Philip Seymour Hoffman and the choice in the matter

February 3, 2014


(photo credit - via google images)


When you look back, after getting sober, it makes very little sense that you could have been so addicted, inflicted. You wonder who that was, while you were gone. You try to trace the steps to that darkest place, where you were, with that need that took over you and your life. You just can’t. You can’t see how it could have happened, any of it. I can’t, anyway. I have no idea how it came to be, but there I was.

There will always be people who say that it’s a moral decision, a very simple and obvious choice. They will always scoff, roll eyes and stand firm in self-righteous indignation. After all, that kind of behavior is also addiction. Ironically, it seems to me it is an addiction involving choice more-so than the addiction to substances.

I did not choose alcoholism.

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not choose to die a humiliating death by syringe on his bathroom floor.

The homeless man under the bridge with the brown paper bag stands the poster boy and he didn’t do it either.

Had I known that alcohol would become a monster in my life, I would not have started drinking. You see, I was the goody-two-shoes-nice-Christian-girl-opposite-of-the-stereotypical-addict, and still, there I was four years ago, drunk and crawling around in the snow, trying to unchain my dog from her potty break and myself from the booze. I couldn’t do it. Not either of those things. I couldn’t even stand up.

When I took the first drink of my life it was a choice I had no idea would become a series of nights in years where I felt like there was no choice. The only other choice I ever had in the matter was a choice to get help. To just give up. To end it or die never ending it. And still, getting sober was far beyond me and even today, four years into never drinking since the day I quit, I am bound to Help or I will drink. Sobriety honestly happened to me, and yes it took courage but I felt terribly small and weak and tired all at once.

I am so sad about Philip Seymour Hoffman, oh what a brilliantly gifted human, and the response to his death? Yes, there is so much support and love, but there is also this awful intrusion of judgment and hate. It’s as if Dr Laura herself has possessed the high and mighty social media masses. They are calling him names and saying who cares, just another wasted junkie good riddance. And I realize that this is often ignorance and I can forgive that, but it riles me up when people should know better and they don’t. Maybe they haven’t heard that there are 20-something genes appearing only in addicts. That this disease (oh yes, I said it) waits for the unsuspecting to dabble and then it pounces and it is a cobra and we can’t breathe or shake it off. Someone else has to do that for us and we don’t know.

People who drink too much and do drugs are seen as the “bad” ones and the weak ones and the ones who don’t care about the people that love them. It’s true, there’s a selfishness that takes over and it begs to become more of you every single day and it wins so much of the time because it rides along the chemicals that your body pulses to find. And then this selfishness seeps in to every cell and starts coming out your eyes and your mouth because it is seeking seeking seeking Self always first. Despite your true heart’s intentions, it bites down hard and shakes everyone all around. Ripping. Tearing. Leaving a carcass.

Every day I think about drinking, in one way or another. Like, GOD, I could really use a drink. Take the edge off. I miss it. Or, Thank GOD I don’t drink anymore, it would only make everything harder. It carries me back and forth on waves of life, and while I learn to surrender and let go and all of those mantras and I beg the Lord’s Prayer and the Serenity Prayer to just work.already, I am floating. I cannot steer and I have no choice but to see I have no choice. I have no choice but to just keep leaning into the side of a life raft built for those like me. Without it, I would be drinking, drowning, and then dead.

Sometimes we addicts get up and out of the safest places without even knowing what we’re doing. Sometimes it’s like the beginning, how you can’t look back and make sense of how you ever become a junkie. You get a little too confident maybe, feel too invincible. You’re just normal old you, right? But there it is, It is back and it’s a perfect storm of circumstances and maybe it’s a hormonal day and a full moon and God knows what else, but GULP, it has you again, and that is relapse and it is what took the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman and could take mine tomorrow if it tries and I’m not aware.

So I duck down a little in the raft when these things happen and I hold on tight. Because if I don’t, I will have no choice, again.


Philip-Seymour-Hoffman (photo credit - guardianlv via google images)

May he rest in peace.


Alexis February 3, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Heather, thank you for writing this. I’ve been struggling in the face of some of the judgmental things I’ve been hearing, looking at people I thought I knew and thinking in my head, “Do you know that what you’re saying is about me too?” but not being able to say that out loud. Thanks for doing it for me.
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Corinne February 3, 2014 at 12:21 pm

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him since yesterday. Breaks my heart, and reminds me how fragile all of this is. Well written, Heather.
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susannah February 3, 2014 at 12:23 pm


it always amazes me what people say/write. heartbreaking.

Lisa February 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Thank you, Heather.
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Gillian Marchenko February 3, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Important. Thank you.

Jen @ Momalom February 3, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Thank you for this. There’s no comment I can write that articulates what an impact your words have.
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Tabatha February 3, 2014 at 12:42 pm

Thank you for this.
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Christy February 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Beautiful. Perfect. Poignant.

Leigh Ann February 3, 2014 at 12:52 pm

It makes me so sad to hear of such a great talent losing his life to addiction. But honestly, it’s sad for anyone to have to die that way.
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Laurie February 3, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I just put my head down on my desk and cried. I am so tired. Sometimes it gets to be too much, and then I know that before was the real too much, and it could be that again without this daily, daily, daily repetition of truth in the face of madness. Thank God we can speak for us. We are here to do it and for today we are still spared and thank God.
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Kelly February 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm

I am coming up on three years’ sobriety. I don’t think about drinking, but I do help other alcoholics, and help in my community at large, and that is one of the cornerstones of today’s recovery. The cornerstone of my recovery on my FIRST day sober was a doctor who said, “You don’t stop drinking so your life will improve. You stop drinking because you have a disease, and it is your responsibility.”

If he hadn’t said it that way, if he hadn’t understood it was a disease, and been entirely frank, direct, yet compassionate, I absolutely dread to think where I’d be today.

Perhaps in our lifetime more people will understand that yes. It is a disease. Even if it doesn’t “seem” like one. It absolutely is.

As we move toward that awareness more will get, and stay, sober – and then resume their place in the community… with a lot more humor, grace, and helpfulness than the self-righteous you mention in your piece!

Thanks for your piece.
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Heather February 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Now that’s a good doctor. Thank you for sharing that.

I love the thought of addicts being freed of shame to the point where they can get help and “resume their place in the community.” Yes.


Deb Rox February 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Your words make a bigger space for understanding. Thank you.

alexandra February 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I had to sign off social media, and I became so quiet yesterday. I go there, and I think of the torture of secrets and self doubt and the one thing that helps to manage *life* becomes the one thing that leads you away from it. So sad, I can’t imagine how we can judge. No one knows the inside of anyone’s mind.

SoberJulie February 4, 2014 at 8:39 am

yes…..I have wept for this…..for the lack of true awareness…..

Lisa February 3, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Heather, you are beautiful and your honesty is a gift. What resonated with me most? This paragraph: “There will always be people who say that it’s a moral decision, a very simple and obvious choice…Ironically, it seems to me it is an addiction involving choice more-so than the addiction to substances.” So very true, and so very sad.
Lisa recently posted..The Power of One

Chelsea @ Someday I'll Learn February 3, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Yes, a thousand times. I was born out of addiction (my mother and my father) and I know that they loved me. I know that choosing drugs over me was not a conscious, calculated choice but a consequence of this out-of-control illness that took hold of their every waking moment.

But for the grace of God, there go I.
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Sarita February 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Thank you for writing this. Your words resonate with me on so many different levels. I admire your courage and your journey.
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Ellie February 3, 2014 at 2:36 pm

OH your words. Yes, yes and more yes. You speak my heart more eloquently than I ever could.


Sherry Carr-Smith February 3, 2014 at 2:46 pm

I’ve read a few pieces on Phillip Syemour Hoffman over the last two days. The ones that hit me hardest are the ones that talk about the judgement that others are putting on his death. Living as the daughter of an alcoholic and then married to one for a decade, all I can feel is sadness for him, his family and his wife. They are facing such heartbreak right now, and I can’t imagine hearing all of the awful that is being spewed (even if they’re avoiding now, it will be something they stumble on for the rest of their lives).

My 8 year old, who is the biological son of my late husband who was an alcoholic from the time he was 16, asked us why people use drugs in the first place when he heard the news on the radio. We kept it simple and as honest as we could. Later, my husband said something about how we’ve already had conversations with N about addiction/alcohol abuse/drug abuse, and how many more we’d need to have. He wasn’t complaining, just wondering. I said that I would talk about it every single day of his life if it would keep my boy from making the same decisions his bio father did. The genetics of this disease are so fucking scary to me.

This is totally rambly, but I’m so glad you write. It helps me know that there are people for whom recovery is possible/working/lived. You help me keep me from getting bitter or cynical about people with addiction. Thanks for that.
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Ellie {Musing Momma} February 3, 2014 at 3:33 pm

So beautifully and honestly written. When I’ve worked with kids whose parents have addictions and do psychoed for them, one of the things we talk about is how no one starts out planning to become addicted. And you raise great points about the biology involved that truly makes addiction a disease. Thank you for sharing your story and – really – the story of so many addicts.
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Tiffany February 3, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I was listening to two DJs judge on the way home from work today, and all I could think was that P.S.H.nhad to be in a deep, dark place that only other addicts can understand to fall off the wagon after 20+years of sobriety. My heart aches for him and his family. You are so brave and helpful to put this out there into the void. Bravo.

Sara February 3, 2014 at 3:49 pm

Hey girl, I’ve been struggling with this news. Though I am saddened for the friends and family, I was one of those people that thought, can’t they just not do drugs? Can’t they just NOT shoot up, get high, get drunk, drink? I haven’t really had much experience with addiction or known someone personally that has struggled with drugs or alcohol. But then you said “there will always be people who say it’s a moral decision.” (Raises hand)
Can you tell me more about this piece? I am feeling convicted and want to understand better. Your post was lovely explaining it through the eyes of an addict, I’ve never heard it spoken like that in such a way. So thank you. Yes my immediate thought was scoff, hearing about how he died, but then the heart kicked in and thought how awful to be found like that. That is certainly not how I would want to go, nor do I believe ANY person would choose that way.
Where is a good place to find more information on the disease part of it? How do you know you have the genes, if no one in your immediate family has gone through it? I too worry about my children, and with my lack of knowledge on the subject, I don’t ever want to be caught off guard when it comes to addiction.
I hope I don’t sound like a complete idiot or insensitive. That is so very far from my intention.

Heather February 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

You’re so honest and I love that about you.

i understand why it’s easy to scoff, I do. And it’s HARD to understand how NOT simple addiction is. It seems as if it should be simple. Like you said, it seems like you would just NOT DO THE THING. But for us, it’s just not that simple. I can only liken my addiction to feeling like I woke something up. Something that was certainly bigger than I am. And it took over. That Thing I woke up is my disease. My genetics. Some people can just drink a couple drinks. That was NEVER an option for me. I never had an off switch. It was just THERE. There is a biological explanation that is better for you to google because I want be able to nail down all the scientific specifics. The thing is, not everyone gets the chance I got. To be free. To get sober. Alongside my addiction, I had a lot of good experiences and faith and hope and some dignity. Many, many do not have that. I was given many gifts through my upbringing that I can credit for helping me get to a place where I believed I was worth quitting. This disease is progressive. I am grateful every day that I am not in the throes of it. I could go on and on. Feel free to ask more questions in case I’m not answering in a way that makes sense.

xoxo H

Patrice February 3, 2014 at 3:57 pm

Thanks so much for this writing- so eloquently depicting our journey into addiction & recovery.

Patrice February 3, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Very well written. Thank you.

Andrea February 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I love this post so much. Thank you so much for posting it. My little brother is a heroin addict and people just don’t get it. Like he is less of a person. I will repost this today and hope that just one person will gain some compassion.

Alyssa Santos February 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Thank you for speaking your story and telling the truth about choices made and the truth of the daily battle. I appreciated these words.
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Amanda February 3, 2014 at 5:05 pm

For some people it’s a headline, for other people it’s a phone call. Be grateful for every breath.
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Heather February 3, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Oh I am, Amanda. I am.

SoberJulie February 3, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Thank you for so eloquently saying what I wish I felt. I wish I felt so kind as to address this issue so gracefully. Right now I cannot approach it as my dismay at the lack of compassion or willingness to understand has me baffled. Not angry, not raging…sad at the state of affairs I see…..
And so I fold laundry, say the serenity prayer and go to a meeting at a rehab centre to immerse myself in the reality which is my life instead.

Erinn Lishman February 3, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Beautifully written. I wish you a lifetime of success in your journey.

Debbie February 4, 2014 at 1:00 am

I cannot thank you enough for writing this. Just yesterday someone pissed me off because they made a very disrespectful/ignorant comment about addiction being a choice.
I have believed and said and felt practically everything you wrote but it never came out so perfectly the way you described it all.

I am an alcoholic/addict still struggling every day to keep it together and I thank you for putting this out there and sharing it.

I wish you the best on your journey.

Kat February 4, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Thank you for this. It was so beautiful and so honest and so raw. Some people just have no idea and I imagine a piece like this only helps.
I really admired Mr. Hoffman. He was so immensely talented. One of the great actors of our time. It is so sad not only to lose such a talent but for his family and friends to lose such a great man.
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Brandee Shafer February 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm

One of the things I hate most in the world, in conversation, is this trend of trying to rob dead people of their worth and living people of their guilt. It’s one of the many reasons I left facebook. When Whitney Houston died, it was more of the same. (Why so much grief over someone who wasted her gift when we could be talking about the soldiers who die fighting for our freedom.) When Trayvon Martin died, it was more of the same. (Why can’t we talk about these white people who were raped and murdered by these black people? You never hear about that!) When the children in Newton died, for heavens sake, I read on facebook that “that’s what happens when you take God out of schools; He’s not there.” Sickening. My nerves can’t take it. Every death is a tragedy, every life worth grieving/mourning. Sad to have lost this spark of a Phillip Seymour Hoffman on the big screen and in the world.
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Brandee Shafer February 4, 2014 at 7:33 pm

* I meant “living people of their grief” – see, I was mad, typing
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K A B L O O E Y February 4, 2014 at 11:16 pm

His death and people’s ignorant reactions have been twisting me up. I just tried to get my feelings down for Just Write, because it’s Tuesday so that gave me permission. But you did it. You explained, with compassion, reason, and more patience than is fair to expect from someone who knows what addiction is, to people who mock and deride the addicted, like the Philip Seymour Hoffman, who succumb to their disease. Thank you. And this? “Despite your true heart’s intentions, it bites down hard and shakes everyone all around.” “And leaves a carcass.” Whew. True heart’s intentions. How do you make people believe this?
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Karen Duggan February 4, 2014 at 11:50 pm

Heather, you have the most beautiful command of finding words to say the things that are so hard to say. I am saddened that this amazingly gifted man was that much in need of removing himself from his Self. On the self-centered side, it scares the bejeezus out of me that this man who had 23 years sober (5 more years than me right now,) went down so hard. Praying for his family and friends who right now are just missing his presence in their lives.
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Andrea @ Maybe It's Just Me February 6, 2014 at 8:24 pm

This is absolutely beautiful, frightening, enlightening and informative. I hope people stuble upon this and learn something, begin to understand something that they didn’t before.

Elaine A. February 10, 2014 at 4:39 pm

I can understand addiction slightly in that I am a food addict. I have to say “NO” to certain things in the grocery store every time I go. I have to refuse dessert at restaurants a lot but then sometimes I do not. So, since that is the ONLY way I can relate I think about that needle as a thing of ice cream or a cheesecake. And what would happen if I had to go without that FOREVER? I cannot even go there in my head. Anyone who struggles with addiction deserves extra grace, as far as I am concerned. It’s just SO. DAMN. HARD.

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MJ February 28, 2014 at 9:06 am

Compassion, sometimes that’s all we addicts have to give back. We know better than anybody how hard it is to climb out of the pity hole, and we all know that we can’t climb out till we’ve scratched the bottom and turned white knuckles into bloodred fingers. Thank you for writing this. His death hit me hard too.
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