HOW DO WE DEFINE WHAT CONSTITUTES A TRAGEDY WHEN IT COMES TO DEATH?
Due to the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman a ground swell has once again starting growing about the tragedy that is addiction. People are weighing in about the loss of such an unbelievable talent who died so young.
And what seems to be the undercurrent of the discussion is whether a death due to addiction is equal in sadness or tragedy as a death caused by “natural means”. Death due to addiction for many implies an unnatural death, or death “by your own hand”. Why is that not a tragedy?
Others are discussing whether we glorify drug addiction when we spend so much time talking about those in the public eye fighting this insidious disease and whether we are lessening the impact of the death of millions of other mothers, father, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, lovers, friends, etc. who may not be famous but who like Mr. Hoffman, have lost their battle against this demon.
We do need to be reminded about the numbers of individuals everywhere who are trying to fight this all too powerful enemy.
But how do we judge what is a truly “sad” loss? I’m sure we can all agree that the loss of a child at any time is horrific; that the pain of the loss of a life taken by accident or violence is unspeakably life altering. The loss of millions of lives due to environmental catastrophes or at times, the wrath of mother-nature causes unbelievable amounts of shock and grief, and so on.
But when someone loses his/her life to addiction, why do we get so angry?
Because, all too many people still believe that this death was a matter of choice; that somehow the person chose to disregard their life and loved ones and instead chose their addiction outlet.
I think we need to clear one thing up. Addiction is not a moral failing . . . it is not a conscious choice . . . and most definitively, not a death wish!
What it is is a way for someone in pain to numb. What it is is the push of the desire to get away from the pain, and the pull to go to another feeling state that seems like it will be a whole lot better. And for a time it is.
Yes, initially it is thought that someone makes a conscious, mindful decision to start using drugs/alcohol (fill in the blank here) the first time “they pick up”. Even that is not so black and white. So much of addiction is connected with trauma that it becomes challenging to see whether or not it is ever a conscious choice. But no one starts out thinking I want to become an addict; I want to lose everything I have, everyone I love, my home, my job, my children, my freedom, my health and eventually my life. It’s not that simple.
I have known individuals who struggle with the disease of addiction. It is an ongoing battle. I have worked with and continue to help individuals challenged by this demon in my career as a social worker and my work as a teacher allows me to present to many up and coming social workers some of the issues behind various addictions so they can begin to question and challenge their own belief systems to better help their clients.
Whatever your thoughts are as to the etiology of addiction, it is a tragedy that someone (anyone) loses his/her life so young, that someone with such amazing gifts and talents is gone (they don’t have to be famous), that someone was in a thousand kinds of pain that initially he/she turned to that mechanism to self-soothe, and most of all, that young children/other family members and loved ones will no longer have that special person in their lives other than through memories, etc.
So let’s let people express their emotions about addiction, feel free. Let’s keep talking about it. It is a discussion worth having and hopefully one that will begin to change how we see this condition (hey, US Government, I am talking to you as well).
But a loss is a loss, and pain is pain and a father, mother, sister, brother, friend, partner and loved one are gone.
Who are we to judge?