The tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman yesterday stunned us all.
The theatre and film world is reeling. New Yorkers have a particular reaction when a likable celebrity we see around town suddenly leaves us.
The recovery community feels especially vulnerable when someone who had been sober for over two decades goes down. Anyone recovering from substances is reminded how close they might be to a relapse that can kill.
I did not know Philip Seymour Hoffman personally, but I had a special connection to him. A former client of mine knew him in the recovery world. We had a mutual point of contact, and I know Phil (as he was known by friends) sometimes dropped off this client at my office for appointments. From my second hand account, Phillip Seymour Hoffman took his recovery very seriously.
Rest in peace, PSH, I know your remarkable life, body of work, and tragic death will impact many of us for decades to come.
Here is my post from June 2013 about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s relapse eight months ago:
Yesterday media outlets reported that Philip Seymour Hoffman just returned from a 10-day stint in rehab for heroin abuse.
After 23 years of sobriety, Hoffman apparently started using prescription drugs a year ago, and this eventually spiraled into a month long, heroin-snorting binge.
Why, you might ask, after two decades of sobriety, would a talented, intelligent, wealthy, Academy award-winning actor with a family slip into the abyss of a drug relapse?
Because, according to the wisdom of Alcoholics Anonymous, addiction is a cunning and baffling disease. Recovery, at best, gives us a daily reprieve from its grip. And as they say in AA, relapse is part of recovery.
We would not ask a cancer patient why their cancer returned. We understand that diseases sometimes worsen and more drastic measures must be taken. Nor do we ask a diabetic why they need to take insulin. It is what they need to do to manage their disease. And even with daily maintenance, the disease sometimes wins.
As a therapist and psychodramatist in NYC specializing in addictions, I am always appreciative when famous people share their private struggles with the world. While it may be because the media is so invasive that they ultimately have no choice, it also can remind us that addiction does not play favorites.
If you ever go to a 12-Step meeting, you will see a cross-section of humanity, all ages, orientations, and creeds, from famous to homeless and everyone in between.
I hope as a society, we can continue to move toward a less stigmatizing view of addiction. Maybe reality shows like Intervention or Celebrity Rehab bring us a little closer, but I would prefer a less voyeuristic approach and more of an ongoing conversation.
As they say, if you shake any family tree hard enough, an addict or alcoholic will fall out. If we add process addictions like workaholism, compulsive exercise, overspending, relationship addiction, gambling, and eating disorders to the mix, we are all touched by addiction in one way or another.
Addiction does not discriminate, nor does cancer. So the next time we chuckle that Amanda Bynes was caught throwing a bong out of a high rise window, let’s remember that we would not laugh if we were talking about Amanda getting chemo again for her recurring lymphoma.
Addiction is tragic, addiction destroys families, addiction kills. Perhaps if we accepted the notion that no one wants to be an addict, but many of us are simply afflicted, we would have more compassion for the addicts around us and the ones within us.
© 2013 – 2014 Valerie Simon, LCSW, PAT