I listened to a podcast recently that triggered an issue I have often thought about over the years. The podcast discussed a celebrity who died of a drug overdose. The story told of the celebrity’s brilliance and compassion but their inability to deal with a deep pain. The statement of another celebrity suggested that such special folks are so sensitive and brilliant that they just are unable to deal with life.
Note that my comments below are not meant to dismiss or diminish the tragic deaths of anyone from substance abuse.
The podcast raised a couple of points for me. First, there is a certain romantacizing of the famous who overdose or commit suicide. Some consider the dead club of the 27 year olds rock stars as an inherent result of the business or the talent of the individual, rather than untreated chemical dependency. I ponder that my former colleague and blue-collar worker who put a gun to his head after several unsuccessful attempts at substance abuse treatment was simply considered a drunk bored with his life, nothing more exceptional than that. If empathy and sensitivity to the suffering of others were good explanations for the celebrity overdoses, then certainly Mother Theresa types should not live into their senior years.
I ask myself the question – Why have I stayed sober for a bunch of years? Why in my AA home group are there many compassionate and talented individuals who can tell horror stories from their past lives, but today are living into decades long periods of recovery? And at the same time, why are there those in my AA home group who cannot put together more than 3 months of sobriety, but many keep coming back to try again?
I ask these questions and I don’t have all the answers. My first day in detox nearly 30 years ago I made two very intentional decisions. First, I was not going to lie to anyone in the treatment center. I was not going to just tell the therapists what I thought they wanted to hear as I had done for years. Second, I was going to do exactly what I was told to do in recovery. Despite my delusions of grandeur, the horror stories of my familial dysfunction and abuse, I was a drunk like everyone else in the detox ward.
I know my decisions are part of the answer to my questions. I know that I got sick and tired of being sick and tired. I know that I recognized that my substance abuse got me to a point where I was physically, emotionally, and spiritually bankrupt. But I also know that many folks in identical situations are not able to stay on a recovery road.
Regardless, a starting point in answering the questions remains the First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous – We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable. With that recognition, the next question is: So what am I going to do about it? We all, rich and poor, whatever our occupation and personal histories, must answer that question.