News of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death this weekend reached most of us yesterday and it’s a brutal reminder about the power and pain of addiction. Hoffman was a giant talent and from all accounts a brave and sweet soul. That he relapsed after so many years clean and sober is both tragic and telling. The cinematic world is certainly less bright without his presence.
When I heard the news, my first reaction was, nooooooo! Beyond the power he had to connect with audiences and portray the nooks and crannies of our darkest and loneliest emotions, Hoffman was a father of three and the partner of Mimi O’Donnell. He brought such density to the characters he portrayed and by his own telling, had a powerful relationship with his work.
We work with so many kids at MAP who are battling addiction. You rarely encounter a kid in juvenile justice or a kid who has dropped out of school or who is living on the street who hasn’t been in some way shaped by the choices addiction forces people and families into. Sometimes it seems as if the scourge of substance abuse is at the root of most social desperation. And it reminds me of how powerful the need to escape really is.
The need to escape is something we rarely talk about. There is still a societal view of addicts that portrays them as people living under freeway ramps or sleeping in parks. As a nation, we still fail to address addiction as a disease. Certainly the media rarely depicts it that way. We often view other forms of addiction (gambling, sex, food, the list goes on and on) as benign and less threatening. And yet in our families, schools and communities, we are experiencing terrible terrible loss behind addiction all the time.
I often think about MAP’s mission, to create stronger communities through socially conscious media. To create awareness. We believe that awareness is the most fundamental way to begin shifting social realities. But awareness is also a painful thing. And many many people avoid it at all costs. To me, awareness is a moving of information from our head to our hearts. You can see when awareness begins to create that shift in someone’s dynamic. You can see the light go on. Maybe people avoid it because once you know something, once you really know something, you can never not know it again. And that challenges the very reasons we exist on this planet – are we here for profit, productivity and pleasure – or, are we here for community, collaboration and creation? Can all of those things co-exist when we are trapped within the confines of our own perception?
A death like Hoffman’s is a terrible way to come awake. There’s no reason for it. There’s absolutely not one bit of value in it. It is a reminder that addiction does not discriminate. You can have it all – the career, the family, the money, the reputation- and still be driven by the voices inside that cry out to be silenced. Love is not enough. Money is not enough. Talent is not enough. That also means we cannot use the lack of things as an excuse or a reason. We must each continue our own journey of awakening, fearlessness and courage in this groundless world.