On Philip Seymour Hoffman and Addiction: If You Don’t Know, Don’t Speak – A Plea.

Yesterday evening, news came through that Philip Seymour Hoffman, the actor who brought Truman Capote to life in 2005, was found dead in his apartment. The cause of his death was immediately widely circulated due to the insensitive and careless behaviour of one person and consequently, because people who know nothing of the horror of addiction seemingly cannot help themselves, there poured forth with stupid and callous comments about it.

Those who know don’t speak; those who speak, don’t know.  This is so often the case:  people who do not understand the pain, brokenness and fear which drove the addict to partake of that first drink, or stick that first needle into their vein, or swallow 1 more painkiller than might have been otherwise necessary find it too easy to conflate this with the drink, the needle or the pill to which the person is addicted.

For my family and I, because we have lived the reality of this, we will be avoiding the news and social media today. It will be a necessary act of self care – 3 years ago today my sister died. She too was an addict.

I am not planning on re-visiting that day, in words here on this blog, not for a while – whilst the difficulties of her life and the grief and sorrow caused by her death are wounds which continue to heal every day, the day itself is something I am not ready yet to re-visit. But it means that I have some appreciation of what Hoffman’s family will be dealing with – and for them, it will be in the glare of the public gaze, surrounded by a thousand hungry paparazzi.

For their sake, I ask only this: if you do not know about addiction, or choose not to know; if you have not fought that battle or stood alongside a loved one as they have done so; if your opinions will blame and shame the addict and their family, or if you would even have the temerity to stand before an addict and their loved ones and tell them that there is no such thing as addiction – please, I ask you in the name of mercy and compassion: don’t speak.

Keep your thoughts to yourself, save your opinion for a different time and another place. You do not and cannot what Hoffman’s family are dealing with right now, or what they have already lived through. You cannot know how your words will pour acid on their gaping wounds and deepen the pain that was anyway coursing through their hearts. You do not understand how your ignorance stamps upon their already volatile sense of themselves, nor grasp how your foolishness is like a bouquet of nettles thrust upon them, where only the most soothing oils should be poured.

In the name of mercy, in the name of compassion. Don’t speak. Don’t say a word. Please.

Pineapple Head – She Was My Sister (Part 2): This may be controversial…

There’s a great line in the West Wing, spoken by the character of Leo McGary talking about his addiction to drink and pills – addicts, he says, don’t lack will power in the same way that an anorexic doesn’t have an over inflated sense of vanity.

Which is true.  He might also have said that addicts don’t choose the addiction – they choose the drug because they want to make the pain, the sorrow, the violent self-doubt, the guilt, the shame, the gnawing self-loathing or whatever the feeling is which causes them more pain they are able to process, to simply go away. But I appreciate it doesn’t quite trip off the tongue in the same way.

Because I am a realist, I also know that addicts also choose to get high but let’s be clear – there is no gradation (in my mind) between addiction to caffeine and addiction to morphine.  The difference is not in the level of addiction: the difference is in the impact on the addict and their family, and the way in which the addict and their addiction is viewed and treated by the rest of society.

Lets face it: how many of you get a headache if you go without coffee for a day? Or how many of you smoke? How many have a stash of chocolate somewhere? How many of you start to fiddle with your hands when your smartphone isn’t working or has been left at home for some reason? The only difference between your addiction and that of a heroine addict is that your addiction is socially accepted, enabled and encouraged because you’re addictions make someone else a great deal of money.

Don’t get me wrong: as a smoker and caffeine addict, I’m not here to judge anyone or make some sweeping statement about society. I am not on some puritan rant and don’t want to see some Mormon-esque laws made which will see any of these things outlawed. That’s not my point.

My point is that we are all broken. All of us. We all need something to get us through the day, even if it’s just scented candles. We all hurt – we all need something to relieve of us of the hurt, if only for a while until we can find some healthier way to process that.  And everyone makes bad choices in their lives. When Jesus said ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’ to those judgemental blokes who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery, he was getting right in their patriachal faces about their own appalling hypocrisy.

Addicts dont want to spend their lives feeling like shit about themselves. They dont. Addicition is not a choice. Those I have known who battled addiction would not wish it upon their worst enemies. My sister, in her more lucid moments, knew the damage she was doing to herself and was eaten with guilt for the damage it was doing to her children, her family and her friends. She may not have understood so clearly that it was just as alienating and isolating for us as it was for her, because we were tainted with the same judgement by society that she was.

There was a lady I knew who was in all other respects quite lovely and we got on well – but if you mentioned drug addicts she would get very worked up and start spitting out words like ‘scumbags’ and ‘wasters’. And I would look away and try and change the conversation because hearing my sister and friends referred to in such a way hurt like buggery.  Pineapple Head was a talanted musician, who wanted to be able to teach. She had it in her to give back. And the same is and was true of those I know and knew with similar issues.

There is a painful truth that not everyone can be saved. But there is a bright reality too – that many can. And it is not some emotional cry of the heart to say so.  Consigning people to the dustbin is expensive, and the cost is too high for society to keep doing that. With all the appalling changes to the benefit system being undertaken by this government, this country is sliding backwards and creating an underclass that will rival anything from the Victorian era.

And that will damage all of us.

Pineapple Head – She Was My Sister (Part 1)

A few months ago I was watching Russell Brand and Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens* debating drugs policy on BBC Newsnight(1) .

I do not find Russell Brand very funny as a comedian – I think he is over rated and bland. But when he is talking about addiction – that’s a whole other kettle of fish.  This guy is a recovering addict and knows what he is talking about. He’s been there, in the corner of the room, shooting it up, smoking it up and drinking it down in a decade of addiction –  and a decade of recovery. Whilst his evident intelligence might often be missing from his comedy, when he talks about drugs and drug addicts, it shines through.

Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens, on the whole and particularly on the subject of addicts and drugs policy, is a moron, and I cannot quite decide if this is because he is simply wilfully stupid on the matter, or just plain heartless. To him, addicts are simply selfish people making bad choices, unworthy of any consideration.  They choose their misery, so he chooses not to care.

I cite the debate (a generous term) between these two men back in August because, after almost 2 years, I am starting in some small way to come to terms with the death of my sister – the ‘Pineapple Head’ of the title of this piece. She was 37 years old when she died, the mother of 2 beautiful girls; she was in possession of the dirtiest laugh, with a filthy sense of humour to match it. She was generous, her temper mercurial, tactless yet filled with compassion with those worse of than herself and desperate to be loved and to give love in equal measure.  She was gorgeous and unpredictable, loyal to a fault and nobody, before or since, has ever held me to the standard to which she held me – often angrily, but always with love.

She was also a morphine addict and had been for the best part of 2 decades when she died.

My sisters’ particular addiction was prescription opiots – she was chewing down up to 15 Oxycontin tablets a day when she died, her brain so ravaged that she was suffering seizures several times a day. Her bodily functions had become so severely affected that she needed help to get out of bed and be taken to the toilet. She looked as though someone had blown her up with bicycle pump, and her speech was no longer intelligable. She dribbled.

I won’t pretend that she was easy to love at the end; she was a bitch as often as she was a pitiable child, frequently savage and frightning when conscience, manipulative and sly. The nerve shredding, distorting fear that we were losing her often sank in to anger – anger at the addiction, at Pineapple Head for being an addict, for making our lives revolve around the addiction too. And then, when death claimed her at last, there was relief.

Yes, relief. The sudden release from that endless vicious fear is like opening a door on to a sudden rush of cool wind after a long, hot day. No more drama. No more nights waiting for a call from the police because Pineapple Head had been picked up from some hospital or chemists in some other part of the county in her endless search for the drug that claimed her. No more carrying her urine soaked body up stairs to the bathroom to get her clean, and get her to bed.

Release for her – peace at last. No more fear. No more misery. No more of the prison that is addiction.

Her favourite scripture, (for she had a faith – though ill defined) was from 1John 4:18

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (NRSV)

Towards the end she would ask me to read that over and over again. At the heart of it all, you see, was fear – fear drove her, fuelled her addiction, distorting everything, her view of herself most of all.

My sister – she of the filthy laugh and the generous heart – was not the person Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens would tell you that she was because he never knew her. He passed his judgement on one part of her life and without a thought would have cast her down still further into the fear which ate her away.

It may have been some months since Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens made his savage, judgemental, insensitive, thoughtless, stupid, crass, ill-informed, idiotic, moronic comments on Newsnight – but I think I have calmed down enough now to tell him where to shove it (in a relatively diplomatic way).


*I will only allow Peter ‘Bloody’ Hitchens to be referred to at home in this manner. It is mandatory, and failure to use the qualifying ‘Bloody’ results in a fine.  Or at least the withdrawal of cake.

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01lvd7f (10/08/2012)