Philip Seymour Hoffman: an actor whose work I have to admit I have never seen. But that didn't matter to me yesterday when I heard of his death. It was heartbreaking, no matter who he was. He was someone's partner, someone's dad, someone's friend.
This comment on Facebook drew me up short:
He was easily among the very greatest actors of my generation. Though we'll tut-tut the tragic loss, let's also say this: narcotics users are selfish. He just stole from us all the brilliant roles he will never now perform.
Selfish? I responded:
Addiction is horrible. He really, really tried. Can't agree with you on this.
Perhaps he tried. But he tried too late. "If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."
Soon after, @LisaB.Mrs.S. retweeted:
@knottyyarn: How about believing survivors. How about compassion for addicts. How about not indulging that blame-placing urge & remembering humanity.
Yes, I thought. Yes. Yes. Yes.
But then I read these responses:
@commiegirl1: @knottyyarn honestly, I grew up with a daddy who's an addict. My son is my son because his birth mom died from it. I just don't empathize.
@commiegirl1: @knottyyarn I know I would be a better person if I did, but they leave behind so much f***ing wreckage.
And who would know better that they, with real life, personal experience?
Who has the right to pass judgement? Who is entitled to sum it up, give it a name, count the cost and lay the blame? I know I am not. As I wrote on Facebook last night,
On a more serious note, people who have no concept of what addiction means and go online to pontificate are...well, I guess...well, never mind. Sad.
I can tell you this: many years ago, when my first marriage was breaking up, I came dangerously close to having a problem with alcohol. I was overwhelmed. I felt pain and helplessness. I felt sorry for myself, too. Hadn't I earned that extra drink? Yet though I teetered on the edge, I eventually stepped away from that danger. Very gradually, I moved forward.
Why? You could say that God was watching out for me. Or that my strength of character won out as I realized my responsibility to my young daughter. You could say a variety of things, but the truth is that I did not have in my body chemistry that disease which is alcoholism. An addiction.
I was so, so lucky. And I continue to be blessed that I wobbled and struggled and was able to find my equilibrium. Others are not so lucky. Addiction is a disease and the wreckage is immense. My wish is that those of us who are addiction-free or have merely dipped a toe in the water restrain ourselves from passing judgement.
We are not entitled.