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“I have no sympathy.”

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Social media reactions to celebrity death have taken on a predictable pattern: an outpouring of shock with expressions of grief, followed by a ghoulish need to know all the details, to see the scene of the death and the family in mourning. Then a post-mortem dissection of all the perceived flaws the celebrity had. Things along the lines of, “I always hated his band, anyway,” or “his movies were all crap, I’m glad he’s dead,” begin popping up on Facebook and Twitter. Perhaps these insensitive comments are made out of frustration over the constant bombardment of,  “R.I.P celebrity, gone too soon,” and “OMG crying right now guys, celebrity died,” across every available platform. Maybe they’re just poor attempts at appearing tough or edgy. In the wake of a celebrity’s death from addiction, these comments invariably take on an insidious tone of condemnation.

The tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman this weekend elicited just such a response. The actor died of a presumed drug overdose. Less than an hour after the news broke, Twitter and Facebook were swamped with comments saying, “I have no sympathy,” and “he did it to himself.” “He knew the risk,” some asserted. Words like “weak” and “selfish” were used to describe and dismiss the man, dehumanizing him as an “addict.” A filthy, immoral less-than who deserved his fate, by virtue of his failings.

What causes this reaction? Is it an impulse to distance one’s self from mortality? It’s far easier to brush off death if the death in question seems impossible or improbable as a personal threat. Or is it that our societal discomfort with anything that falls outside of the puritanical norm– alcohol, drugs– renders us unable to see addicts as human beings deserving of empathy and understanding?

Perhaps the most dangerous component of these outpourings of social media censure is the affect that these words, “weak,” “selfish,” “totally avoidable,” have on people struggling with addiction. Reaching out for help is difficult and embarrassing, and made harder when one sees a trusted friend or family member denouncing all addicts as filthy drug users who deserve to die. It’s easy to pronounce addiction “totally avoidable,” but what help is that sentiment to someone who is already suffering the physical and mental compulsions of the disease?

How do we measure our sympathy, if one can “have no sympathy” for a man who was robbed of his life by a debilitating, demoralizing disease? How much does sympathy cost, how difficult is it to harvest, that no one has any to spare? The figures are written on overwrought Facebook macros: this many soldiers died today, and all you care about is some drug addict. It’s a cheap and offensive ploy to shame those who do genuinely care into reserving their precious sympathy. The belief that a person can and should only feel grief over one sad event at a time is a truly disturbing estimate of our emotional capacity. It also fails to honor its subject by ignoring members of the armed forces who struggle with addiction. Are they less worthy of our attention and our sparingly given sympathy because they “knew the risks” of both their jobs and the substance they abuse?

No one can deny that the toll taken on the families and friends of an addicted person is a deep and painful one. We see their humanity, we see something being done to them. We see no humanity in the person who made poor choices. When one of these individuals has a fatal relapse, the resulting feelings of superiority and intelligence gained by others are similar to what we feel rehashing the coulda-woulda-shouldas of a sports event. It’s a morbid version of armchair quarterbacking, in which everyone boasts about which plays they would have run to turn down that first bump at a party.

Whatever motivates us to blame and dehumanize an addicted person, it is a cultural view that must be shifted. As long as the public perception of “addict” is a selfish, immoral person who acts out of unprovoked malice, we will never break out of the cycle of shame and discouragement that prevents alcoholics and drug abusers from seeking treatment.

Perhaps demystifying the experience of drug addiction is the key to creating a more productive national dialogue. We must retire forever our expectation that every addicted person will enter rehab and, like the movies, exit without risk of relapse due to the noble, purposeful change of heart they had during treatment. We must stop embracing narratives that tell us addicts are dangerous reprobates whose recovery exists only to inspire others, and that any expression of caring feeling toward their predicament will ultimately enable their destructive behaviors. But to escape these misconceptions, we would have to listen without judgement to the voices of people we consider “weak” and “selfish.” We would have to have sympathy.

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40 Comments

  1. IMO it partly comes from people’s need to feel superior to others. “LOLZ at least I’m not a heroin addict,” etc. Which is terrible. When I see that a celebrity has died, I’m usually like “oh that’s too bad, Soandso died. Looks like XYZ reason.” And I take a moment to feel sorry for the person and his/her family, and then I move on because I didn’t know them personally.

    The shenanigans on Facebook when Paul Walker died were ridiculous, especially when Nelson Mandela also passed away, and most people were soooo upset about this handsome actor rather than a man who led a nation and worked for human rights. It just makes me sad for people that they’re so focused on celebrity over anything of substance.

    February 3, 2014
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  2. S. Alexander Smith
    S. Alexander Smith

    Dead on, Jenny Trout. I hang about the fringes of theater and am surrounded by creative, brilliant brightly burning individuals. Some of us struggle with addiction. None of us are famous or even well off. Tragedy is not measured by the worthiness of the subject. Well, yes, it is. That is the narrative- is the victim worthy? Young enough, white enough, straight enough, privileged enough, Christian enough, American enough, morally spotless and without flaw?
    You know, I mention your books in one of my classes often as good examples. I would be happy to point to this as a good example of empathy.

    February 3, 2014
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  3. Ella
    Ella

    They need to believe that they’re safe. That bad things won’t happen to them because they’ve done nothing to deserve it. It’s a kind of immortality belief, I suppose. If we can’t blame someone for death, we have to accept that it’s just the saddest part of life.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis

    I found the just world hypothesis very interesting when it was mentioned in a class I took last year. It seems to explain some of the awful things people say, or at least offer a starting point to understanding them.

    I personally feel very sad for him. Especially since it seems that he’s been fighting with addiction a very long time. Heartbreaking.

    February 3, 2014
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    • Josie
      Josie

      Yes, I think the ‘just world’ fallacy comes into it a lot. It’s something you also see in victim-blaming; the idea of ‘If this person had taken X precaution, this wouldn’t have happened to them, so if I do X, bad things won’t happen to me.’

      It’s scary to think that sometimes bad things happen to people through no fault of their own, that sometimes there isn’t any straightforward way to avoid these things happening without severely limiting oneself and one’s actions, and sometimes not even then. So people buy into the idea of ‘This clearly happened because this person was stupid and did something wrong to attract misfortune, something that can be clearly pinpointed. If I just avoid doing that thing, I’ll be safe. I’m smart, so it won’t happen to me.’

      May 2, 2014
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  4. Jessica
    Jessica

    Thank you so much for writing this. I woke up this morning to a barage of “how dare someone rich and talented fills his vains with poison” on FB and felt really defeated.

    I’ve seen so many people struggle with addiction and you are spot on. This sort of judgment and moral superiority pushes real people from seeking help. Because they believe that they don’t deserve help because they are so morally weak as to use drugs.

    February 3, 2014
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  5. Melanie
    Melanie

    This described how I feel perfectly (of course, you said it better than I ever could). Thank you for writing it.

    February 3, 2014
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  6. Avi
    Avi

    Coincidentally the news of Hoffman’s death came the same week that Dylan Farrow wrote her condemnation of Woody Allen in the Times and Bob Weide wrote his loathsome defense of Allen’s integrity in the Daily Beast.
    So, according to our culture’s cruelly skewed victim blaming, an addict is a “selfish, immoral person who acts out of unprovoked malice” while a rapist is someone who endlessly receives the benefit of the doubt and whose reputation is unimpeachable.

    February 3, 2014
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  7. Clara
    Clara

    Love your remarks, spot on.
    I do have to say though that some of the reaction doesn’t just come from ‘family and friends who have been hurt’. There is another side here. Many people have been brutally attacked, robbed, denied a feeling of safety because someone broke into their house, can’t live in certain neighbourhoods anymore because of meth, feel unsafe on public transport, etc… To not name that part of the problem makes the argument a bit incomplete. I have been very much in love with a guy that is battling drugs to this day (we broke up years ago) and it’s been hard, but despite my rose-colored glasses, I can not deny that some drug users pose a very real threath to other people. Not all are basically nice guys/girls stuck in a bad habbit that they might have picked up while trying to deal with personal pain stemming from childhoodproblems etc. Some really are the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ asshole type, and have put random innocent families in years of misery because they shot someone just for a bit of cash, and I think most people are responding to that. To only mention the pain of people close to the addict is to deny the pain the ‘random’ victims of drugseekers who might have suffered at their hands.

    I do definitely agree though that when someone just died, there is NO place for moral highhorsery. The only people you’re reaching with that message, possibly, are his loved ones, and they’ve probably been heartbroken by this whole situation for years anyway. It’s a very mean thing to do.

    February 3, 2014
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  8. Sophie
    Sophie

    I have been very lucky because the only posts that have come up on my dash have been about sadness that such a talented actor has died. However I suspect that I would have felt compelled to say something if I had seen posts condemning as an addict who deserved what he got.

    The community I grew up in was one where recreational drug use was common, and whilst most stuck to cannabis, LSD or MDMA at a party, there were some who used heroin. Whilst none of them died from overdoses, there have been some deaths from Hep C which several of my dad’s friends contracted after sharing needles. Their premature deaths were no less worthy of grief or any less tragic than those of his friends who died from cancer. They are not less missed or mourned, their children have still lost a parent and their friends have lost a beloved friend. Drug related deaths are still deaths, and no one deserves to be dismissed because they suffered from a disease. Maybe trying heroin in the first place was their choice, but their addiction to it was not. Philip Seymour Hoffman was more than his addiction, and he deserves to be remembered for more than it.

    February 3, 2014
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    • Annette
      Annette

      Perfectly said. Couldn’t agree more. I say this as someone who has lost a loved one due to an overdose. No less pain is shared by the family due to the passing of an overdose than there is a car accident or cancer…etc…

      February 11, 2014
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  9. Ann Somerville
    Ann Somerville

    I lost a brother to alcohol addiction (exacerbated by child abuse, so it’s been a wonderful week on twitter), but I couldn’t find anyway to be moved either way by Hoffman’s death. I’ve seen exactly one movie he was in, and he didn’t register with me, so I couldn’t regret the loss of his genius, and the death of another addict I didn’t know at all is too common for me to be all sad about.

    I know both sides of the addiction situation, and I know how incredibly difficult it is for the family, so I guess if I’d thought hard about it at all, it would have been to feel sorry for his partner and kids, since he’s past all pain. But this week, I have felt like a raw nerve because of what Dylan Farrow brought (again) to our attention, and stories like this:
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-03/salvation-army-whistleblowers-dismissed-for-reporting-abuse/5235430

    And I’m just out of energy to care about someone I didn’t know in any form. It’s not an inability to sympathise. It’s an inability to spread my emotions across every sad story when I’m already stretched to the limit by things that hit much closer to home.

    There is no excuse for cruelty though. If you can’t comment with sympathy while the body is still warm, don’t fucking comment at all. (Exceptions made for D. Cheney etc, of course.)

    February 3, 2014
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  10. Jessica
    Jessica

    Well said, Jenny. Sadly, I notice a trend in more and more people in recent years resorting only to gut reactions in response to anything they hear. It seems to me that the ability to slow down, digest information, and think critically has become a lost art.

    February 3, 2014
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  11. Tori
    Tori

    My sister died of a heroin overdose 3 years ago. She was 24, beautiful, talented, smart, funny, and an addict. She struggled with addiction from the time she was 15, first to alcohol, then meth, then pills, and finally heroin. She got clean a couple of times for a couple of years at a time, but could never seem to kick it entirely. She was only out of rehab for 2 months when she overdosed. I still struggle with my anger at her. I understand the desire to want to condemn addicts as selfish assholes, because I feel that way about her sometimes, but I think people who don’t have any sympathy don’t know how much addiction can ravage a family. And celebrity or not, I guarantee that his family is feeling the same sense of horrible loss. I wish people didn’t feel the need to be so shitty for no real reason.

    February 4, 2014
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  12. Brandi
    Brandi

    Hear, hear Jenny. This is exactly how i’ve been feeling and what i’ve been thinking the last couple of days. It’s also an example of why i’m not on twitter and go to facebook rarely. Too often these places are cesspools of negativity, rather than a fun place to keep up with friends. I will however share this post on FB. You’ve said what needs to be said and hopefully people will consider this before spouting off hateful shit again on the internet.

    February 4, 2014
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  13. David
    David

    I don’t agree with some of these points.

    Some I definitely do agree with. The assholes who take to twitter and facebook to spew nastiness, not sparing a thought that a human being has actually died and therefore people who loved that person are grieving? I’d like to drop-kick them in the neck.

    And those who think that a person cannot have problems just because they’re rich and famous? No. Reality check. Everyone can have problems. Everyone can get depressed sometimes.

    But I disagree that those who think ‘no sympathy’ – or let me amend that to ‘less sympathy than in other cases’ are unfeeling jerks. I’m one of them.

    The term addict is not ‘dehumanising’. If you are addicted, you are an addict. It’s a term used in the medical profession, for god’s sake. It’s also a wake-up call word for many people. They need to hear it to realise they have a problem. Mollycoddling a person with an addiction is the worst thing you can do. Often bluntness about the dangerous road they are walking is the only thing that breaks through.

    This attitude I’ve heard a lot of lately, whereupon we are asked to feel sorry for drug dealers/abusers and alcoholics, to treat them as though they have a ‘disease’, makes me so angry. It is not a disease, it is a behaviour. It is a choice. Nobody forces you to start abusing drugs or alcohol. Nobody pours them down your neck or shoots you up. It is a choice, and a poor one that impacts on everyone in your life, not just yourself. Cancer is a disease. HIV is a disease. You don’t choose them. Willpower alone isn’t going to cure you of them. So forgive me, but it’s those poor souls I’m sparing my empathy for.

    I would never choose facebook, twitter, or the comments section of an online news article to say such things as ‘no sympathy – he did it to himself’. I do not believe such a forum is appropriate, and those who do could do with a lesson in sensitivity. And I do have sympathy – but my sympathy is for the deceased loved one’s who are not just stricken by the death, but were probably harmed by the deceased’s addiction when they were alive.

    (I’d like to add that I am in no way including those who drink/abuse drugs due to mental illness in the points I made above. I fully understand that in the case of mental illness many behaviours are not a choice at all, as the person is not in control of themselves and needs help. And of course, in many cases it is not immediately obvious whether the person in question – such as a recently deceased celebrity – was stable or not; even more reason we should hold our tongues on social media and not post ignorant, hateful things we will regret later.)

    February 4, 2014
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    • Sophie
      Sophie

      So you are quite happy to use the medical word but not the medical opinion that addiction is a disease? How wonderfully hypocritical of you.

      Addiction is a mental illness, therefore every addict falls in to your little disclaimer at the end.

      February 6, 2014
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      • David
        David

        It is a friday night and only 1 ambulance is available. A teenager collapses at a party from alcohol poisoning 5 minutes before a middle-aged father of 3, who has never drank or smoked in his life, who eats well and exercises regularly, collapses from a heart attack. While the ambulance is busy treating the silly little shit who thinks its clever to binge drink her body weight every weekend, that other poor man dies.

        You go find me one doctor on earth who wouldn’t be angry about that. You go find me one – just one – who wouldn’t have leagues more sympathy for that poor man over that stupid teenager who CHOSE to put herself in a potentially critical condition. Go on. I’m waiting.

        Addiction and all the mental and physical problems that come with it are a result of abusing substances – drugs, alcohol, tobacco whatever your poison. You CHOOSE to abuse those substances. Therefore if you are going to classify addiction as a ‘disease’, the point remains that it is a disease you fucking CHOSE. It is also often a ‘disease’ you can choose to cure, if you haven’t done yourself enough damage. I repeat that you can’t cure cancer with fucking WILLPOWER. In my books, that makes it very clearly NOT a disease.

        February 6, 2014
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        • JennyTrout
          JennyTrout

          I’m sorry, but the fact that you believe addicts just need willpower to overcome their addiction means you have absolutely no understanding of addiction. Your emotional hypothetical doesn’t change the fact that it’s a disease, it’s currently treated like a disease, and you know what? I don’t care who a hypothetical doctor is going to have “more sympathy” for. The point of what I wrote here is not, “We should have more sympathy for addicts than anyone else with any medical problem ever,” but “we should stop being such assholes about addicted people because doing so causes more misunderstanding and death.

          February 6, 2014
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        • Safkhet
          Safkhet

          Until you have an addiction I don’t think you are qualified to say, “Gee all you need is some willpower to get over it.” I am not suffering from an addiction but my family has a history of depression and bipolar disorder and trust me that when I say having lived with an addict it is not about willpower. My uncle was diagnosed manic depressive (the old school term for bipolar disorder), but whether because it wasn’t understood at the time or the people involved had too much damn pride he never was on medication. Unsurprisingly, he is addicted to alcohol, fun fact addiction can also run in families (because shockingly addiction is a mental disorder and he unfortunately got the genetic crapshoot for brain chemistry) and alcohol addiction runs in mine, which is in part due to self-medicating for his bipolar disorder which is not what anyone I think would consider under any sort of control. If willpower was all you needed then he’d be clean and sober because he was forced by the state to wear an ankle bracelet for over a year and could not have one single sip of alcohol lest he get his ass tossed in jail. He’s been forced sober, forced to go to AA, and yet the minute that ankle bracelet came off he was straight back into his preferred beverage of Crown Royal with a drop or perhaps chaser of coca-cola. If he had zero impulse control he would have gone to jail, but instead he is still an alcoholic. So yeah, tell me about the power of willpower again?

          February 6, 2014
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          • JennyTrout
            JennyTrout

            Weird thing about alcohol addiction? The first time you have a drink after being sober for a while puts you right back where you were. At least, that’s how it worked out for me. Sober for two years, one drink, then two bottles of wine a night or I got shaky and panicky. I got really bad about a year ago, had to finally get sober again or my meds would kill me. 🙁

            February 6, 2014
          • Safkhet
            Safkhet

            To clarify since I typed that in a rush and it may not be the most legible/clear; the point is that I don’t think, from over twenty years of observation, that addiction is my uncle’s choice. Considering the history of mental disorder in my family which includes depression, bipolar disorder, and addiction that there is no amount of willpower in the known universe or beyond into the unknown universe that would matter. The fact that that both of his disorders feed and magnify the other is a vicious cycle and I can’t imagine fighting off one much less fighting off both. I feel bad for him despite whatever impact he’s had on my own life, having cohabited with him for most of my life, but whatever he has done I know it’s because fundamentally he needs help because it’s not his choice. No one chooses to wake up one morning and say, “Wow I am going to continuously ruin my life for cheap thrills/highs which may possibly include death just because I can.” Addiction can’t be appealed to with logic or reason and it can’t be fixed with willpower, fin.

            February 6, 2014
          • Safkhet
            Safkhet

            🙁 🙁

            That would definitely seem to be the case with my uncle. Once he was back off the wagon it was like he was never in the vicinity of a wagon and I would say he’s only gotten worse. The way he acts, like has to be uber macho manly man (devoted to sports, to cigarettes, to video games yet racist and homophobic), I think is why he’s probably never considered getting any help considering the mental health stigma especially where men are concerned. I mean he’s over forty now so I don’t even know if like twenty-five years ago there was anything resembling the sort of diagnosis criteria and treatment they have today (I know the diagnostic criteria has expanded and changed so much alone), considering how far down the rabbit hole he is I don’t even know where he’d begin if he started therapy tomorrow like untangling the addiction from the bipolar disorder (presuming that’s the only mental disorder he has or if that’s even still a correct diagnosis). He is also extremely paranoid so that paranoia may also be a factor.

            February 6, 2014
        • Sophie
          Sophie

          Your scenario doesn’t work because that man who never drank/smoke, who eat well and exercised wouldn’t have a heart attack unless he had a poorly managed health problem. Which he would know about, because you don’t go from perfectly healthy to heart attack in one step. So basically for your scenario to work, your dad of 3 won’t have been taking care of himself properly, much like the teenager. Except the dad should know better because his brain has finished developing and therefore he has fully developed reasoning skills. Of course this doesn’t matter because health professionals would still do their best work to save both their lives because that is what you do when you are a doctor/paramedic/nurse. And no a health professional wouldn’t be angry if the dad died whilst they were saving the teenagers life. They would be sad and have sympathy for his family, but health professionals do not value one life higher than another because it’s unethical and unprofessional.

          And as I said in my first comment the medical opinion regarding addiction is that it is a DISEASE, it has nothing to do with willpower. People with suffer from addiction, have brain chemistry that doesn’t work right much like someone with Schizophrenia, Bipolar or Depression. They often become addicted to a substance because they are self-medicating.

          February 7, 2014
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        • Annette
          Annette

          Sorry to say this, but reading this response leads me to feel that you have not been touched by addiction. Be it an addiction yourself or one of a loved one. I’m happy for you on that end, but talk to someone who has dealt with it first hand and you may not see it in the same way.

          February 11, 2014
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  14. Alison
    Alison

    Beautifully written, Jen.

    February 4, 2014
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  15. Jessica
    Jessica

    While I generally agree with most of the above Jenny, there’s a few things I don’t. I hope this doesn’t make me sound like an asshole….

    I find it personally very hard to sympathise with persons who suffer from drug/alcohol/sex/whatever addiction. Ultimately its a choice. and choices have consequnces, some very fatal which they are aware of and go ahead and do it anyway, i.e smokers. If they suffer from a mental illness which then caused them to abuse said substances then yes I may feel for them. But we can never really know can we? We can never know and will never know what caused PSH or Corey Monteith from taking drugs at the age of 23 (the latter at 12/13) and then spiral out of control. No one ever chooses to become an addict, I think it’s very debilitating for that person to become so
    dependant on taking substances. I cannot imagine what it is like to live for that one thing every day, when you will take your next hit, how you will get access to, if you will get caught. It doesn’t matter, because if you want something badly enough then you’ll go ahead and find a way. However, I’m aware of the risks and getting addicted is definitely not something I want to flirt with. As I said, I can see why someone who has a mental illness (aware of it or not) can fall into this trap, and those people do have my sympathy.

    You mention that we need to break the cycle that prevents alcoholics and drug addicts from seeking help, however from what I read PSH did have access to and did attend a rehab centre for him to only walk out of it and then die months later. What’s your stance on that? Because there was nothing that prevented him from going and still relapsing. In order to break the cycle, the dialogue needs to happen before someone enters rehab. We need to break the stigma that is attached to addiction and even more so for those that suffer a mental illness (depression, anxiety etc). No one chooses to become and addict but you are aware of the risks. and I’d also have to say that for the most part I don’t think and have not seen persons being shunned for seeking help. If anything it’s deeply encouraged and demonstrates as a sign of bravery not weakness.

    What frustrates me is that he could not kick the habit for his partner and kids. And I suppose you might think that the fact his partner kicked him out, out of tough love means that she also lacks sympathy, she also thinks he was weak and selfish. And maybe at that time he was, but I don’t think those words define him as a person. His actions are weak and selfish, what else can you describe it? There comes a point I think where you ask yourself, where do you draw the line? How much time, emotion, money can you give to this person, who time and time and again continually chooses weak and selfish behaviours. And I don’t think she’s a bad person for doing it, when children are involved they need to be protected. I do feel sorry for any family that goes through this. They, IMO, deserve the sympathy not the one who caused the family all this grief.

    As I said, I hope this doesn’t make me sound like a bad person, it’s just how I feel. I’m also coming from a place where I know this has happened to my family directly. But I would never say that anyone deserves to die, that good riddance to drug addicts, that they’re scum etc. And if you don’t have anything pleasant to say at all then don’t say anything at all. I don’t think 140 characters on twitter or a fb post is an appropriate platform to succinctly and logically offer anything substantial to the debate/dialogue.

    February 5, 2014
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      Well, I knew I would get some responses like this, and without being harsh or condescending or rude, I just want to gently say that this post is not about what addiction does to families. It’s about addicts. And every time anyone mentions addictions, the first person/people anyone cares about is the family of the addict.

      Now, why do I have a problem with this? Because I was an addict. And the entire time I was thinking about recovery, do you know what stopped me every single time? “What is it going to do to my family? They’re going to be so embarrassed to find out.” I ended up doing a dangerous cold-turkey detox under the supervision of a woman who called herself a shaman. Even a few years ago, when I was struggling with alcoholism, I was embarrassed to mention it to my family. I didn’t want to embarrass them, or cause them stress. If I had told them, who knows, maybe they would have been supportive of me. Maybe it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But when every news story or testimonial or what have you is given about addiction, it’s always about what it did to the family. Never the addict.

      I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have sympathy for the families of addicts, I’m just suggesting that maybe our sympathy for the family puts an expectation on the addict that hinders their recovery. It should be okay to talk about addicts and what they go through without constantly reminding everyone about the toll taken on the family. Imagine if we talked about AIDS or Cancer that way: they did it to themselves, how could they do that to their families, etc.

      As for whether I think his family was cruel to kick him out, I would never say that, nor did I ever imply that. We don’t even know if they kicked him out, or if he chose to distance himself. I don’t know what the case is with this particular situation, so I won’t comment on it, except to say that every family is different and sometimes it really is healthier for everyone involved to set strong boundaries.

      I’m glad that you have had a positive experience with people who find rehab noble and brave. But it’s not everyone’s experience. For many addicts, rehab is unthinkable because they don’t have a supportive family, or they’re told to think of appearances or, “Wait until after your brother’s wedding.” And once everyone knows you’re an addict, they look at everything you do– from taking a Tylenol for a headache, to buying a bottle of wine as a gift for a dinner party hostess– as a possible sign of relapse for the rest of your life. You can go without a drink for forty years, put a little cooking sherry in a recipe, and people are cutting ties with you because they “just can’t do this again.” And when you do have a stumble, no one cares about you, at all. They only care about your family, because that’s what we’ve been taught: addicts are selfish people who can’t just ignore their brain chemistry and quietly suffer through their addiction to make life pleasant for everyone else.

      I have sympathy for the families. But I have more for the person who actually has the addiction, and has to live in a world where they’re villains and disappointments.

      February 5, 2014
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      • Sophie
        Sophie

        Thank you Jenny! I was struggling to find a way to reply to those comments without swearing. I hate how addiction is always about ‘their poor family’, what if their family is the reason that the person became dependent on a substance in the 1st place? Not every family is a functional one, often family members are the people who can hurt us most and for some people they start using to block out the pain. I was also appalled to see one commenter justifying his use of the word addict because it was the medical term, but he was happy enough to ignore that current medical opinion is that addiction is a disease.

        I often see similar reactions to stories about people with mental health problems, particularly Schizophrenia. It’s all about how awful/hard it must be for the family. Well yes it is hard on the family but it’s a lot harder on the person with Schizophrenia. They are the ones having the auditory/visual hallucinations, they are the ones who can’t trust their own brains. They are the ones who get their free will taken from them, who get locked up in mental health units against their own wishes and if they do not comply with their meds, they are held down and injected with them.

        Addiction is a disease, it’s messed up brain chemistry. And it’s much harder on the person who’s brain isn’t working properly than it is on anyone else. It’s fine to have sympathy for the family, but save some for the person it’s happening too as well. They need it a lot more, especially when most people are telling them their selfish or that they deserve everything they get.

        February 6, 2014
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    • David
      David

      I agree with you, particularly with feeling sorrier for the person’s families than they themselves. You don’t choose to have an addict in your family, and it can exhaust and terrify you in ways you do not deserve. They also have the grief of watching someone they love destroy themselves.

      February 6, 2014
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      • Sophie
        Sophie

        You completely missed the point actually. I don’t feel more sympathy for the family, I am more sympathetic to the person with the disease. That doesn’t mean I don’t recognise that it’s hard on their family, of course it is. But the family of an addict/mentally ill person get a whole lot more sympathy and support than the person with the actual problem.

        You are correct that the family didn’t choose to have an addict in their family, well people suffering from addiction don’t choose to get addicted either. They are more often genetically predisposed to develop that addiction. So whilst you or I can have an alcoholic drink every so often, someone with an addiction can’t stop at one drink. They can’t stop at all. But they won’t know that until they’ve had that first drink. And then you add the incredibly addictive properties of drugs like heroin and nicotine, that person with the addiction predisposition doesn’t stand a chance.

        February 7, 2014
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        • Jessica
          Jessica

          Sophie….
          I’m not sure why you felt you had to struggle and restrain yourself from swearing at my comment and others. Anyhow I’m glad im following Jenny’s blog and not you, if thats how you treat each reader for a difference in your opinion. I will admit that I was ignorant of certain facts and I thank Jenny for her well worded response without attacking me with malice.

          I actually wrote a long response in reply to Jenny but for some reason it never posted (I hope I wasnt insulting that I’m now being moderated. Wasn’t my intention).

          Basically all I wanted to say Jenny is thank you for making me look at it differently. I’ve never thought about it in that way before, so it was enlightening. Im also sorry you had to go through what you did. No one should feel embarrassed or discouraged for seeking help. I hope you actually do have support from your friends and family.

          There was more to my response, but I’m too lazy to re-write it all and I don’t think it would have furthered the discussion anyhow. 🙂

          February 8, 2014
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          • JennyTrout
            JennyTrout

            Everyone is moderated right now, because the bots were getting ridiculous, but I never saw your comment come through. 🙁 So no, you’re not being moderated due to contrasting opinion. That’s not my style. 😀

            February 8, 2014
          • Sophie
            Sophie

            Wow that’s quite a reaction considering I didn’t name any names in my comment nor did I actually swear at anyone! I was extremely angry when I read some of the comments to this post because I felt some of them had completely missed Jenny’s point and I thought some of them displayed real ignorance about a topic that affects some people I love dearly. However I told myself to walk away and come back to comment when I was calmer, which I did. At which point I attacked the ideas not the people. It’s a shame that you couldn’t find that restraint within yourself and you had to get personal. I’m very glad you don’t read my blog too.

            February 10, 2014
  16. Rowan
    Rowan

    I’m so torn, reading this. While I absolutely disagree with the “serves him right, one less addict in the world” brigade, while I know what it’s like to deal with mental illness and its stigma…. I also can see how people – some at least – can have no sympathy. It’s less a case of not caring and more of not being able to open certain doors. For those people, “I have no sympathy” means “I don’t have the emotional reserve to feel sympathy right now”.

    For me, I was married to an alcoholic. I still have to deal with him because we have a child. He did me so much psychological damage in our relationship that I do genuinely have no sympathy at all for him. And while I know intellectually that not all addicts are the same (any more than all [insert condition here] are the same), my experience does colour how I feel.

    February 9, 2014
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  17. Kirrix
    Kirrix

    I just want to say thank you so much for this post.

    February 9, 2014
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  18. FarFarAway
    FarFarAway

    Okay, I know I’m about a year late to this conversation, but I just found your FSoG recaps a few weeks ago and have been obsessed with them (and also all the other awesomeness).
    Jenny, I want to thank you for this post (and of course, slogging through the crapathon that is the FSoG trilogy so I don’t have to; you’ve been cracking me up at a time in my life when I REALLY need it.).
    Anyways, I’ve been lurking until now, but I just read your post and started bawling. It hit home with me. I remember being deeply saddened by PSH’s death last year. He was so talented, and I was also selfishly wondering what was going to happen with the last *Hunger Games* movie.
    But what really touched me was your logic /sympathy combined. I’ve been struggling with various addictions since I was 15. (Wow! I just realized that that means nearly 20 years.) I know that a lot of it comes from self-medicating for my depression/anxiety because all of the therapy and meds in the world don’t seem to be able to completely fix what’s wrong with me. I know part of it is also hereditary; my parents were both highly-functioning alcoholics. So I was an active alcoholic for 10 years, realized I had to go to rehab, and then got clean for a while. Then I started smoking weed every second of every day. After that, my current boyfriend moved in and introduced me to heroin. I didn’t think I was that bad for a while. I never shot it up (snorted it instead), I kept my job and significant other (mostly because we were partners in crime–mutual enablers), and I was lucky enough to be in a financial position where I could afford to be a junkie. But then came the times when we couldn’t score, and it was like we had the worst flu in the world times a million, and there was no cure except more heroin. I tried to wait out the withdrawal on my own a few times, and after about a week each time, with no end in sight, I’d relapse. I saw how heroin was becoming the focus of my world–how everything else took a backseat. I realized I was drifting further and further from my friends and family. Thank god I don’t have (or want) children.
    So I got medical help for that, and I managed to stay clean from heroin (with a few unfortunate but very brief relapses) for the past few years. But guess what? I somehow convinced myself that cocaine was okay because I didn’t HAVE to do it every day. But that’s what ended up happening. And I’ve only given that up because–as you may have guessed–buying all of these drugs steadily depleted my finances over the years (along with the boyfriend taking money out of my account without my knowledge; but that’s another story). Now I’m pretty broke. No money for drugs. Bills come first. And I’m pissed off that I’m rational enough to know this, but I could see everything going downhill and still couldn’t come to make myself stop it.
    Anyway, several aspects of my life are simultaneously in the shitter right now. I’m broke and having a hard time applying for a better-paying job because of my depression/anxiety, my beloved cat is dying of old age & I’m spending most of the last of my credit to try to help save her, and although he said he had been clean of heroin for several months now, I just found out a few days ago that my boyfriend had been doing heroin again after getting off of pain meds because he fractured his back in the process getting drunk and totaling my new (used) car a few months ago. Bear in mind that I totaled my old car at the end of October (completely sober, just so you all know).
    So things pretty much suck right now. I hope when I do start making more money, I can stay clean again. I could get more help. But the truth is that you ARE stigmatized for getting help. Not everyone, but a lot of people, will only see you as ONLY an alcoholic/addict after you tell them about it. And I’m including people in the medical field. (Which actually reminds me of David’s hypothetical situation above. Why can’t you have an equal amount of sympathy for the father of three & the girl with alcohol poisoning? Sympathy is not a finite resource that you have to figure out how to divvy up fairly. And plenty of kids try drugs/alcohol. It’s just that everyone thinks that he or she is bulletproof; no one plans on becoming addicted or ODing.) I told ONE friend about my problem with heroin a few years ago, and she hasn’t spoken to me since because I was hiding my addiction from her for a long time, and she felt lied to. Which is fair enough. It hurts, but I understand why she chose to cut ties with me. The only other person who knows about the heroin is my boyfriend (who, believe me, I know I have some serious decisions to make about; it’s just really hard when you’ve known someone for 20 years, been together for a good amount of those years, and feel like he knows you better than anyone in the world.). My family and all close friends know about my alcoholism. I went to rehab for 6 weeks and did the AA thing for a few years, so I had to make amends with everyone as part of the recovery process.
    In any case, sorry for writing an essay when all I really wanted to do was thank you for your sense of humor and your sympathy for those of us who are considered unworthy of it by others. I guess I had a few things to get off of my chest. Thank you for letting me.
    But keep at it, Jenny. You’re doing so much more good than you know. Thank you.

    March 12, 2015
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  19. Maggie
    Maggie

    I think some of it has to do with the fact we feel we own celebrities. My dad loved Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but when he found out he died, he didn’t say “Oh my god, that poor man and his family!” He said “Nooooo, now I can’t see any new movies with him in it!” I think some of the attitude comes from the belief that a celebrity should constantly be entertaining, and if they’re dead because of a stigmatized condition, then they forcibly are denying the entertainment they feel “owed”.

    May 9, 2015
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  20. John Reynolds
    John Reynolds

    Addiction is a disease-funny, I thought addiction came from actually using the product. And in the VAST majority of cases, using that product was a choice. When addicts prove to have the addiction even when they never decided to ‘choose to use’, maybe I’ll buy that excuse.

    Do you feel that sex addicts, video game addicts, internet addicts, work addicts, etc. are all diseased as well? When does a preference for an activity become an addiction? Is a preference a disease as well, or simply a warning sign?

    Also, if it’s such a debilitating disease, why do so many seem to use willpower to beat it? I don’t care how strong my will is, I’m not going to beat cancer or HIV with a 12-step program and admitting I have a problem.

    January 17, 2016
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      1) Addiction is a disease. You rejecting that reality doesn’t make the years of medical research that’s been done on addiction somehow invalid.

      2) You can choose to have unprotected sex, too. And when you get a disease from doing so, it’s not called a Sexually Transmitted Choice. It doesn’t stop being a disease just because your risky behavior caused it. Using drugs/alcohol is a risky behavior, and can result in disease, and the disease is addiction.

      3) The difference between a preference and an addiction is that I prefer to eat tacos, but if I don’t have a taco tomorrow, I won’t be sweating and feeling like my skin is going to fall off. I’m not sitting here panicked over how I’ll get my next taco. I won’t run the risk of potentially dying if I go too long without a taco. Plus, sex, video games, internet, work addictions are all considered psychological addictions. The same properties are present in physiological addiction, but drug and alcohol addiction have a physiological component, and that’s what this post was about.

      4. 12-step programs don’t treat physiological addiction, they treat the psychological dependency on the substance. An addict can be so physiologically addicted that 12-step isn’t going to work no matter how much willpower they have.

      I know you left this comment because you truly believe that you know better, but I really encourage you to do some research and learn what addiction is. You’ll probably be surprised by how much work has gone into researching addiction and how to treat it, and why it’s so important for people to accept that it really is a chronic disease that people need serious intervention and lifelong treatment to overcome.

      January 17, 2016
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  21. Anon
    Anon

    Part of the reason I think is because of the modern media , and how it likes to vilify celebrities at every turn.
    This video really explains it better than I ever could, http://youtu.be/cWqvWFUj51k

    January 17, 2016
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