Philip Seymour Hoffman: How many more do we have to lose?

Photo credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

Seriously, I don’t know how many more articles like this I can write about celebrities dying of addiction.

Along with everyone else who knew Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work, I mourn the loss of a gigantic talent. He was one of my favorite actors and I’ve seen most of his films. Of all the celebrity tributes I’ve heard about him in the past couple of days, the one that stands out for me is Rob Lowe’s—Lowe, a recovering addict/alcoholic himself, spoke of feeling angry about a number of things, not the least of which is that addiction is, in his words, “an equal opportunity killer.”

Many people talking about Hoffman today are using the term “speechless” to describe what they’re feeling. Although I can understand what they mean, I find that I am not speechless at all.

I have a lot to say.

What most people don’t understand about indulging in addiction is that it is a choice they are making. Please understand, I’m not saying that addicts deliberately decide to become addicts—I don’t think that’s the case at all. In fact, most people start engaging in addictive behaviors thinking it won’t get them—they’ll be able to handle it and not succumb to addiction. That was certainly true of me when I was using, a great many years ago. But when an addict knows there’s a problem, that’s where the choice point is: will they choose to remain in active addiction or will they choose to be in some form of active, ongoing recovery?

Philip Seymour Hoffman knew that he was an addict. I knew that about him too. Apparently he had many years clean and sober—a wonderful choice on his part. But he clearly allowed himself to have what some would call a “slip,” the acronym for Sobriety Loses Its Priority. A slip is a choice, a relapse is a choice. Continuing to use is a choice. Getting clean is also a choice, as witnessed by the millions of us all over the world who choose it, and continue to choose it one day at a time—often for the rest of our lives.

Yes, there is brain involvement with addiction. There is no question about that. Yes, we may have a genetic disposition to particular mind-altering substances. Although this has not yet been definitively proven scientifically, I believe it to be true. Yes, we may well learn our behavioral addictions in our homes growing up. I witness this daily with my clients and it was also true in my case. But ultimately, none of that really matters because, deep down, the decision to use is just that—a decision. Let’s start calling it what it is before more people have to die.

I don’t know enough about Hoffman’s personal life to know whether he had people around who were enabling him. Maybe, maybe not. If there were, I hope they will examine how they may have unwittingly contributed to this horrendous situation so they don’t do it to anyone else. What I do know for sure is that somewhere along the line, Hoffman himself made the decision to accumulate approximately 50 envelopes of heroin (apparently found in his home at his death), to load at least one syringe with some of it, and proceed to shoot it into his arm.

Done.

I am angry about that.

I am angry any time I hear of an addict dying of an overdose—or of cirrhosis of the liver from drinking, or of lung cancer due to smoking, because help is out there. Try making a different choice.

I wonder how many more people, celebs and non-celebs alike, have to die because they truly don’t realize that they actually do have control over the choices they themselves make. I wish we could start talking about addiction that way, rather than telling addicts that they have a ‘brain disease,’ all too often leading them to believe they simply can’t help using their addiction. The truth is that they can help it. Anyone can stop using an addictive behavior (including enabling)—if they choose to commit to the inner work it takes to do so.

I’m sad beyond belief about Hoffman’s death—and Cory Monteith’s, and Michael Jackson’s, and Amy Winehouse’s, and Whitney Houston’s—just to name a few. I’m sad about all the people I’ve known personally who are now dead because they decided to use their addiction of choice. Let’s now stop enabling addicts by telling them the truth—that addiction is a symptom of what emotionally lies underneath it. Let’s start teaching both addicts and those who enable them how to respect themselves—so they can stop sabotaging their lives and the lives of those they so dearly love.

Let’s raise the bar and start creating a more honest world. Maybe, just maybe, fewer addicts will have to die out there.

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