Don’t judge ad­dicts

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INBOX - By VAN BAD­HAM Van Bad­ham is a nov­el­ist and critic who lives in Mel­bourne.

IN the out­pour­ing of grief that has fol­lowed the death of ac­tor Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man, much has been writ­ten about the tragic na­ture of his seem­ingly drug-re­lated death. Some beau­ti­ful writ­ing has eu­lo­gised the man and his achieve­ments, sen­si­tively ad­dress­ing his strug­gle with ad­dic­tion.

Ad­dic­tion is an ill­ness that kills many of those who have it, and trau­ma­tises any who love its suf­fer­ers. To say it’s a harsh ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t even be­gin to cover it, for its symp­toms are not lim­ited to phys­i­cal hor­rors – sweats, in­som­nia, vom­its, nau­sea, em­bolisms, oede­mas and con­stant in­fec­tions – but also mu­ti­la­tions of char­ac­ter. The nar­cis­sism of those in thrall to the ob­ses­sion of chem­i­cal need comes at a cost of ev­ery cat­e­gory in the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence – so­cial, emo­tional, sex­ual, fi­nan­cial.

I use the word “drug” as a catchall for the many var­i­ous sub­stances that feed ad­dic­tion, of course; there are ad­dicts of all kinds, all around us. The food ad­dict, the gam­bling ad­dict, the sex ad­dict, the debt ad­dict - all are caught in a sim­i­lar chem­i­cal cy­cle of need, pur­suit and with­drawal, as well as the men­tal tor­ture of shame and re­morse that, in ad­dic­tion’s sick­est twist, cre­ates the psy­cho­log­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to ex­cuse, just one more time, the use of the drug for relief.

Sim­ply put, ad­dic­tion is ugly. Yet what the evo­lu­tion of the re­cov­ery com­mu­nity that be­gan with Al­co­holics Anony­mous has taught us is that the cruel be­hav­iour of the ad­dict is the symp­tom of the disease, not the in­stinct of the hu­man un­der­neath it.

Even so, me­dia dis­cus­sion so of­ten falls into the old tropes of ad­dic­tion: that it is an in­di­vid­ual’s own weak­ness, or a fail­ure of willpower or self-con­trol. Com­bine this stig­ma­tis­ing judg­ment with ob­serv­able an­ti­so­cial be­hav­iour and any suf­fer­ing ad­dict emerges in the pop­u­lar con­scious­ness as a hate­wor­thy mon­ster.

Now that Hoff­man is dead, the pro­to­col of eu­logy pities his ill­ness. The liv­ing are not so lucky. Wit­ness what hap­pened this week to Aus­tralian swim­mer Ian Thorpe.

Con­trary to some re­ports, Thorpe did not en­ter re­hab for al­co­hol ad­dic­tion but for de­pres­sion. The swim­mer - whose at­tempted sport­ing come­back was pre­vented by in­jury - is re­cov­er­ing from surgery, and tak­ing a com­bi­na­tion of painkillers and an­tide­pres­sants.

The pre­sump­tion that Thorpe was be­ing treated for al­co­hol abuse is de­rived from his hon­est ad­mis­sion in 2012 of drink­ing too much to com­bat de­pres­sion, and also that he was found by po­lice this week in a disori­ented state.

The in­ci­dent has been splashed across the Aus­tralian me­dia for days, but none of it ex­poses Thorpe as an al­co­holic.

What has re­ally been ex­posed is that ev­ery sin­gle per­son who is strug­gling with an ad­dic­tion and who’s watched the char­ac­ter as­sas- sina­tion of Thorpe at his most vul­ner­a­ble, now has le­git­i­mate rea­son to fear be­ing pub­licly de­monised.

The stereo­types of char­ac­ter weak­ness and per­sonal fail­ure may be stale, but they are still pal­pa­ble.

Most im­por­tantly, it’s none of any­one’s busi­ness what his spe­cific health con­cerns are. The point is, Thorpe is clearly ill and seek­ing treat­ment to be­come well.

It has been known for decades that any ad­dict who takes steps to­wards re­cov­ery must do so with min­i­mum in­ter­fer­ence in or­der to re­ceive the best chance of over­com­ing their ill­ness.

The give­away is the word “anony­mous” in the name of many or­gan­i­sa­tions that nur­ture ad­dicts to­wards well­ness, in re­cov­ery com­mu­ni­ties free of judg­ment and stigma.

By hound­ing Thorpe so in­va­sively this week, the mes­sage sent to ev­ery suf­fer­ing ad­dict is that not only is their con­di­tion mon­strous, but that their at­tempts at re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion will be met with pub­lic dis­sec­tion and on­go­ing hu­mil­i­a­tion. I hope the at­ten­tion does not de­stroy Thorpe, though it is guar­an­teed to en­sure the de­struc­tion of count­less more Philip Sey­mour Hoff­mans. – Guardian News & Me­dia

In mem­ory of: a makeshift me­mo­rial out­side the new york apart­ment build­ing where the body of ac­tor Philip Sey­mour Hoff­man was found. now that the fa­mous ac­tor is dead, his drug ad­dic­tion is re­garded with sym­pa­thy. but if he was still alive, would he be judged and hu­mil­i­ated for it?

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.