When I posted the news of the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on my Facebook page, a friend from my school days commented on it. It was something to the effect that Hoffman was a great actor but not a great human being. Then he added, “He overdosed on heroin. It is sad, but a reflection on him.” I found that comment interesting, especially since I recalled that friend being one of the pot smokers at school when we were kids, one of the “bad boys.” Has he forgotten?
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I attended one of the best British schools in Madrid, Spain. My father worked long hours to pay for my sister´s and my tuition. Our friends were sons and daughters of business people, diplomats and well-known actors. They lived in mini-mansions and had chauffeurs and maids … and money to pay for expensive drugs and alcohol. As I battled bulimia in my teens, a doctor prescribed speed so I could lose weight. Some of my classmates asked me for pills … they were even willing to pay. We all had access to a variety of legal and illegal substances … but not all of us became addicted.
However, many of us were addicts. We had the type of personality that led us to seek solace in a behavior that would bring temporary relief and long-term distress. For me it was an eating disorder; for my sister it was alcoholism. And for others it was drug addiction. Some of them died. Others have recovered. And some, like me, have learned to redirect our addictive personalities in ways that yield productive instead of self-destructive results.
Perhaps because I know too well the struggle with a compulsion, the grip of clinical depression, the quicksand that is anxiety and the existential need to escape reality, I don´t condemn active addicts. I have friends and family who have embarked on the difficult but rewarding journey to sobriety. And they know—I know—that relapse is only a sip, a snort, a shot away, every single day. You could have 30 years of being clean and sober under your belt and one misstep could drag you down to the same rock bottom from which you so painfully climbed out years ago.
A person can be great actor, a wonderful human being … and also be an addict.
Perhaps the success of programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and all other 12-step programs resides in the fact that they are run by recovering addicts. Only an addictive mind can understand another one. So, while I don´t advocate for drug use or alcohol abuse, I don´t condemn it. Rich or poor, young or old, an addict has an illness. While he isn´t responsible for his condition, he is in charge of his recovery. And even then, it isn´t easy. Some don´t make it. Some relapse and some, like Hoffman, overdose and die. And all of them are perfect and flawed human beings, just like everybody else.