My Reluctant Thoughts On The Death Of Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman Agony of addiction

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Agony of addiction

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.

Well, bullshit.

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?

Comments

  1. What a touching response, Lauren. Thank you for sharing that.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing Lauren. I’m in AA as well, and being new I’m still working through the Steps. But I am very glad for the way you laid out the things necessary to any addict’s ability to stay healthy – staying spiritually fit through certain actions. I wish you continued recovery, and I also pray that as others read this post, whether they be addict or not, they will be a little more enlightened.

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      Congratulations on getting sober, David! That’s wonderful. The thing about the steps is that you’ll always be working them. We call Steps 10, 11, and 12 the “maintenance Steps” right? Thank God for them! You keep going. It’s a wondrous journey.

  3. Hi Lauren, I rarely comment on FB but thanks for you words, they are very touching. I’ve been in recovery for 27 years and I’m an active member of my home group and have always been. Philip’s untimely death is definately a tragedy as said. I also believe that when someone dies like this it’s not in vain. Someone, probably many, will recover and live a good life as a result of this death. Philip is at peace now.

    Brian H

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      Thanks for your comment, Brian, and congratulations on your 27 years. That’s a real inspiration. I do hope you’re right about lives being saved. I’m sure you are. Keep going, ODAAT.

  4. Jennifer Z says:

    Hi Lauren, very relevant post, and thanks for cutting through to core issues versus the ranting and raving wer’re all seeing across the news and the internet. ODAAT! Jennifer Z

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      Thank you so much, Jennifer. It’s easy to get sidetracked into drama isn’t it? Not good for us, though. ODAAT — absolutely!

  5. Many thanks, Lauren, for this eloquent (well you are an author) share on the horror of addiction. Indeed, there are 12 steps to work through, with a sponsor, but the list of 5 things to carry out on a daily basis to maintain a spiritual connection keeps it simple – One Day at a Time. It certainly works for me.

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      Thanks Joan. You’re completely correct about working the steps with a sponsor, of course! We do not go it alone in spiritual matters, right? ;-)

  6. addiction is such a terrible diseare- whether it is caused by genetics or environment – no matter – and getting help and then helping others is the only answer – along with a liftime of One Day at a Time. Thanks for this Lauren

  7. Thank you for sharing, Lauren.

  8. Ican only speak for myself in saying that I to think he was selfish. He had 3 children, period. I also know that illegal drugs and alcohol are not at all the same. They may give you the same desired result but alcohol, unless your drinking grain or moonshine, is regulated. Illegal drugs are cut with anything to increase the sellers profit. In NY state, it has been well known for approximately 2 years that heroin has fentanyl added to it or it is pure. It is unfortunate that he and so many others have died due to this. It is however, a chance people are willing to take when using illegal drugs.

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      All that means, Nadine, is that no one in their right mind would behave in such a way. Addicts’ brains simply don’t think the way non-addict brains do. It seems a perfectly reasonable thing to stick one’s hand in the flame, over and over again. It is, in short, delusional compulsive mental illness. When one is in the throes no amount of logic will suffice. The key is not to take the first drink or drug. Why Hoffman went back out is, as I said, a mystery and a tragic one.

  9. Thank you for your special insight and suggestions. It was well expressed as usual! I am saddened that such a brilliant actor has died so tragically.
    I feel that he took on tough roles that were not easy to live with. I hope he “rests in peace”.

  10. My Dearest Magpie,

    Lauren, think back way back to the very beginning of it all. Way back then when you made a choice to follow this path. It wasn’t a good choice or the right choice but there was one there. And there were reasons at the time you made that choice, corrupted, dysfunctional reason, but reason never the less. And later, when you were facing the next step of your drinking and knew this was not good you chose to go on, remember? No bottle of Alcohol ever jumped up and pinned you down and said, “You have to drink me!” You cannot in reality anthropomorphize Alcohol or Drugs. There is no “Spirit” that “taunts” you. That’s your ‘Brain’ imagining that. And you buying into it, even now in your writing!

    I too was an Alcoholic and cross addicted for ober 35 years. I’ve known many many others and even counselled them. I hit bottom! And just when I thought that was it! I hit another bottom. And one after that and again until there I was at the ‘abyss’ — and at that moment we all face another choice, the final one. And we choose to begin the difficult ascent from our ‘Hell’, or we don’t make that choice but give in and choose the abyss. Game over.

    What made you, Lauren, ‘decide’ to get sobre and take that long journey back? It wasn’t someone else, it was you, your ‘mind’. Your ‘authentic self’. You listened to your voice and you heard and you made that choice too. I’m sure you had lots of help but it was you, always.

    Alcoholism and Addiction are a bigger problem than just a matter of being addicted or having a “disease”. I think Addiction is only the symptom. The reasons are virtually ignored. We as a society barely take responsibility. Instead we ‘blame’, and ‘label’ legislate or incarcerate. Think back, think hard and deep. Yes, there are environmental, social influences and genetics. And they all play a role as does mental disease like being manic or depressive or both – Bipolar.

    I’m sure you’ve looked into John Bradshaw and Scott Peck and read ‘The Road Less Travelled’, ‘People of the Lie’ and know about the “Wounded Child”. And there lies some of the answer. How is it that we make the ‘wrong choice’?

    The truth is no matter how dumb or smart or good or bad our genes are, if we do not receive the natural nurturing of an unconditional love and the kind and humane guidance of whomever shapes us in our first and second year of life we will not naturally learn to know the inner voice of our real self. We will be growing up with a void, a deeply felt emptiness that will need to be filled by something or someone else. That is Addiction. Alcohol, drugs, sex, perversion, psychosis become the means. Our biology responds accordingly to our hidden — needs and deficiencies, thoughts and emotive realities and creates what we become — the Addict.

    Here there is no sense of a true self. Instead of being filled with a sense of meaningful selfhood we remains empty. And if we in addition have been damaged or abused in those early years any selfhood will remain even further from our reach. Addictions will however fill that void, replace selfhood with a ‘false self’ that for ill or good, once accepted and embraced put us on a false path. This is not an unnatural process. It’s a ‘full catastrophe’ response.

    The roots we seek, the sense of belonging, of being, and without want are buried far back in a memory most of us cannot reach. Psychology. Psychiatry, Recovery programs, Twelve Step Groups can aid us in rediscovering ourselves and give us a map or compass that point us to the worth of our Life — the worth of making the choice “for” Life. But it is we who must make that choice consciously and choose Life, all Life.

    There is a quote in the book, “Afterwords” by John Bookman;
    “The choice is, there is no choice.”

    “Life”, seems to be constantly challenging us with choices. But it is doing more than that. It is constantly giving us the same choice over and over again. Life always gives us another opportunity to make the right choice. That choice is to choose Life itself. That’s what Life is about, pure and simple. We are given the choice to consciously choose life with all our being. When we choose it we finally understand our purpose. The mystery ceases because we no longer need to ask the questions; Why am I here? Who am I? What is my purpose?

    So you see, there is “no choice” —but to choose. However, we first must be ‘Conscious’ to do so, aware, in the moment, here with Life with all that is us. With all that is “you”.

    We all have the chance to make that choice, Lauren. Life is that choice.

    Thank you for the thoughts and words you wrote, Lauren.

    ~ Pail Kelman

    • Lauren B. Davis says:

      Thanks Pail. I know the books and writers you mention. And there are, of course, many theories about why a drunk is a drunk. Frankly, I’m not interested in all that. It’s a moot point as far as I’m concerned since regardless of how I got here, here I am. I know many addicts/alcoholics who had fantastic parents and early childhoods, but still ended up booze hounds and addicts. There’s no one answer, and I’m afraid I simply don’t buy the school of thought which says it’s all about “natural nurturing of an unconditional love, etc. But if that works for you, then that’s wonderful. As I say: whatever keeps you sober.

      For me, once I put alcohol in my body, all choice was gone. And of course I didn’t know that would happen when I first took a drink. The mental state alcohol induced — euphoria, compulsion, obsession etc. — compelled me to continue regardless of consequences. I did not, when I first started drinking, make any sort of choice to become an alcoholic. But because of who I am, at a cellular, genetic, psychological and spiritual level — there was no hope I wouldn’t become an alcoholic once I started drinking. The only reason I didn’t become a junkie was, I suspect, because I wasn’t around junk when I might have been vulnerable to it. As I said above, when other people, ‘normal’ people drink, they don’t turn into drunks. The problem is, one doesn’t know if one carries that particular set of predispositions until it’s too late. Once the booze is in the body, you’re strapped onto the ride.

      And that’s the definition of insanity.

      However, I was lucky, in that mysterious way I mentioned above, that I had a moment of clarity when it was clear I couldn’t keep on drinking (and live) and I couldn’t stop. I was also lucky enough to know someone who’d been where I’d been — who was also a drunk, but who’d been sober for eight years. She helped me and put me in touch with other who taught me how to stay sober and how to fill up that “empty room” in my soul that all addicts/alcoholics seem to share.

      I think the distinction must be make between that first season of alcoholism and relapse. What you call ‘choice’ when you hit bottom, I agree with. There is a moment of clarity when, if one is lucky, one can crawl out, although it must be said not all drunks/addicts have that moment and many die without ever knowing it, without ever being able to reach out and take the help that’s offered. But if one does, then choice matters, because we have the choice to do the things we must do on a daily basis to stay sober. Or not.

      I think we’re spinning around semantics here, Pail — “There is no choice but to choose” — but it doesn’t matter. Just stay sober.

  11. sandra Legget says:

    Wow – you really nailed this subject! You’re an inspiration Lauren. Keep working your program, you’re clearly on a good path.

  12. The comments here are so very thoughtful. As a non-drinker for many years, not due to alcoholism at all, but my own choice to treat my brain respectfully and not add the chemicals of alcohol to my brain cells. My decision process came about after working as a Critical Care RN for many years seeing results of drunkenness, or diseases from long term alcoholism. For myself, I am fortunate, it is not an on-going struggle as others here describe.
    I do appreciate the way AA can create the strength of one day at a time and the networks of those in AA to be there for others choosing to choose sobriety.
    Life gives us just that, life. Can there be a way out of the darkness of an addiction? It seems exchanges of comments can increase understanding of the addict’s life and struggles. With this forum on the topic of alcoholism, I appreciate every strength that those deemed to have addictive disease take to remain sober.
    My small understanding of that very strength humbles me reading these comments.
    Thank you for sharing them here.

  13. Sarah McCool says:

    Lauren, I’ve read many articles and comments about PSH’s death, and found your essay to be among the very best. Your understanding of addiction, your no-nonsense way of addressing key aspects of addiction, and your compassion shine through. I still struggle to understand why addiction is so misunderstood by the media and so much of the public?
    thank you, Sarah M.

  14. Harry Uhlmann says:

    hello Lauren, thank you for an insightful blog. Similar to others who provided their comments, I like the way you cut through the b.s. regards, Harry

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