Drug addiction, death, and celebrity

For the past week my news feed and facebook has been littered with little snippets regarding the death of an actor, Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I want to start by saying I didn’t know the man. I liked his acting, sure, but I don’t know what kind of person he was- what he felt and loved and cared about. Here’s the thing, neither did about 98% of the people posting about his death. I know, I know, death is a complicated thing and in a society that does not deal well with death celebrity death allows us to practice grieving for when the time comes to grieve an actual loved one. I know, I am a cold and detached person who is not overly impacted by death (even of those I know) and so I should not judge those who are torn apart by the concept of death. But I do. I get upset because so much time, energy, news space, etc. goes into the death of one man when thousands are dying all around the world- being tortured, fighting for basic rights, dying on the streets directly in front of the same people who are mourning this man and no one seems to care. Their names are not published. Their stories are not told. If they even have funerals they are not attended by the masses. I get so sick of celebrity. Society somehow makes people like sports stars, musicians, and actors more important than other individuals simply because they are more exposed. Is Hoffman a better man than the protesters in the Ukraine, fighting against government corruption? Maybe. I don’t KNOW any of them. All I know is that we offer so much compassion and sympathy to celebrities when perhaps the entire world is WORTH our acknowledgement.

One of the positive by-products of a celebrity’s death due to drug use is the critical re-examination of drug laws and societies general attitudes towards drug use and addiction. Many people have been using the death of this man as a platform to call for greater support and understanding of addicts, and I think that is both sad and yet positive. I am a strong supporter of decriminalizing drug use and trying to support users and addicts rather than punish them so things that help people see addicts as potentially positive contributors to society instead of a plague of dirty, nameless, faceless, homeless, less-thans are good. People liked and respected this actor and so seeing him die due to drug addiction gives the compassion-team more leverage. Kudos. (In a twisted way). But I think that at times addiction-advocates go too far. Currently the internet is filled with pity articles saying that people do not understand how terrible addiction is, that it is not selfish nor the fault of the addict, and even blaming NA and sponsors for not properly caring for their charges. Basically, people tend to go over the edge and tip the scale. Addiction is a disease… therefore an addict cannot be blamed for their actions.

I call bullshit.

Yes, addiction is a disease. There are those of us who will never understand the mental and physical torture that an addict suffers. However, even when you have a disease you are still ultimately responsible for the choices you make regarding that disease. Addicts CAN be selfish. They CAN make selfish decisions. Why is that important? Because if you fail to make that distinction of responsibility then you fail to recognize the hard work involved in the thousands of addicts who choose to get clean and stay sober. You minimize their struggle. “Oh, if you CAN get clean and do not tragically die of an overdose then you weren’t a REAL addict… not like the addicts who CAN’T gain control.” Yes, addiction is a disease. That does not mean that we need to make it a free pass to selfishness. It does not mean that we need to blame society and the individuals surrounding (and trying to support) an addict for their failures. Yes, society could be more supportive. Let’s fight to make those changes. But at the same time let us be realistic about addiction. Let us recognize those currently in the struggle. Let us help others. And, let us recognize that there are some people who do not want help, who are ultimately, yes, selfish. 

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