I read this week of the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman. A brilliant actor. A partner. A father. A human. I didn’t know him, I wasn’t necessarily his fan, though I enjoyed his acting very much, but yet I was still touched that someone was so gripped by addiction they died with a needle in their arm, alone in a hotel room. He was a junkie. The only difference between him and the nameless homeless guy od’ing in a flea-bag hotel on the wrong side of town is geography and a higher thread-count on the sheets. Then I stopped feeling sorry for Phillip, and started feeling sorry for those he left behind. Not just the kids, but yeah the kids who will forever be labeled with the shame of knowing their dad, the celebrated, Academy Award winner, died of a drug overdose. Although, they won’t be able to call it shame, unless it’s with their therapist, who will probably try to tell them they shouldn’t feel shame, they should feel sympathy for a man so gripped by addiction, and how his addiction was a manifestation of his own pain…blah, blah, blah. . .all the while looking down his/her nose at them for not being more supportive of an addict and his struggles. No, I feel sorry for all those he left behind, particularly his partner, family and friends who tried to stand by his side and understand his addiction. Because that’s what you do when you have a loved one with addiction, or depression, or sickness or whatever other war they are fighting. You understand. You read books on it. You watch very thoughtful and poignant YouTube videos about other’s with that struggle. You post “hang in there” messages on the person’s Facebook, and then feel like an idiot when they turn around and post a status like “I’m sick of people telling me to ‘hang in there’ when they don’t really understand what I’m going through”. Nice. Or the even better…”No one understands my pain, they say they do, but they don’t”. Awesome.
There are people in my life who I love dearly, who were at war, be it depression or addiction or other physical illness. And, there are loved ones who have passed on who never won their war. One thing they all had and have in common, however, is I stood by and tried to be understanding, while at the same time was reminded time and time again how I couldn’t possibly understand, but yet couldn’t stop trying because then I would be abandoning them. See that is the Catch-22 of being the loved one of a person at war. You get to be treated like you aren’t doing enough, but you can’t stop doing because then you are the asshole who abandoned them when they needed you the most. Being the loved one of someone at war is to be constantly reminded how very inadequate you are. All the nights you lay awake crying, praying, wishing, imagining things getting better, won’t matter a rat’s ass in the end. No one is going to say thank you. As a matter of fact, some people might even get blamed and labeled an “enabler” if that war is some sort of addiction. All those suggestions you make will be brought up later in a conversation where the, now rehabbed veteran, will tell you made them feel worse about their addiction/depression/illness, and they will tell you it made them feel more hopeless and inadequate. You will apologize profusely and feel even more like shit because you know full well how it hurts to feel hopeless and inadequate, because that is exactly what you felt the entire time you were trying to be supportive of your loved one at war. The even worse part of everything, is the person struggling with addiction or depression or illness, gets to go to rehab, or the hospital or what have you, and get somewhat better. They will go on with their lives because they feel so much better and more positive about that new life. You on the other hand, didn’t have a needle to put down, or serotonin levels to work out, or an illness to overcome. You will be right where you are, forever changed because you have been reminded time and again how inadequate you are and how very little you mattered. You will rethink every word you say because for however long, you were constantly guarded about saying the wrong thing and causing the other person hurt.
You see, I know this little drama because I lived it. My father died of alcoholism, and the whole time he was an alcoholic it was someone else’s fault. I have, or should say, had a good friend who struggled with alcoholism as well…we don’t talk anymore, but we talked plenty in the past, mainly about how she had all these reasons for being a drunk that no one understood, and “No Carol, you don’t get it….” when I suggested counseling. But my favorite conversation happened at 4 am, 2 hours before I had to be up for work, when she told me all the same shit she always told me when she was drunk and then ended it with “I thought you were my friend…” when I had to tell her I needed to sleep. Hmmm. All those other talks, which were just her wanting to tell me the same shit for the 100th time. I also had a couple of friends who struggled with depression, who constantly took offense to everything anyone ever said, because depression is real. Yeah, we know, but every word that comes out of someone’s mouth isn’t a judgement about your depression. And though I was available to them anytime they needed to vent, and accused of being a bad friend if I didn’t call or reach out….none of them seemed to take a moment to call and just see how I was doing. See, there is the other draw back to being the loved one of someone at war. Your problems are “small” by comparison. You aren’t allowed to have your own moments, or allowed to vent, or even allowed to call your loved one when you need a friend because then you are selfish, and when that loved one gets better, no one is going to hold them accountable for not being there for you because they were so sick.
So, I’m sorry Phillip Seymour Hoffman is dead, but I’m even sorrier that his loved ones aren’t going to get the opportunity to tell him to sort his own shit out and feel better about their own wars. They will forever feel they should have done more. No one will ever tell them they were enough and gave him more than he really deserved. No one will ever tell them they loved him more or cared more for him than he cared for them. It wasn’t because he wasn’t capable…it was because he was too damn selfish.