Every time I hear that a brother or sister addict has died from this disease, I feel the same combination of sadness, regret and resignation. When the brother addict in question is a famous person, the only real difference is that I get to hear the general public react as well.
Goodbye, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Many people have been writing about you during the last three days. They’ve been writing about how sad it is that you have died, and how sad it is that addiction led to your death. They’ve tried to analyze what made you relapse and what inner demons might have made you an addict in the first place. Some of them have then written extensive commentary on the nature of addiction in general, and what they think does and doesn’t work in fighting it.
I don’t know all the details of your story, Phil. All I really know is that we had one thing in common. We were both addicts. Now we stand on opposite sides of that dividing line between the living addict and the dead one. In the three days since you crossed over that line, hundreds of lesser-known addicts have followed you.
So many are shocked by your death, Phil, but I’m not. Really, people are overthinking things. It’s not necessary to analyze your childhood or every interaction you had in the last six months of your life. Nor does the fact that you were brilliant, articulate and many other admirable things make your death shocking. You used and died because that’s what we addicts do. Jails, institutions and death are the default path; they’re where we end up in the absence of extraordinary measures.
Your death isn’t a failure, either, Phil, although it’s certainly a source of regret. If you’d survived your relapse long enough to be ready to seek help again, you would probably have ended up taking a look at where your recovery had wandered off of the track that worked for you. Wearily, you might have taken up the burden of recovery again and hoped it would get lighter with time. Many have had to do this multiple times, and living long enough to do it each time is a matter of luck. You got unlucky this time.
Your fight with addiction and your other demons was a long one, Phil, and I hope you are proud of how long–and how well–you fought. Not only by resisting the darkness within you, but also by channeling it and transforming it into art. Your many years clean were a victory that is not negated by what has happened now. The art you created, the friendships you had, and every experience of your life exist in the time stream; untarnished, undiminished.
I will not forget you, or any of your new companions, and I won’t forget what a thin and often arbitrary line separates us. I’ll leave you with the words of an old warrior’s song:
My shame ye count and know,
ye think my quest was vain,
but ye did not see my foe:
ye did not count his slain.
Surely he fights again,
but when ye breach his line,
there will come to your aid my broken blade
in this last, lost fight of mine.
So here is my lance to mend,
and here is my horse to be shot.
Aye, they were strong, and the fight was long
but I paid as good as I got.