The Day Philip Seymour Hoffman Made Me Cry

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cocaine

Like most of the world this week, I am grieving the loss of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died of an apparent heroin overdose on Sunday. 

The stage and film worlds have lost a tremendous artist. Arguably the shining-est star of his generation. His friends and family have lost a good man, a husband, a father. It’s unbearably tragic. An incomprehensible loss.

But for me, there’s more. Beyond sorrow, there is also anxiety and fear. Because like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was just a year younger than me, I am an addict. Me, the grocery-shopping, lunch-packing, laundry-folding, carpool-driving work-at-home suburban mom. Yes, you read that right. I. Am. An. Addict.

Cocaine and dirty martinis, rather than heroin, were my drugs of choice. And though I came later to substance abuse than most addicts, for three years in my early 40s, I was a heavy user and drinker. Coke gave me more hours in my day and helped me drop the last of my baby weight — what busy, working mom wouldn’t want that, right? When I was finally ready to sleep, the booze turned off my brain … till my alarm woke me before sunrise so I could down some coffee, do some lines and start juggling everything all over again.

People are always stunned when I share this. “Holy shit! I had no idea!!” is a pretty typical response. That’s because no one did. Sure, friends knew I drank — there’s a reason I received a dozen-plus martini glasses as wedding gifts. I drank often, usually, to excess. But no one knew I had a “problem,” because I hid that part exceptionally well. Although there would typically be a rocks glass of vodka (the first of many) on my home office desk (right next to my little dish of coke), by 4 PM every day, I never lost a job. The various magazine editors I worked with never knew I was drinking and snorting as I wrote. I took my son to school every day; paid bills on time; maintained a beautiful home; drove a luxury sedan. I was never caught carrying (though I almost always had coke in my wallet). And, mercifully, I was never stopped when driving, although on more than one occasion, I was tipsy behind the wheel. And, of course, we know, “tipsy” is just a sugar-coated word for drunk. More mercifully, I never hurt or killed anyone, including myself.

I reached “my bottom” one night when I texted my husband to “come home asap.” He left a business dinner to race home, certain something was wrong with me or our then-toddler son. When he burst into our bedroom, ready to handle any emergency, I just blinked at him drunkenly, unable to remember why on earth I’d texted him in the first place. I am supremely fortunate that my husband is an understanding guy. If he’d been the one who’d pulled me out of key business meeting, I’d have been livid. But I didn’t need to test his patience further. That night, three years ago, was the last time I had a drink. Nine months later, I gave up the cocaine for good too. In a few weeks, I’ll pick up my two-year medallion. My sponsor will bring in a cake to my regular Tuesday night meeting. And we’ll all celebrate what those of us in 12-step programs call the “miracle” of recovery.

Which brings me back to Philip Seymour Hoffman. Most days I am rock solid in my recovery. I have no problem going to parties where everyone else boozes it up while I sip diet soda. I haven’t felt the slightest desire to do coke — not even when I watched Crocodile Dundee the other night, with all its classic ‘80s props, including a pile of blow on a mirror. I am steadfast in my conviction that just as I don’t smoke cigarettes, drive without buckling up, eat red meat, or go to the beach without sunscreen, I no longer drink or do drugs.

And yet … news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s fatal overdose sparked the kind of stomach-churning anxiety that once sent me sprinting for the closest cocktail shaker. Why does this bother you so much? my parents, my friends want to know. They’re sad, in the way that people are sad when they hear unfortunate news about someone they aren’t connected with. They aren’t crying. So why am I? Why AM I?

Other than what I saw of him onscreen, I didn’t know Philip Seymour Hoffman personally. But I knew the addict side of him. Every addict does. We know the stories he probably told himself to rationalize his using. We know the tricks he probably used to try to hide his using from those around him. We know the compulsion to blot out whatever we are feeling — joy, sadness, anger, boredom, anxiety, self-loathing — with our drug of choice. We know how to justify taking that sip, doing that line, swallowing that pill, pushing that syringe — even though we also know doing so could kill us. Many nights I wondered if the line I was about to do would be the one that would make me stroke out … and I snuffed it up anyway.

And those of us who make it into a recovery program also know the prickling fear that something, anything, could send us back out to use again.

Philip Seymour Hoffman had 23 years in recovery, and heroin still killed him. I have barely two years. And I am afraid. Whenever anyone (celebrity or not) with decades of clean time relapses and, worse, dies, other addicts tremble because it’s a reminder that it could happen to us. “None of us is immune,” my sponsor said in a meeting last night as I wept beside her. It’s been 25 years since she shot up … and even she admitted that all the talk about the New Heroin on the news had stirred her up too.

If there is one tiny sliver of a silver lining to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, it’s that expert after expert has stepped up to describe addiction, not as a moral failing, but as a chronic disease that requires careful, constant management. For addiction is a patient, stealthy killer. It can wait — years even, as we’ve just seen — to exploit weakness. And addiction loves isolation. It thrives on it. When you’re an addict, doing drugs is like having a secret lover. In the throes of active addiction, it’s really only the drugs, the booze that matters.

But you beat addiction back by being out in the open — even if that “open” is a close-knit circle of friends/family. That’s why I tell my story openly. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death blindsided me with the kind of anxiety that once had me numbing myself with three martinis nightly. I know this about myself. And so when my anxiety had me spinning earlier this week, I called my sponsor. I called girlfriends. I called other addicts in recovery. I went to meeting after meeting and, through tears, shared what I was feeling. And I’ll keep sharing about this until I regain my equilibrium. Because that’s what keeps me from picking up a drink or a line. As an addict, I know what all addicts know: that it just takes one poor decision to end up dead on the floor. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is senseless; it’s tragic, and it’s a stinging reminder that it’s only with vigilance that we addicts stay clean.

 

Resources if you’re struggling: SoberMommiesNarcotics AnonymousAlcoholics Anonymous  

Comments

The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

    • 2

      Norine Dworkin says

      Thank you so much for your support, Lisa and Mary Dell. It’s easier to write these kinds of essays when your friends are there to support you. I’m so grateful. Thank you!

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  1. 3

    says

    Oh Norine. Thank you so much for sharing this. I heard a story on the radio with experts saying exactly what you said: addiction is not a moral failing, it’s a chronic condition that requires careful, constant monitoring. Reminds me a lot of how I describe my struggles with depression, These conditions of the mind that we deal with are so misunderstood by so many. The more we talk about it, the more educated people will become. Thinking of you. xoxo

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    • 4

      Norine Dworkin says

      JD, you nailed it. The more people come out about their struggles, and the more openly we can talk about addiction, the more the stigma is reduced around it. Thank you so much for your support. I’m grateful.

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  2. 6

    Sarah says

    Thank you for helping to shed some light on why I feel so wrecked by the death of someone I didn’t even know. I am not an addict, but I have deeply loved some addicts in my lifetime. I think Phil Hoffman is a reminder of how great and how fragile we really are. I hope you can hold onto your greatness. This post seems to indicate that you are rocking this thing. Congratulations on your sobriety. Keep going!

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  3. 8

    SharonGreenthal says

    Sharing your story, so honestly, is the most positive thing you can do not only for yourself but for anyone else who struggles with addiction. I have always liked and respected you as a writer, and now I feel that even more for you as a person.

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  4. 10

    Jen says

    I NEEDED to read this tonight. I’m just like you. Or, you are what I hope to be someday; sober for six months and I’ve been torn up over his death. Nobody knows how hard it is, unless they’ve been there themselves. Thank you for sharing your story. So, so much.

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  5. 17

    E.S. says

    You got me. Wow, I swear you just told my story almost better than I could. I’ll pick up my one year coin on the 20th this month. It’s always so powerful to hear stories of people that are like us when we’ve spent so much time seeing how everyone was different. Thank you for your share. I look forward to following more. In gratitude, E

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    • 18

      Norine Dworkin says

      Congratulations, E.S.! I love hearing about others’ reaching their milestones. You earned that medallion. As they say, “Keep coming back.” Hugs to you!

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  6. 20

    Jane says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m not an addict but my husband is. Well, a recovering one. Alcohol was his poison and from time to time, he still slips, four years after hitting what he thought was his rock bottom. I think that’s what has me so shaken with the PSH news. I don’t know that I ever won’t leave in fear of a relapse. News like this shakes me to my core, especially since PSH was an actor who was so special to us. We always made it a point to see every one of his movies.

    Your description of an addict’s mind and how they continue to do it, despite knowing the risks, is so spot on. For those of us blessed to not have the same struggles, it’s challenging to understand that at times and it’s not something I ever would have really understood unless I’d walked this walk with him over our past 10 years together. So I thank you for articulating it in a way others can understand, with such honesty and beauty. I have no doubt your words not only will save someone else’s life who is struggling right now, they will help others like me who love an addict.

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    • 21

      Norine Dworkin says

      I’m so touched by your story, so thank YOU for sharing. I’m hoping other moms who may be hurting will see themselves in our stories and get the help they need.

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  7. 27

    Jen says

    Such an honest and real truth. Each day could be that day and I trust you give thanks, as I do, that another day has passed and I am stronger today than yesterday. I appreciate your openness and this reminder.

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  8. 28

    JW says

    Thank you so much for sharing your darkest times with us. How incredibly courageous. I am an addict as well. Although I don’t partake in the abuse of illegal drugs anymore, I do still struggle with prescription medications daily. I have however decided to start living again and am determined to stop medicating myself to feel better. This tragedy has opened my eyes and made me realize that we are not immortal and your story has made me realize that I’m not alone. So I thank you for that…from the bottom of my heart. All the best!

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  9. 29

    Cathy Chester says

    I love your honesty, and for stepping forward to continue the conversation about addiction. I applaud you for writing this heartbreaking piece, and I know you have more strength and courage than many. I deeply thank you for sharing your story, and am glad I “met” you through our online blogging community. When I someday meet you IRL, I will give you a big and loving bear hug.

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  10. 31

    Jenni says

    Thank you for sharing this. Drugs are really awful. Though I am not an addict, I have had my life torn up by one on more than one occasion. My identity and money was stolen by my best friend. She too was an addict. She had been sober for almost ten years when she went on Vicodin and it all snowballed from there. She went to jail and during her time in jail she apologized and begged my forgiveness over and over. I forgave her and understood.
    A year after she got out she got her children back and was on the right track but was homeless. I took them into my one bedroom apartment so that they would no longer need to live in homeless shelters and their car. Her children are my godchildren and “niece and nephew.” Six months later it happened again. She relapsed, stole my identity and all of my most valuable possessions, including my gold jewelry from when I was a baby.
    This time I was destroyed. Completely destroyed. It took me to a point of suicide contemplation but for the sake of the children, I pushed on. She went back to jail and got sober. The kids are back with their mom and I pray everyday for their safety. Despite all that I went through, when this happened I could help but worry for her. I know for my own protection, I must not have her in my life (I am fortunate to still have the kids in my life.) I hope that she stays sober. I hope that this is a wake-up call for her and that she too can be in the open and have the support that you have and I hope that that you stay strong on your journey as well. It sounds like you have a good head on your shoulder and you are going to have a happy life. Best wishes and thanks again.

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    • 33

      Norine Dworkin says

      I understand that. Ours is a program of “attraction rather than promotion.” But I broke no one’s anonymity but my own, and I did it in the service of helping the still-struggling mom who’s too embarrassed or afraid to go to a meeting and seek the help she needs. I don’t mind being the face of Suburban Mom Addiction if it helps someone else find the door into recovery.

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    • 36

      Friend says

      Members of 12-Step programs may speak publicly of their recovery and recovery process as long as they do not reveal their affiliation explicitly. This does not violate the tradition, as the intent is to protect the reputation of the fellowship. She hasn’t named any fellowship, and thus, the tradition is not violated.

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