Some things should scare us half to death.
I have many loved ones whose lives have been scarred by drug and alcohol abuse. My siblings all used drugs when they were teenagers and some of them used beyond their teen years. My mother was a drinker at least until I was twelve.
I was the youngest of four. Many of my childhood memories involve keggers, bars and mixed drinks. At my mother’s reception when she got remarried, I was sent to the bar by the adults to pick up their drinks for them. As I did so, I would sneak a sip here and there. I didn’t really like the taste, but I thought drinking was a cool thing to do so I did it. I ended up drinking so much that I passed out.
I was nine years old. They had to stick a finger down my throat to make me vomit. That was not the first time I had been drunk.
Now, more than thirty years later, most of those in my family are thankfully free of such abuse. It could have killed us.
My wife’s mother was a teetotaler because some people in her family were “in-the-gutter-drunks”, as my wife puts it.
My mother stopped drinking when she decided to start following God again. My sister also got put straight by God and I suppose my brother has both God and the army to thank. Either way, by the time I reached high school, I had sworn off the bad stuff. Those friends who have known me the longest probably remember when I got “converted.” The summer between middle school and high school I became a different person. They likely thought of me as straight-laced at the time, but can you blame me?
I did not touch a drop of alcohol in high school (as my friends will tell you) and nor did my wife. In college we did not drink and in our first years of marriage we did not drink. I suppose it is safe to say in those years you could have accurately described us as teetotalers—though we didn’t abstain out of any moralistic duty. It was how we wanted to live and we did not consider ourselves to be missing out on any kind of joy others might be having. We had both seen and heard what substance abuse could do to a family, so we had what I would call “a healthy respect” for the power of drugs and alcohol.
In time, my wife and I began to drink in moderation but we still remain vigilant about the extent of our usage. In our entire marriage, we have never been drunk. Believe me when I say I do not state that as a matter of pride. On the contrary, I feel humbled by it. Seeing what these substances do to many people…it scares me half to death.
There is one person whom I love very much whose life continues to be a gasping struggle with the stranglehold of drugs.
I have known him all my life. I remember only vaguely a time before he began using. I wish he could become that child again.
Of course, he is open about his usage with people who take drugs. He calls them his friends. He's not so open with me. In spite of this, I have pieced together that crystal meth is the drug that has really punished him.
Once I told him that every person has a hole in their life only God can fill. We try to fill it with other things, but only God will do.
“F--- you!” he said. “I don’t have any hole, you f---er. F--- you.”
I guessed he hadn’t taken a look in the mirror for a while. It is no exaggeration to say this drug has hollowed him out, body and soul.
Sometimes he becomes suddenly angry, uncontrollably so, flaring instantly like a flame-blower at a carnival. Irritable and testy, he is perhaps the most difficult person I have ever tried to befriend. The drugs have done this to him. I know that underneath there is a soft, gentle heart. I see a spark of light for a brief second in his eye. I want it to go on glowing but the animal within swallows without mercy. He cannot break free.
He is the dumbest intelligent person I have ever known. I love him so it pains me to see him lay waste to a brain that could have sparkled like sun-drops on shimmering water.
“All it takes is a sound mind, a sound body and a willingness to learn.” When I was in college that is the first principle we were taught when learning the craft of acting.
Drugs robbed Philip Seymour Hoffmann of his mind, his body, his life. I have to believe he wanted to break free. Who wishes slavery on oneself?
I am left wondering what he could have accomplished in freedom. Some people might attribute his brilliance to drugs but I believe he would have been even better without them. I have seen too many examples of lives wasted because of drug usage to doubt that. These are living people I’m talking about. They could be and do so much more than what they are now.
So, I am left wondering if we will heed the warnings. Will we engage in yet another round of political rhetoric about this? What rationalizations will numb our thinking?
Tonight, how many more people will die, unnoticed, anonymous to the press? Less than two weeks from now, how many will use the holiday as an excuse to get plastered?
We do not respect the terror. We should. It is crouching, waiting to bring us down.
Respect the terror.
Once, there was a man…creative, sacred inside and out. He began writing his letter but signed off abruptly, unfinished and short.
As our children grow up and read his letter, how will we explain why it was left unfinished? What post-script will we write?
Let it be resolved: I shall remember him as P.S. Hoffmann. He lost himself. He lost his name.