Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Edge of Insanity - Why?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" Albert Einstein

*** Note: For the purpose of this article the terms "addict" and "alcoholic" are synonymous.


Just over a week ago Philip Seymour Hoffman did what addicts do - he died. His death struck a very personal chord with me and I have been wrestling with how, or even if, I should react.

There is frustration and anger as we all grasp for meaning from this tragedy. The anger is not being directed at the drugs, his personal problems or any conflicts he may have had. It is being directed where it belongs - towards the disease of addiction itself. A disease the American Medical Association characterizes as a

"chronic dysfunction in the brain memory, reward and motivation circuitry".

In 2012 Hoffman was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous with twenty-three years of sobriety. He had a single drink at a celebration for the release of his movie The Master. That one drink opened the floodgates.


In recovery it is accepted if you don't take the first drink you will never get drunk. Those afflicted with the disease of addiction experience an absolute loss of control once they start. They may stop after a few drinks, a few days, a few months or they may never stop at all. It's like getting hit by a train - it's not the caboose that kills you - its the engine.


There is no logical reason why any alcoholic drinks or an addict does drugs. They can be depressed, happy, employed, unemployed, loved too much, not loved enough, single child, middle child, spouse left, spouse came back...

Around and around and around it goes as the addict and those in his life ping pong blame back and forth for something none of them understand. Something that doesn't add up. Where blame can't truly be assigned because everyones doing the best they can - as bad as that may be.

When everyone else stops. When all logic points to stopping - the addict just wants more and more until ... oblivion. In spite of level thinking in other areas and seemingly keen personal insight they still take the first drink.


Hoffman was at the top of his career with a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Capote (2006). He attended the best treatment program in 2013 and had all the support and resources one could imagine. But it wasn't enough. He died alone in his bathroom with over seventy packets of heroin and a needle in his arm.


Friend and fellow recovering alcoholic Aaron Sorkin wrote an article in Time Magazine where he quotes Hoffman as saying:

"If one of us dies of an overdose, probably 10 people who were about to won't."

His point was that the publicity from his death would serve as a wake up call to other addicts and save lives. In truth, the impact of his death is likely to help many people. It is tragic that this talented, intelligent, successful man saw real value in his own death. He saw the value in his own despair and hopelessness, yet he was unable to find the value in himself as an inspiration and role model who survived and kept his addictions at bay for 23 years. Such is the insidious nature of addiction. It is a parasitic disease that latches onto the very spirit of its host.


Sorkin also writes: "We should stop implying that if he'd just taken the proper amount then everything would be fine. He didn't die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed – he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a 'y' in it."

That's Why.

Experts agree that 10% of the population suffer from the disease of addiction. For them every day clean and sober is a miracle. Yet even with all we know today about this disease for most of those afflicted it is fatal. Addicts die. If not from overdoses, car crashes or murder, then from secondary causes such as hepatitis, HIV, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes or suicide.

Some of the lucky ones get locked up for the safety of themselves and others.

The medical profession can identify an addict under a CAT scan. They can see what's broken they just can't fix it. Despite all of this, there is still a tremendous amount of shame, self loathing and prejudice associated with addiction. It is hard for most to understand those who just can't say no. Even the addict themselves don't understand. Although only 10% of the population has the disease, it is hard to find someone who has not been affected.

Lives are ruined and families destroyed every day because of addiction.

I am personally invested in this story. I have experienced recovery and relapse - I was clean and sober from 1996 to 2008. Then and I had a single drink - but for some reason I lived to tell my story. I struggled with relapse and recovery through until 2012 and have been sober now almost two years again. I don't share this part of my story often; however, the events of this week shook me up and made me realize how lucky I am to be sober and have the power of choice back in my life.

Hoffman's death gave me some perspective.
Best Sam


  1. Thank you for this post, Sam, for interweaving your own personal story and experiences into it. It is a profoundly human and empathetic take on the narrative of overcoming the monster.

  2. Thank-you Hamutai. "The Monster" is an excellent characterization.


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