I wasn’t going to weigh in on the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, since there are already so many people out there ranting and raving about it, but recently I’ve seen some rather disturbing things, including people saying how selfish he was to choose this path and how terrifying his relapse is to those of us who stay clean and sober one day at a time.
To those people who say Mr. Hoffman selfishly chose his path: Of course it’s not a choice. I have been sober for over eighteen years but I remember well what life was like during my drinking days. Does anyone really think I would “choose” to ruin my health, my career, damn near my marriage, live in terror and guilt and hideous shame, wake every morning sick as a dog and trembling with self-loathing, terrified of both my future and my past, horrified by my present? Who would choose such a thing? And then repeat the whole grotesque day over and over again until I die, end up in prison or a mental institution? Does that sound like a choice?
Alcoholics and addicts — for complex reasons having to do with both genetics and environment — don’t feel the same way other people do when we take that first drink/drug. Although my normal friends-and-relations tell me they quite enjoy a drink or two, that it relaxes them and makes them chatty and a little silly perhaps and a bit more confident, when they start to drift over into drunkenness, they don’t like it. They want to stop. And if they don’t stop and have consequences from their drinking — like a fight, or sickness, or an incident with the police or an accident or any one of a million things — they don’t do it again. I hear those stories and, well, they might as well be speaking in an alien language.
When I drank I thought I saw God. When I drank it was like a full-psyche orgasm. When I drank the world made sense to me in a way it never did before, and I was beloved in that world in a way I did not believe myself to be when sober.
Imagine what it would be like if you were the only person in your family to have an orgasm when you had sex. Don’t you think your family would be mightily perplexed by your desire to engage in this rather absurd act over and over again when they, frankly, could take it or leave it?
Of course, alcohol, being a trickster spirit (and I presume drugs are much the same although my experience with them is limited), taunts the drunk. Having offered a glimpse of paradise, the trickster withdraws it, while making the world without it seem even grayer, even more jagged, even lonelier than it was before. The alcoholic can neither stop drinking, nor ever be satisfied again by the drink/drug, which continues to dangle before him the unattainable bedazzled carrot of heaven.
Sounds like fun, right? Who wouldn’t ‘choose’ to spend their days and night locked in that Sisyphean battle? Snort.
So, if the drunk/addict is lucky, there’s a moment when the world cracks open, a completely unbidden moment of clarity, and hope arrives. For some mysterious, holy (if you will) reason, a door opens for a nano-second and the drunk/addict is able to thrust out his hand for help. Sobriety. Grace.
But, people are now saying — what about relapse? Hoffman was sober for 23 years and went out again. Addiction, we are told by ‘experts’ is “difficult to treat and prone to relapse.” According to this argument it seems we’ll be “struck high” out of the blue one day.
There’s no requirement for a relapse. Many years ago, when I was first sober, a woman I knew who’d been sober for ten years called me after downing a bottle of cooking sherry. (Blech!) Later that day, in terror, I called a friend with long-term sobriety and told him about it.
“Is this what happens?” I asked. ”Do you just wake up drunk one day after all those years? She says she has no idea why she took a drink.”
“Huh,” said my friend. ”How many meetings does she go to a week?”
“She stopped going after she retired and moved to France.”
“Ah,” he said. ”And who’s her sponsor?”
“She doesn’t have one.”
“And who’s she sponsoring?”
“Well, no one right now.”
“I see,” he said.
I was beginning to see too.
My friend told me this: he said it wasn’t complicated. He said if I did 5 simple things every day I’d never drink again.
“Really?” I said.
“Yup,” he said. ”It’s worked like that for every single person I’ve ever known in sobriety. Guaranteed. And it will work that way for you to. I promise.”
I believed him. I still do.
As it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics anonymous, I am a recovered alcoholic, as in: ”We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred [how times have changed!] men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.”
And I will remain recovered, I will have that daily reprieve, as long as I do those 5 things to maintain my spiritual condition.
What are they? Simple:
1. Pray & meditate.
2. Read AA literature.
3. Go to a meeting.
4. Help another alcoholic.
5. Do Step work.
I don’t know what Mr. Hoffman did or didn’t do to stay clean. I don’t know if anyone ever told him how to stay clean. I do know no one in their right mind would choose to go back to the hell of active addiction. I am not terrified by Mr. Hoffman’s death. I don’t believe I will be “struck drunk” today. I am saddened by his death. He’s not the only person I know recently who’s died this way. All their deaths diminish me a little, but they also reinforce my intention to do what is required of me to stay sober today.
*Update* — TMZ is reporting it was a single alcoholic drink that led to Mr. Hoffman’s heroin use and death. Frankly, that doesn’t surprise me, and bolsters the argument I made above that once alcohol enters the system of an alcoholic there’s just no telling where he’ll end up — the insanity returns and choices become impossible. Let’s stay away from the first drink, okay?