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Abandoned Addiction: thoughts on finding Hoffman dead with a needle in his arm

abandoned addiction
Posted by on February 4, 2014


Day 6 of my 30-day blog challenge. Read day 5 “The benefits of a blog calendar”


abandoned addiction


George Willis Jr. grew up and became the mighty Lester Bangs before dying from a heroin overdose, with a needle still sticking out of his left arm. I didn’t want to write about Philip Seymour Hoffman. My heart has just been so heavy. I want to share my thought process in discovering this loss, and why I am writing about it.


I have a hard time ( it’s pathetic really) distinguishing people’s faces. I often joke about it, but my husband worries if something is wrong my ability to perceive.  But, when I saw Hoffman’s face flooding my news feed, I remembered first George Willis Jr. from Scent Of A Woman (1992), which is one of my favorite films. I later recalled Lester Bangs (Almost Famous, 2000); that expression on Hoffman’s face betrayed some secret knowing about the people he played. He mastered the characters in two of the most inspirational movies for me. I should make it a point to watch the rest. Many I haven’t seen, but in several I just don’t recall his character.


The first few mentions just said Hoffman, 46, died February 2, 2014. I scrolled as the thoughts began to process. Of course I felt embarrassed that I only suspected he was in Scent Of A Woman. Then, I saw the post by The New York Post that mentioned in its excerpt the details of Hoffman’s death.He died with a needle still stuck in his left arm.


Like blood trapped beneath a bruise

That image stabbed me in my memory, tearing open an old wound buried under emotional scar tissue. I began to bleed again. I bled for the memory of Dan Calderone, 15, who died from a heroin overdose in Parsippany, N.J. when I was maybe 17. He was a friend of my brother’s and sat on my family’s living room couch just weeks before he was found dead by his grandmother. I don’t think I’ve ever typed his name publicly.  Doing do now feels tremendously like pushing on a bruise to see if it still hurts. Dan wasn’t even the closest person to me to die from a heroin overdose.


My mind screams at me to stop thinking about the people in my life who battled against booze, drugs and self-destruction. The “clotting factor” to stop me from emotionally bleeding out is that I’ve learned about the connection between creativity and mental illness. We can never abandon addictions. We must fill the void with love.


It was always the creative ones in my life, the artists, musicians, writers and actors, who seemed the most filled with life–and the most likely to want to use drugs. They felt life so fully that they needed to temper that connection to positive energy by binging on negative. I say “they” like I’m not included. But I’ve felt the highs and suffered the lows. Had it not been for finding a secure foothold in my husband who knows where I would have ended up.


Though I’ve pulled away from every relationship tinged with destruction, I feel connected to some who still struggle. Though I don’t know him personally, I interviewed last year the musician who took Shannon Hoon’s place in Blind Melon. Travis T. Warren told me about his solo project, and that his decision to donate proceeds to MusiCares came from his battle with addiction. Warren’s otherwise excited voice changed to a more somber and mellow tone when he described his childhood friends. I nodded in agreement as we let the topic trail off. Warren posted last week on Facebook that he suffered a loss. I didn’t stalk the details, but I had a feeling it was a similar situation to what I’ve been through too many times.


Abandonment won’t heal. We need love

My thought process in thinking about yet another heroin overdose made me feel like I shouldn’t pay it any attention.  Like I should abandon addiction and suppress negative thoughts and avoid negative people. But if I’ve learned anything it’s that ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. An abandoned addiction festers when not filled with something. Many makers try to fill that emptiness with their art. The brilliant ones win recognition, money and even lust. Yet that ever-elusive love cannot be won, bought or manipulated. So my heart hurts.


We creative types need to take care of our community. We need to do more than write songs about love and look the other way when we see the characters our friends play take on residence in their minds. From generation to generation we must remember to give back in our words and our art the ideas that helped heal us. If only temporarily. I know better than to ignore the wounds within myself. I’ve covered over the pain with layers of years, allowing time to heal, but the memories remain.


When I got married in March 2009, we took a road trip to New York. We spent some time in Pennsylvania, with one of my best friends from high school, and we spent time in New Jersey visiting my old stomping grounds. During this trip Duane called me and asked if I wanted to hang out. I missed him, but I didn’t want to see him. I knew he still suffered. I prayed he would get through it. I tried to be a friend, but kept my distance for my sanity.  That fear of reading my friend had been found with “the needle still in his arm” resonated with each ring of his phone call. So, I didn’t see him. We headed back to Georgia, and a few months later Duane died of a drug overdose. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. What I felt was guilt.


Could anyone have done anything to help Hoffman? He had money; he must have had connections. I’m sure someone loved him. And I know from personal experience that the only one who can save an addict is himself. I don’t blame anyone for Hoffman’s death. Or Duane’s. And I know today many more deserving men and women are sacrificing themselves. I know we should spend more time in the news recognizing them than clicking on sensational news items like Hoffman being found dead with a needle in his arm. But we are talking about it.


So, let’s take the time now to look around at our friends and our family members. Are we running out and sliding deeper into the characters we play and becoming too similar to the narrators of our novels? Can we please reconnect to reality and check in with our artist friends to make sure they feel loved? Love can fill the hole once we pull the needles out. We don’t have to die with them still sticking in.



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