the dysfunction is so incredibly useful for maintaining the lies on which the system is fueled that no one dares upset the fragile order. And in turn, this hypocrisy allows the addict to say, "fuck everyone and fuck whatever is real about me." That's when the wheels usually fall off.

It's a brutal cycle and it takes a lot of guts, luck and grace to break. But remember, no addiction ever happens in a vacuum. That people would still point to addicts in this day and age and blame them only underscores my point. 

I do believe there are choices involved, an infinite number of choices in every fraction of every moment of the day, and I do not wish to discourage the aspect of personal responsibility, even within the grips of a disease of the brain and of the heart, but to isolate people, addicts in this case, into us and them categories heals nothing. 

The condition of addiction is expressed in myriad ways through the individual and there is no one way of healing, except to see the thought form of addiction as a necessary element in the dysfunction of the greater whole and to deconstruct those patterns.

Better questions might be, "How does it serve me to have this addicted person in my life? How am I able to ignore my connection to this person and feel so smug and self-righteous because I am not an addict? How can we heal together?"


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