In the Valley of the Shadow: Philip Seymour Hoffman's Slip

Surviving addiction requires all of one's being.

Photo Credit: cinemafestival/Shutterstock.com

Why did Philip Seymour Hoffman die? It's quite simple, really.
Recovery from alcoholism and addiction are a life and death affair, requiring one to make changes that most are unwilling to attempt, even when life itself is at stake for ones loved ones or even society may not approve.  
We all want our heroes to be great parents and stars of their trade.  But when you learn of a high-profile addict or alcoholic who has died of the disease you can be sure that he or she was unwilling to put Recovery before everything --before social obligations, work, even before one's very own children.
According to newspapers accounts, Hoffman, at the time of his death, was a great dad; planned, on the day he OD'd to see his kids. He was also at work on or had just recently completed several films.
The result: Hoffman's discovery in a bathroom, lying on the floor dead, dressed in underwear, glasses still perched on his nose and a needle dangling from his arm.
To survive the disease one day at a time requires all of ones being, all of one's time, all of one's commitment and in order to succeed must transcend every obligation, including work and family.  
 According to the media Hoffman was an inspiration to many in his twelve step program but that's not enough. One must be rigorously honest with oneself, which may require one to concede to oneself that for now one cannot live up to the expectations of the world, or one's profession or even one's obligations as a parent.
Instead, one must go to two, three, four meetings a day and hang out with other drunks and addicts and seek through the steps and by whatever other means necessary to enlarge ones spiritual life in a manner sufficient to acquire a daily immunity from the disease.
In my 23 years of sobriety -- the same amount of clean and sober time that Hoffman had before falling off in 2012--I have seen innumerable people with long-term recovery slip and if unable to get back, often they died. I have seen that one can build a complete life of love and achievement, as Hoffman did, and yet have it all end catastrophically.  
For addiction and alcoholism are fiercely democratic diseases that kill sports stars and rock stars, CEOs and writers, psychiatrists, attorneys, physicians, professors, CPAs, sanitation workers, rabbis and priests without prejudice or favor, bestowing disaster equally on all afflicted. They kill alike women and men, rich and poor, beggars and kings, geniuses and imbeciles and with equal ferocity. 
When I learned of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death from heroin overdose, and though I deeply admired his artistry, I did not cry as so many have. Instead, I muttered to myself: ‘There but for the grace of God go I” followed by “Better him than me.”
For such is the hard, even brutal truth of Recovery. When another dies we know it could as easily have been ourselves. And like soldiers in battle who cannot afford to pause or weep when a comrade falls, we are grateful that the bullet did not find us and try to learn from the other's error as we continue on through the Valley of the Shadow.

Alan Kaufman is one of San Francisco’s best-known authors. His books include the memoirs Drunken Angel and Jew Boy, the novel Matches and the anthologies The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry and The Outlaw Bible of American Literature.

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