Edgar Allan Poe
and now...Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Everyone has their personal list of celebrities who have been felled by addiction. Certainly, these are familiar to you, and the list could go on and on.
But, perhaps you don't know of others...
Henry James Loughlin
These are people I have known who died of drug or alcohol overdoses within the past 24 years.
We always yell out, when another famous person dies of a drug overdose, that the insanity that is robbing us of the soul of creative arts must end. And, we also rail against the drugs and alcohol that are killing our friends and loved ones.
But, the slaughter continues. Every year there are about 90,000 deaths due to alcohol-related causes (5,000 among young people under 21 years old), and 77,000 deaths due to drug-related causes. And, that doesn't count the number of deaths in which alcohol was a factor...suicides, auto accidents, and murders.
There are only two reasons why people use alcohol or other drugs: To enhance pleasure, or to kill pain. Frankly, alcohol and drugs are very good at doing both. In fact, it is hard for normal life on life's terms to compete with these poisons that are so effective in transporting people from their realities and altering their conscious awareness.
But, even drunks and junkies know there can be limits. In nearly every case of a person who uses alcohol or other drugs to such an extent that they are lost inside the addiction, there has been a sense that they know they are pushing the limits of the drug experience. They are forcing the drug to take them to the limits of living. They are dancing on the line between life and death. And...they love it. How else do we account for the umber of people who scoff down shots of alcohol at a frenzied pace in order to see who can pass out first. How else do we explain that perhaps the first thing literally thousands of heroin addicts said after learning of Hoffman's death was, "Man, I need to get me some of that stuff!" How else do we explain that in virtually every known suicide death there are alcohol or drugs present in the person's body.
I have learned that, in the end, the only thing that the rest of us can do is pray for these people and others who will die of the disease of addiction. We also pray that it does not happen to us, or the ones we love.
There are ways we can inoculate ourselves against the chances of dying of the disease of addiction. It starts with the loving, of ourselves and of others, and continues on through to the appreciation for being alive and the mindfulness of how delicate our life really is. It is feeding our minds full of the nutrients that prayer and meditation can provide to grow healthy brains and not allow our thinking to become so warped that we think something that is deeply harmful to us can be the answer to all our problems. It is our willingness to believe is some power beyond ourselves - another person, a group, God - can fortify our daily lives and give our lives meaning and purpose.
Maybe with that approach, lists like the one above will always be an abstraction for us...something about someone who lives far, far away in another place and at another time.
All the best,