Let Me Clear Up Something — Addiction and Compassion



I hope to never approach on my blog again, the Phillip Seymour Hoffman situation.

Sadly, myriad other similar situations, I assure you, abound for one to approach it. I checked my blog’s spam filter today and I had 20 offers for “_name benzo here_ without a prescription.” Drug abuse, prescription drug abuse and addiction run rampant; our mental health system is overtaxed and people want a quick fix to their pain. Let’s get something straight: often pain can happen in an instant: car accident, or another trauma — those can happen super fast; the other kind of pain takes a long time to ramp up and thus, can take a very long time to unwind. Regardless of the pain, a pill or a tweak might be the easiest way to deal with it, but that ease comes with a price… for everyone.

I first wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman simply because someone I know expressed an opinion I found so vile that I couldn’t not write about it. The person who expressed that opinion later sincerely recanted and apologized. The opinion was generated, and I feel this is apt, due to the tremendous amount of play this situation has gotten, simply because PSH was a tragic and talented movie star who embodied “the everyman.”

Thanks to the glory of addiction and the romanticization of its travails, easy access to drugs and a basic ignorance of the countless cues our bodies and minds and spirits give us to express one simple thing: HELP, I CAN’T TAKE THIS PAIN!, addiction runs rampant and the legion bodies and hearts and souls left in its wake are bobbing in a sea of sadness, frustration, self-loathing, blame and obvious destruction.

As for Philip Seymour Hoffman: may God rest his soul. May his children find comfort knowing that their father is finally at peace and may his beloved survivors go on without worrying for his welfare AND, might I add, may they feel NOT ONE SHRED of guilt for any of it.

I will see these seemingly endless future writing about [popular] addiction a la blog opportunities and I will raise them with all my available apathy and indifference to ignore them. I will do my utmost to be like Captain Jack Sparrow as he waxed philosophically with Elizabeth Swann about the opportunities to do the right thing:

I know that sounds curt, but I truly can’t constantly wallow in the sadnesses generated by other people. I have my own world and its ups and downs with which to contend.

So, all this said, for one last time, let me clear up something:

I do not glorify or honor addicts. Not in the least. The last two sentences of that post I wrote about PSH hit a nerve and brought people to their feet to agree with me:

Compassion is not enabling. All I know is that compassion just isn’t hate.

I stand by that ending. Hate and anger do nothing. Anger is a necessary and important reaction (not state of being) though, I can assure you, and it helps you get through things and to the heart of matters efficiently.

Those 13 words struck a chord with many readers who graced my blog to indulge in my blathering. I appreciate their visits very much. Normally, as I said in that post, I don’t touch current affairs. I like to believe fantasize they have nothing to do with me; also, tarrying in them can generate static, something I wish to avoid. I didn’t start a blog because I wanted fame; I started it to give my sons a window into how I see the world and a place to express myself, no matter how inane the verbiage.

A reader of that post took the time to suggest in her comment that instead of using “compassion” that perhaps “empathy” would be a better word. I nodded in silent agreement upon reading the comment, but my inner editor canted its head. She made a good point, but I stood by “compassion.”

Let’s look at “compassion” shall we?

compassion |kəmˈpaSHən| noun. Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others: the victims should be treated with compassion. ORIGIN Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with.’

The etymology of “compassion” is Latin, meaning “co-suffering.” More involved than simple empathy, compassion commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.[2]

Here’s my simple point: anyone who’s a hair’s breadth away from someone suffering from addiction is — I KID YOU NOT — already co-suffering. Anyone who’s feeling compassion, who is co-suffering, is actively involved in trying to fix things; trying to, and full-on experiencing an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering; and their own, I might add, because in the final analysis, let’s be honest: we’re all a bit selfish.

Fixing things becomes their Number One priority, more important than self-care. People who are in love with, the child of, the best friend of, the relative of an addict and who are deeply concerned about the welfare of that addict are, absolutely Not Putting Themselves First. Because the addict is at the forefront of the mind.

What is the use of eating when your loved one is strung out on the floor, panting in a shallow bath of her own frothy spit, eyes wild with fear and paranoia, speaking of hearing voices? What is the point of working hard when your daughter is inebriated or out of it for days on end? What is the point of showering and sleep when your husband stays out for days and nights? What about the son who comes home after a 3-day bender tattered, bruised, strung-out and evasive, begging for money or just wants to sleep?

Tell me. What is the use?

Welcome to the world of the silent and unseen victims; the innocent victims of addiction. The haggard, worried, sleepless and OBSESSED loved ones who bob in that sea of destruction. Waiting for their addicted to take the fucking lifeline and pull themselves out of the sea. Who cares for the innocent?

It’s a systemic problem. Addiction does not hurt just the addicted. It upsets the entire family system; like a mobile hanging from a thin thread, each disturbance upsets the balance and eventually takes it over. Addiction destroys the faith, trust, life and hope of the people who did nothing wrong. Who just happened to love the person with the problem.

I do not ever want anyone to think I am super-OK with addiction. Addiction to me, stems from obsession with escape, an inability to feel safe in the world in which we inhabit, so we take up ways of coping. Those ways of coping can manifest in unfettered indulgence in: the internet, food, gambling, sports, religion, television, distraction, driving, rules, running, biking, sex, ethics, drugs, anger, shopping, worry, alcohol, reading, writing, exercise, work, artistry, performing, codependency … you name it: whatever takes the heat off. And whatever gives the illusion of being controlled or controllable.

The point of addiction is to upset of that mobile’s balance, and to blur boundaries; to make that which at once seemed totally unhealthy, healthy, normal and sane. The other guy? The one who wants you to step away from your smartphone, the one who wants you to put down the book or the bottle, that guy is the crazy guy. That guy is the problem.

Trust me: there is plenty of compassion, co-suffering, going on in the hearts of the beloved in an addict’s life.

And guess what? It never ends. The innocent’s worry and concern? It never ends. We might estrange ourselves, we might write off the addict, but to pretend that we don’t care? That’s bullshit. The pain, the fear, the disruption — it is always looming, as much for the innocent as it is for the addict. It is a life-long vigil for everyone.

If you know someone who is trying to keep it together for the addict in his or her life, give your ear or your shoulder. Just listen and nod because you know pain, you know what disappointment and fear feel like; you don’t have to dig that deep.

Over and OUT.

Thank you.

Want more? Here: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/us/heroins-small-town-toll-and-a-mothers-pain.html?nl=health&emc=edit_hh_20140211&_r=0

13 responses »

  1. Thank you so much for your articles. You put into words what I’ve been struggling to say for a lifetime. Having been an openly addicted teenager myself, and seeing the stress it caused my family, I know the feelings your getting at. Whenever I’d speak to my parents about my problems they’d inevitably ask, “How can we help?” And I’d have no answer for them at all. Then years later, when my brother hit his teen years, they’d ask, “How can we avoid the problems we had with you?” And I still couldn’t answer.

    There’s no real way to describe the emotional roller-coaster of being associated with an addict. The best advice I ever learned was at the sudden passing of my friend Jon’s girlfriend. He was literally inconsolable. All I could do (being a 20 something dude) was stand there silently and wait for him to drop a rose, then hold him and cry with him until there were no tears left to shed. Associating with an addict is like standing over a friend’s open grave. Except there’s no finality of goodbye, there’s no miraculous resurgence, just waiting for the tears to start again and watching them dig themselves deeper.

    But I think there is hope in compassion like you talk about. I never wanted to be understood, or pushed, or helped. All I wanted was to be needed and included in a positive way. Addiction, like you said, is a way to cope with the stress of reality. Giving away an addiction is giving away your control over life. I think friends/family can help best by always giving an open invitation to alternate coping methods: whether they be religion, family integration, positive life changes, or what have you. My friend Tyler wrote on our blog about using prayer as his coping mechanism, not with addiction, but just life http://goo.gl/0ocJ7d. I think it gives an understandable answer of how finding a new direction in life is key to overcoming any kind of addiction. Let me know what you think?

    • Elder Chapman, thank you very much for your reply. I don’t hear back from too many addicts. I believe the feelings of shame run so deep, expression is nigh impossible. I am glad they are still here; I am glad they are paying attention.

      My mother was pained, tragically and deeply. I do not know what started her woes, I just wish she had a sense of safety to express it.

      Your speaking of control is amazing to me; it’s what my mother craved most of all, yet she manifested that desire in a way that belied it. It was very hard to be her daughter. I did everything I could in my life to be the non-Mimi; the anti-Mimi and thus, I lost myself.

      Moderation… prayer. I don’t know the fears and demons she faced; God has spared me. But I know the demons I have faced and I keep an eye, every day, to do what I can to be soft and kind and firm and strong. Hard… hardness had almost ruined me. It was the only way I knew how to live; it was completely unlike her. I am writing about that now, I finally have a grasp on how to move forward with my homage to my mother and a memoir for myself; we don’t have to be famous movie stars or heads of state to be worthy of a memoir. I think when we share those thoughts, we show the world, the “common” person (of which there simply is no such thing) that she or he is not at all alone.

      Your friend’s post — in the foothills. I get that. I have written about that, taking inventory, so to speak for the things we *think* are missing from our lives, but which in actuality are teachers. We will keep having those lessons until we learn them. Easier said than done, I know.

      God has been very good to me in my life; I wrote about one night when I simply couldn’t take the guilt anymore after my mother’s death. I was wracked with it, it was all consuming. I prayed hard, on my hands and knees, prostrate and prone on the floor, tears streaming, begging for relief and release. It came over me as though someone had covered me with a blanket. I have heard God speak to me twice; the first time it woke me from my sleep.

      We have to be willing to go to that place, Elder, where we know we are absolutely powerless, when we know there is no other way, that all our modern conventions and meditation and gratitude exercises have done all they can; we need to go to our core rock place and express our need so clearly, so humbly, that there is no confusion.

      Once we can do that, and we are truly open to His work, we can receive His Grace. We just have to ask for it…. That’s the point, isn’t it?

      There but for the Grace of God go i… (with a lower case i)

      thank you for your comments. thank you for sharing your friend’s post. God is great… we just need to be willing to accept it. I don’t write much about God here; it’s not that I steer away from being a Christian writer, it’s just that I’m very private about it.

      thank you.

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