Now I need to write about something lighter. That’s a joke. Dark humor. Here goes.
I was in a waiting room the other day and saw a People magazine with Philip Seymour Hoffman on the cover. I have so many feelings about this, I don’t know where to start.
When PSH died, I had assumed at first it was a heart attack. I saw him in the second Hunger Games movie, and he didn’t look good. He had gained weight, and his face looked red and blotchy. I hadn’t ever known about his drug addiction. When I found out his death was a result of heroin, I didn’t feel sad. I just got angry. How dare he waste himself like that? He was so talented, such an artist, so gifted. How dare he deprive the rest of us of his presence? See where I’m going with this?
I have many friends who were all much more sympathetic and sad and supportive of Mr. Hoffman’s life and addiction. All people whose opinions I respect. How could they see such a different picture? All I saw was someone who threw his life away. What about us, yes, but what about his children? What about them? Didn’t he care about them? How could he choose to waste himself with such a notoriously dangerous drug?
Yes, I have heard that addiction is an illness, not a choice. But he had chosen to stay away from heroin for twenty years. At some point, it’s a choice. At some point, you have a needle in your hand, and you can choose not to put it in your arm. But in the face of my friends’ responses, I had to ask myself some questions. Why am I taking this so personally? Why am I so personally angry with a man I have never met? And why do I feel so rigid in my condemnation of addiction as weakness?
If you are at all considering the role of my father in my life, you win the prize. Ding, ding, ding! As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was an alcoholic. I have said many times before and will say many times more what havoc that wreaked in my life. A couple of years ago, a friend talked to me about a woman in his life who drank too much. He said it didn’t bother him for his own sake so much. He just didn’t want it to affect any children they may have. I think I may have even stopped the car. I turned to my friend and said, “I am here to tell you that it will definitely, definitely, affect your children.”
My father never hit me. He never left my mom and me. He never lost a job due to his drinking. He was what many call a functional alcoholic. He was never lying in a gutter, singing songs to himself. But he drank every night, and he drank a lot. And the only time he stopped was when he got a DUI when I was a sophomore in high school. He stopped drinking for four years, then. Cold turkey. He was court-ordered to attend AA meetings for six months. He started drinking again when his mother had a heart attack and became bedridden. He never stopped again. When he was dying, he told the Hospice nurse that he drank six to eight drinks a night, every night.
Dad was there, in the house, but he was rarely actually there. I can intellectually understand that he used alcohol to manage his emotions, to medicate the constant pain in his legs from Polio, to salve the horrible wound of having lost my mom. But I don’t know if I will or can ever forgive him for it. My childhood is riddled with the holes made by his piercing addiction. When he was drinking, he made cruel jokes about my weight. He forgot about important dates and events in my life. He interrupted me when I was trying to share something important to me, to make jokes at my expense. He never let me finish a story. He ignored my needs, usually because he was so consumed with his own. He left me millions of times, even though we always lived at the same address. And I don’t know if I can ever let that go.
But then I need to look at myself. I am not an alcoholic. But I use sugar and food as drugs. I sit at the computer when Jack is in the room, so often keeping this wall of laptop screen between us, compulsively looking for news and drama online. It may not kill me as quickly as a heroin overdose, but it may pierce holes in Jack’s childhood that I can never repair. So the rage I feel at a stranger who has left his family and life work behind is really meant for the dad who left his family, who left me. And for myself, who leave my own child in big and small ways all the time.
Maybe it is a weakness. But maybe it’s a weakness that needs care, not rejection. I wonder if I can make room enough in myself for that.