Ignorance…. Addiction & Mental Illness – Phillip Seymour Hoffman

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In light of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s official “cause of death” being released I am once again annoyed and aggravated with the barrage of ignorant comments being said.  I thought I’d share this again.  Take what you like and leave the rest. 

The focus in the passing of Phillip Seymour Hoffman has quickly turned to his addiction, blaming him for his demise, after all, wasn’t it he who injected the needle, the heroin into his arm?   Addiction.  If you are not educated on addiction, or have not been affected or afflicted by its powerful existence, of course you could say such a thing.   For someone who has, his passing is nothing more than another sad statistic.

It irritates me how the press, people will totally extinguish a person’s accomplishments, goodness, contributions when death is a result of addiction, of alcoholism or any other mental illness for that matter.   It is as if the only part of his/her life that becomes news is the demons that bound them.   A person’s life is not cancelled out for those of their families, their friends.   If you have ever had to make difficult painstaking decisions around a loved one who is grappling addiction; If you have ever been forced to see someone you love ‘self destruct’; If you have ever been sadly privy on both the internal and external battle that their lives and the lives of those who loved them entailed; If you have ever had to bury someone who died as a result of their addiction or mental illness you would understand, it isn’t that cut and dry.

It’s a travesty how prevalent addiction is in our society today.   It is a travesty that there is so much ignorance and stigma attached to mental illness.   It seems the more years that pass the younger the onset of use.     We are living in a time where prescribed medications have increased the population of and caused an enormous amount of us to become addicted “to”.  While progress is being made with access to such drugs, it is still clearly a problem, an epidemic, with immense potentially grave endings.

Ask Mr. Hoffman’s mother what it was like to parent an addict.   Was that all he was?   She will surely cry in anguish, in disappointment, of the harsh reality that her son has perished of addiction.   She will instantly remember the kindness, intelligence, and his accomplishments.  She will remember holding her baby in her arms, the hopes and dreams she had for him.  The first tooth he lost, the first homerun hit…on and on.  His death does not void out his existence.  If nothing else, it is her memories, both good and bad, of her beloved son that marks his death all the more purposeless, senseless, vain.

With the progression of the disease (commonly denied) and lack of education regarding such, it is easy to blame the addict.    We picture them on a bar stool, a street corner, in a back alley selling their soul to score a fix.   This epidemic goes far beyond the stereotype.    You will find them in hospitals treating patients, in schools teaching students, in elementary and high school bathrooms, on playgrounds, behind the desks of professionals, sitting next to us in church, in police stations with whom are hired to “protect and serve”, and who arrest those whose addiction has made criminals of them.    Like cancer, and many other potentially lethal illnesses it doesn’t discriminate.  There are many predisposed, at higher risk of inheriting such dreadful sentences, just as there are with cancers, other diseases.  Babies are being born addicts.   Many with mental illness go untreated, out of shame, lack of resources, and inability to find a doctor, a therapist, a mental health worker who has openings to treat them.   Ask any professional in the business of treating mental illness how many patients they see a day, what their availability is to see new patients, if they think that their profession offers as much support as is needed for all.  Ask families who are bouncing off the walls, worried beyond belief, frustrated and fear filled for the fate of their loved ones whom have a mental illness “Are you getting the help, support, treatment needed to cope?”    It doesn’t just begin with the addict, and it doesn’t stop there.  Far from it.

Am I suggesting that a person should not be held responsible for circumstances, consequences caused by their addiction?  Hardly.  I understand, too well, that holding them responsible is an important factor, and could in fact be the very thing that helps them seek help, and hopefully achieve recovery.     You may be surprised to find the mother, wife, husband of an alcoholic relieved when their loved one has been arrested for DUI or sentenced to a jail term and more unbelievable, who has died or the disease of addiction.   Why?  Because maybe, just maybe, and hopefully this could be the answer to their prayers.   Maybe, just maybe this would be the beginning of, the stepping stone to their loved ones recovery, and for those with whom lives have been taken, perhaps now they will be at peace.  There will be no demons in the driver seat of their life.

With all of this said, and from a person who struggles with mental illness, there needs to be more help, education available to all.   The archaic belief that mental illness is that of the “insane”, the selfish, the crazy, the weak needs to cease.   We need to broaden the stream of hope for all…the addict, the person with any mental illness, their families, their friends, their employees and more.   There are three possible outcomes for an addict – Institution, Recovery or Death.   Shaming one into recovery is as counterproductive as denying its existence.  Shunning the issue(s) only accelerates and further populate its victims.

Why would an intelligent being throw away their dreams, their aspirations, their families, their friends, their jobs, basically their present moment and futures for a fix, whether that fix be attributed to a needle, a bottle, a pipe, a gluttonous amount of food…Does it really matter?  Is any of it nonetheless tragic?  Would we shame or blame a person who was diagnosed with cancer?  Actually, that opens up another whole can of worms for me.  When Peter Jennings was diagnosed with lung cancer the first thing that was reported was “Peter Jennings has been diagnosed with Lung Cancer.  He smoked”.   Implying that his actions were the result of his diagnosis.   Yes, smoking can cause lung cancer.  Yes, second hand smoke can cause cancer.  Yes, sticking a needle in your arm, swallowing a fifth of vodka, snorting a substance for instant fix, bingeing on unhealthy foods… all can and most likely will contribute to the demise of many and squelch the quality of life for not only them, but those who love them.

I assure you, however, that no one smoked or smokes to get lung cancer.  A father doesn’t set out to be a drunk, or a mother a junkie.  No person sets out to be an addict, an alcoholic, a person who struggles with depression, or any other mental illness.  They didn’t aspire nor desire to “throw their happiness, their health, their lives away”.    All is tragic.  All are a travesty that again, I believe, needs further and vast education and awareness, treatment made available.

“Phillip Seymour Hoffman dead at ­­46 from apparent heroin overdose”.    The barrage of ignorant comments pertaining to his, and the too many other tragic deaths as a result of addiction infuriate me.    Ask his children what he meant to them, what they remember of him, how they will miss him;  Ask his parents, grandparents, his wife, his friends “Do you think he got what he deserved?”   I promise you, they will not only look at you in dismay, but their face will show an expression of trauma, catastrophe, and pain of epic levels.

In all Twelve Step programs the disease of alcoholism, of addiction is described as “cunning and baffling”.   There simply is no understanding it, there are no words to describe its effects, but perhaps?  Perhaps with awareness and education, with more resources made available to its victims we can somehow stop, or at minimum stunt this holocaustic epidemic.

Let us not be so small minded, blaming, shaming, hiding, pious to real mental illnesses that threatens the lives of many, including our youth, your son, daughter, granddaughter.  Let us find a way to improve treatment options, including those who are now or who will be incarcerated as a result of this sinister disease.  Let us find and achieve a better chance of recovery and carve out a course of prevention for such.    Let us HELP others and ourselves by dispelling the myths and attitudes that one should be embarrassed, blamed, or shameful that they have a mental illness.  Let us somehow find a way to lower the sad statistics of and empower the recovery of, the prevention of.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman was much more than an addict.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was more than a bloody statistic.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman was a person like you, like I… perhaps with a whole lot more money, thus easier access too or slower consequences of its progression.  He didn’t set out to be an addict.  He didn’t insert the needle and inject the heroin in his arms with intent to die.

No one sets out to be an addict.  No one smokes to get cancer.  No one welcomes mental illness, of any sort, to themselves their families, their loved ones.   No one.

My name is Donna, and I have been both affected and afflicted with mental illness.  I am one of the fortunate ones, however.  I am under the care of excellent, educated doctors who are treating me, teaching me, helping me through these challenges and working with me to achieve a better quality of life, to achieve recovery.   Sadly, I am of a minority.

Donna Scully

Vernon, VT

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2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Phillip Seymour Hoffman “cause of death” | An artist's life

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