Goodbye, Phil.

As you may have heard, if you’re linked to any social networks or know anyone in the arts biz, Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away today. Apparently he was found in his apartment with a hypodermic needle still stuck in his arm. Heroin overdose.

alt-obit-hoffman-articleLargeThere are many, many sad things about this, not the least of which is that Phil was a treasure in our industry– unique, compelling to watch, shockingly versatile, a consummate pro on stage, film, and in the director’s chair, brave and bold, and a generous spirit. Although I never saw him onstage (you can never get free tickets to the really good shows!), I saw a couple of shows he directed with LAByrinth, a company he led and worked with for many years in NYC. My voice teacher in college was his coach, and I’ve worked with many actors who had the privilege of working with Phil. He was talented, and that is a loss, but he was also a cornerstone of the arts community in New York, and he leaves a hole.

What really made this tragedy hit deeply was the cause of it. Since he was young, Phil struggled with drug addiction. He was open about that struggle, and in 2013 even returned to rehab.

I am loath to compare disease to disease, but I’ve written about patterns of addiction before, and it’s not unfair to say that all addictions and compulsions share some basic components. In the eating disorder community, we know people who have struggled for their entire lives to fight this battle. Phil got sober in his twenties, but he was lost today at age 46 because these diseases are vicious and cruel. Fighting for health is lifelong, particularly so for those of us who struggle with addiction. I have incredible compassion for Phil’s family, his close friends, and everyone who he touched in his too-short life.

I don’t have too much more to say– I’m too sad. But I wanted to share something a friend of mine wrote on Facebook that, to me, is the most thoughtful and compassionate response I’ve read yet.

The death of PSH is particularly upsetting to me, somehow. Amidst many celebrity deaths/ overdoses in the past few years– Cory Monteith, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Brittany Murphy, Heath Ledger…somehow Philip has hit home for me. Maybe it’s because he was a member of the theater community, and thusly, in a sense less abstract. Or maybe it’s because as I get older, I understand the pain of failure, of loneliness, of defeat in a more complex way. I think of his final moments, he probably wasn’t thinking about his fame, his career, his powerful talent or any of the things most people (including myself) envy him for. He was likely thinking about how he’d messed up again. How his illness had taken hold once more– leaving him alone, isolated, and feeling like he didn’t deserve to be well. He was probably self punishing, as so many of us do every day. Whenever I break a diet, or procrastinate a project, or fail to live up to some expectation, I feel a small version of this. I can empathize and imagine this man’s pain and I don’t wish that on anyone. To those of you who are saying “that’s why drugs are illegal” or “that’s what you get for doing heroin” or one particular facebook “Friend”–who is now unfriended–who said “whatever, he was rich enough to buy whatever treatment he needed”, I sincerely hope that if you ever find your own life touched by addiction, which is a horrible, stigmatized, brutal, tragic and often incurable disease, you are able to show yourself more humanity than you seem to be reserving for Philip today. Yes, he was a celebrity, so it feels fine to discuss him as if we have a right to comment (guilty!). But he was also a father, a partner, a collaborator, a friend, a person. And his family and friends lost him to a disease, which he battled for years, courageously and publicly. I wish them strength through this time, and I wish that all those who struggle with addictions (myself included) find a way out, free of judgement.

Addict on Addiction

Upon my Lady Friend’s (I guess this will be her official title on the blog?) suggestion, I borrowed her Husband’s copy of Beautiful Boy, a memoir from a father about his meth-addicted son. She’d read it because she’d just complted a film (which the Husband wrote/directed) about a heist by meth addicts gone wrong. I’ve been interested in meth as a sociological and cultural part of the fabric of America (oh god, I’m that girl) for a while. I grew up in a state that boasts top 3 status of meth addicts in the nation. Although I went to a very sheltered high school and lived a very sheltered life in a good neighborhood, when I was 15, a house exploded two blocks from my house. There was a basement meth lab.

I read a book called Methland a while ago, and was completely intrigued. Meth is unique and uniquely influential drug. First of all, it came to prominence for a few incredibly logical reasons– with the rising economic troubles in middle America, people had to work harder, for longer hours, for less money. Meth is a serious upper. It allows the user to have huge reserves of energy. One could work for hours straight with great speed and efficiency, and without rest or hunger. Laborers could work hard and fast, stay-at-home parents could keep on top of all their chores, and women could get skinny. Plus, it was able to be manufactured at home with just a few household chemicals. It was cheap, easy, and worked fast. These are very logical reasons for generally straight-laced citizens to try drugs.

The real problem, though, is what the drug does. Meth affects the “pleasure” neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin. The high is strong, quickly acting, and lasts long. A user gets an effective high without the quickly dropping low of cocaine or heroin. However, the drug actually damages these parts of the brain. A user will need more and more meth to activate those “pleasure” receptors. Very quickly, meth becomes the only thing that actually can activate those receptors. That’s why the drug is so addictive. It is still unclear whether a meth addict can ever experience pleasure in the way non-addicts can. That’s why the recidivism rate of meth addiction is over 90% by most estimates. It’s a nasty, nasty, nasty drug.

This evening, I took a walk to the organic grocery where I bought my first kombucha in months, then to Rite Aid for TP, soy sauce, and some clearance lip gloss and blush. At the register, I eyed the cigarettes behind the counter. I have never smoked a cigarette. Not even a puff. For a long moment, I wanted to buy them. Just to see. Maybe it would help.

I didn’t buy the cigarettes. And I will never touch methamphetamines. And I drink, but not heavily, and I’ve smoked pot, but not much.

My drug is food.

I went for a walk tonight because I had binged. A big one. A bad one. The kind I could have avoided if I had the energy or willpower or wherewithal or whatever to do the work it would require mentally to prevent it. I didn’t. I binged. But then I went for a walk. I cleaned up the kitchen. I drank a kombucha and I put on some lipgloss. I dealt with it like a champ.

Sometimes my ED feels like the end of the world. I hate the way it monopolizes my brain space. I hate how it makes me hate myself.

But it’s not killing me. My body is fighting through admirably, and so is my mind.

I experience plenty of happiness without my “drug” of choice. I’m getting better at isolating that happiness. I’m going to be fine.

For once, in a very real way, I’m grateful for my ED.

Officer Krupke

I need to really stop taking the Ambien before the precise moment when I intend to turn out my light and fall asleep.

I’ve been on this drug for months and months now, and it absolutely helps with the sleeping, but I’ve noticed that occasionally after taking it, if I stay awake, I feel like I enter this sort of half-state of conciousness– reduced inhibitions (less like when you’re drunk and more like when you’re binging, if that makes any sense), I’m more inclined to overeat, I make impulsive decisions online (commenting on blogs, Facebook, posting things, texting people), and just generally feel like I’m lolling around. Memory loss is also a symptom, I guess, and Ambien has been used in date-rape situations, too. I’ve experienced the memory loss in a small way, forgetting little things like what I left out on the table or what I’d emailed last night, but I haven’t done anything extreme and forgotten it.

Apparently, this is a thing. Some people get more “high” than I do on Ambien. My sister actually related to me that when she tried to take Ambien, she actually sleep-walked and sleep-ate. My nutritionist had warned me about that too, but so far, none of that for me. I do have vivid dreams, though, which I love. And despite waking up at 4/5 in the morning most days, I can fall back asleep.

On a totally other note (can you tell I’m over an hour into my Ambien dose?), my block has been cray-cray lately. A couple of nights ago, I heard three or four loud, loud pops outside my building. Usually when I hear pops I assume it’s a car backfiring or fireworks. But these were LOUD. I stayed in bed with Franny, who looked up after hearing the shots too. After a few minutes, I peered outside to see three or four police cars parked in the street in front of my building. Cops were using flashlights to search under cars and down into basements. They were there for about 20 mins, and I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I still don’t know what happened (google didn’t much help), but my sense that the pops were gunshots was confirmed by a posting on a message board for my neighborhood about hearing/seeing the same things one block below me. Scary.

Just feels like there are more around here lately. And for all the crazy gentrification going on within 100 feet of my building (new restaurants, lounges, yoga studios, specialty meats, etc), I feel like I live in legit Harlem: Harlem of summer barbeques and shootings, friendly catcalls and drug deals, Obama’s Fried Chicken and the abandoned house next door that I am sure is filled with crack addicts.

It’s also a Harlem where I spent my afternoon laying on the grass in Morningside Park alongside fewer than 3 other young people and 1 family on one huge lawn by the pond. This ain’t no Central Park, and it. was. lovely.

I really should go to sleep and if I forget all about this, make me read this: LEARN YOUR LESSON AND TAKE AMBIEN RIGHT BEFORE BED. AND I MEAN RIGHT BEFORE.