PERSONAL WEAKNESS

There are two things that drive me crazy about the frenzy of attention that follows celebrity deaths. One is the ludicrous efforts of self-centered people to make it about themselves somehow – it turns out that Don Cornelius was actually the most important person in their life because they watched Soul Train 20 years ago and thus they are grieving. The second is the death being yet another opportunity for (usually) right-wing loudmouths to lecture us on the decedent's responsibility for his own demise and how, as a vastly better person, the speaker would never follow the same course of action.

I had zero real feelings about the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman; he was a fine actor and I enjoyed some of his movies. However, when I heard that the police found him with a needle in his arm I hated him for a brief moment – not because I am judging his actions, but because I knew that I had about three days of "Drug addicts are weak people, good riddance" to look forward to. People who can't stop talking about how smart and wonderful they are can lay off the unemployed for a few days and talk about how they're too strong of character to succumb to the addictions of the poor and weak.

I consider myself fortunate that I don't have problems with addiction. Despite the blog name I am not a heavy drinker and I was never cool enough to be into drugs, so aside from an inability to open a pint of ice cream without eating the entire fucking thing I have no ability to empathize with what a heroin addict experiences. Nonetheless, I feel about addiction the same way I feel about poverty, which is a paraphrase of a Bill Hicks bit. It can happen to anyone; all it takes is the right bar, the right friends, and the wrong woman.

That's a comedy punchline, not to be taken literally. The reasons people get started down the road to addiction are varied and obviously it's not all about relationships gone wrong. The premise is sound, though. While empirical research suggests that some people may be more prone to chemical addiction than others, I see it as a "There but for the grace of god go I" issue. Just as the same people who condescend the poor, unemployed, and homeless fail to realize that they're about three misfortunes away from poverty themselves, talking about addiction as a sign of personal weakness sounds like a combination of raw ignorance, an inflated sense of self, and more than a bit of denial.

If it makes you feel better to revel in a celebrity death because it gives you a chance to talk about how much better you are as a person, then go nuts. Who am I to tell you how to overcompensate for your fear of mortality. It is important to recognize that you're fooling no one but yourself, though. If you're a true believer who honestly believes the nonsense about your own superiority, we'll be here waiting when you learn the hard way that this sort of thing can happen to anyone.

People hooked on drugs are sick. Neither prison nor your condescending lectures are going to help.

33 thoughts on “PERSONAL WEAKNESS”

  • Agree, Agree and Agree. Almost retired, life was kind, very kind, to me. Did it have to be this way? No, it's a lot of luck, being at the right place at the right time, etc. Did I work hard? Of course, I and many other do and did, but not everyone succeeds.

    Very few of us have the special thingy that guarantees success. We, not the few, need help.

  • If you think his family isn't absolutely crushed that I didn't post RIP P.S.H. on my Facebook page, you're crazy. Kee-ray-zee.

    "One is the ludicrous efforts of self-centered people to make it about themselves somehow – it turns out that Don Cornelius was actually the most important person in their life because they watched Soul Train 20 years ago and thus they are grieving."

  • And guess what! Sugar addiction is a killer hiding in plain sight.

    And here I always thought it was just one of the 5 Basic Food Groups (alcohol, fat, starch, salt and sugar).

    Off to have a bite of chocolate for a cheap drug hit…

  • Maybe it's cliche now to say "correlation is not causation" but… that's how I feel, whenever people blame a personal tragedy on drug addiction. Not to defend drug addictions (they're bad, if you didn't know), but most of the time people turn to drugs *because* they have bad personal problems, not the other way around.

  • Doug Stanhope says that addiction is a choice. I will chose to shoot up, or I will chose to not shoot up (I believe that Doug is a boozer). As a former light-weight addict (I never burglarized houses, per se), the latter is a fuck of a lot harder to do than the former. Sorry, the drug is just really good. So, the trick is to be able to rationalize to yourself with great power that forgoing immediate relief is a good thing. Very difficult to do!

  • The best thing about CO and WA and Obama instructing the Feds to let things with mj slide in moving the ball forward is that we can now start dealing with these issues as a health concern.

    A) We could get some real research done into long term health effects.
    B) By removing the rebellious attraction to it will assist in diminishing its appeal to some users.

    From a policy point of view,
    Social pressure could now be used to deter people from using. It wasn't that long ago (20-25yrs) that smoking was every where. Now look at it. Yes, you can still smoke, but education and peer/social pressure have curtailed it significantly.

    Though I do want very tight controls on people who operate heavy equipment and work in certain industries. I'd really hate to be on a job site with someone who's still got a residual buzz happening. Especially, if that person is building something I rely upon like scaffolding.

  • Can we add to this list, the cult of celebrity in general.

    The only thing I need to know is if my favourite actor has gone to jail or not so I won't be expecting him/her to be putting out any more films for a bit.

    Otherwise: People, Get lives!

  • Similarly irritating are the folks that pop up with posts about how everyone mentions an actor's death, but not a soldier's death and don't you feel like a bad person now, hnnnngh? I'll bet 99% of the people who read this won't repost it, etc.

    Unless you're equally–and publicly!–upset about everything, you're not allowed to be upset about anything, I guess.

  • Everyone dies and it's rarely pretty. There's a bit of the Westboro Baptist always ready to jump up and demand attention when it's high-profile and looks a certain way.
    It's mean and sad to see.

  • I'm just wondering whatever happened to the social convention that one doesn't speak ill of the dead. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is beyond this world now, and it's not like all the self-righteousness is going to do anything for him. If anything, it will attach a social stigma to those who are still alive and battling addiction and other demons. They'll be less likely to seek help because they can't stand the thought of dealing with the shame.

  • I suspect the finger-wagging histrionics derive from two sources: One, parental irrationality. Parents whose children are vulnerable to "getting the wrong message" (a category that might just as well be called "parents") feel it is incumbent upon them to be exceptionally emphatic with their condemnation because otherwise their own precious darlings might meet a similar fate.

    Two, the boundless capacity of horrible people (again, we might just use the term "people") to make themselves feel better about their own objectively dreadful lives (both public and inner) by comparing themselves to someone they perceive to be "worse." (In Mr. Hoffman's case, an easy comparison, inasmuch as he is dead–a fact I am unhappy about, but which I realize is really not my place to have any strong reaction to, inasmuch as I did not know him personally.)

  • Gotta say that when we heard about Hoffman, my wife and I both said "There but for the grace of god…"

    There are many avenues to get to the point where you have a needle sticking out of your arm, and we've both been down a few of them. Anybody who does not understand this should just shut the fuck up.

  • I have ten years experience in a ministry to homeless, addicted, and ex-offender men.

    In that narrow slice we find that more than 80% of all of the above have drug problems. Frequently the addictions (usually starting with alcohol) start in the early teenage years.

    I don't know if this is just a correlation or a cause, but we find that these men mostly operate on the emotional level of 14 year old boys. Blame shifting, denial, "the dog ate my homework, it's not my fault."

    We provide them the basics and a Biblical program to help them start their lives over again. We show them love and provide them structure (live in group housing and help them get jobs) to help them start their lives over..

    Some are interested long term and some not.

    //bb

  • arglebargle: Not all people turn to drugs because of bad personal problems. I would say A LOT of people turn to drugs because, hey, it's fun to be in an altered state sometimes. The problem is that you usually don't know you're an addict until you've tried the drug/booze.

    For Ed, yes, we are all lucky, but as you acknowledge, addicts are addicts because they have an illness–they have the addiction gene. For example: I used cocaine a bit in the late 80's. I LIKED cocaine. Therefore, I recognized that I needed to limit my consumption of the stuff lest I venture down a dangerous path. But my mere ability to limit my consumption meant that I wouldn't be an addict–an addict can't do that. Then one night I did too much and wasn't able to go to sleep when I wanted to. I really didn't like that feeling and never did the stuff again. So, not an addict. Could I do that with heroin? Dunno, but I sure as hell am not willing to test it. Because even though I know I don't have an addictive personality, I don't know that I am immune to every drug…

  • Please excuse my paranoia – to head off some trite abuse:

    Our work is faith based
    No government money
    No entry fees – we take men with no resources
    Men are expected to get employment to contribute to their upkeep
    No salaries, to date, for anyone associated with the operation

    So go peddle the 'grifter' stuff somewhere else.

    //bb

  • We're on the same page generally, but have you considered the relevance of celebrity and the problem of grief?

    People generally (especially here in our non-collectivist culture of the individual) have the simultaneous need to feel unique and to feel normal. You want to be an accepted part of the herd but you also want to be a prime member. These two urges are fed simultaneously by celebrities ("special people") having normal life events (babies, weddings, ODs, divorces, name a milestone). I'm special like them! They're normal like me!

    Obviously not everyone is affected by celebrities in this fashion, but it's an outgrowth of the tradition of hero worship. Some people have a cultish love of Our War Heroes, for some it's certain scholars or authors or politicians or jocks. We may not know them personally but we have feelings for them (but which are really about us) that are moved. The sentiment is real even if the connection is felt only in one direction.

    The other is the milestone event itself here: death. Our society doesn't handle death well. We grieve melodramatically when it's not meaningful because it's safe then — but we have little compassion and zero patience for people who are personally bereaved. Death, divorce, career loss, whatever: pull yourself up by your griefstraps! You're making everyone uncomfortable! Don't be a downer! Get over it, move on! Anything to avoid the perception of weakness, by sentiment or association, or to face our real fears of change and loss.

    (P.S.: my 2p on addiction is that it's a non-linear spectrum. Some folks have a chemical weakness for alcohol due to their sugar metabolism; others have social overuse plugged in culturally from birth; others have no particular vulnerability until a bad event turns them to a substance for relief of pain; others have lifelong pain and lifelong quests for relief because of it. I recommend Khantzian on addiction as self-medication and Fetting on substance chemistry.)

  • In this day and age people are still doing the addiction-is-a-choice BS? There's only about a battleship's worth of research showing a whole array of biological predispositions for addiction. Yes, they are predispositions, not determinations, but so is your height. If you never get enough calories, you will be short no matter what your genes say. And, sure, there's a whole range to the amount of predisposition. Some people would have to be very lucky to escape addiction; others can withstand even pints of ice cream with just a bit of attention-shifting. But nobody is immune. If they were, the Buddhist doctrine of moderation in all things would be easy to learn.

  • Even if some people ARE more likely than others to succumb to chemical addiction, assignment to that group is beyond your individual control.

  • legal street drugs = coffee (or any other caffienated beverage, coca-cola anyone?) sugar, and the usual industrial processed sludge that most consume. legal window dressing is more like it . . .

  • For me, PSH's death is mostly an antidote to the meme "First World Problems." He was a straight white guy, an actor so successful that he won an Academy Award, home in Greenwich Village, NYC, etc. …. so any problems he had were by definition First World Problems. As in, rich successful beloved actor likes drugs = First World Problem.

    But it turns out that First World Problems can kill you, can they not?

  • @bb

    "So go peddle the 'grifter' stuff somewhere else."

    Wow. Last thing in the world I would think of your laudable efforts.

  • ConcernedCitizen says:

    Agree with practically everything in the post. However, I would argue that, chemical predispositions aside, addiction IS a weakness. It is possible – for everyone – to value other things in life more than the high from a drug. Addicts, and even those who tend towards addiction, are too myopic to find or appreciate those other things worth valuing.

    The above paragraph may very well may be bullshit peddled from my high horse, but at least it comes from some experience. Not in this specific case – I've never had the chance to shoot heroin, although I would try it at least once out of curiosity. I have, however, availed myself of a wide array of altered states, and I've never let those experiences consume my life.

    What annoys me is the self-righteous pricks who've never even done drugs, who believe sobriety is the only true representation of reality and who think people who experiment with their own consciousness are whacked-out imbeciles. Those people are ignorant and should shut the fuck up about things they don't understand.

  • @quixote

    "Moderation in all things" is actually a common summation of the great Belgian philosopher Aristotle's doctrine of the mean in the Nicomachean Ethics, not of Buddhism.

    On the topic of addiction as a choice or biologically driven, while in grad school back in the day I encountered a man who liked to go out for chocolate cake every second evening or so. We were friends, so I asked him what the deal with the cake love was, since it seemed untypical of his otherwise rather spartan lifestyle. He told me that he had become a drug addict years back, had escaped that addiction by turning to alcohol – and had escaped alcoholism by turning to large-scale consumption of sugar (hence the evening cake ritual). I guess his story illustrates that while a person might have an addictive nature, there are ways to choose your addiction, to some extent.

  • The only reason I never tried heroin twice is because I liked it so much the first time -Me, every time it comes up

    bb, you're doing good work. Thank you from the son of an addict who chooses not to heal herself and was BETTER when she was drinking (getting her 25-year chip in March while completely driving away anyone who ever cared for her).

  • @NickT

    It is Willie Nelson's testimony that he escaped alcoholism (a family problem ) and likely pre-mature death by turning to smoking weed. He is now past 80…

    //bb

  • @ConcernedCitizen: I am not sure which logical fallacy describes your position, but it was taught to me as "If for me, so for thee".

    "I went to war and saw horrible things without getting PTSD, so guys who say they have it are just attention-seeking." "I got raped and it didn't faze me a bit, so all those so-called victims are just drama queens." "I came from hard circumstances and became successful, so everyone else must have the same protective factors and potential outcome." And so on.

    Not trying to be a jerk, but there is more to addiction than your experience and the weakness of myopia that you describe.

  • Seeing your post on Shirley made wonder if the reason there's so much demagogging on drugs is money.
    There is so much money sunk into the WoD—which grew out of Prohibition—police budgets, prisons, prosecution, etc. etc. Not to mention the authoritarian police state and surveillance industries.
    It's not just a simple rule change or two, but the dismantling of an entire machine. Whole communities are based on the premise of paying 1/2 to guard the other 1/2 of the population.

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