Any time a celebrity dies of an overdose - or even of a suspected one - everyone has to weigh in on addiction. Moral failing? Medical condition? And why do these poor bastards keep dying right after they go to rehab?
One common answer is that your tolerance is lower after a period of sobriety, and that makes it easier to OD. This is true, but there's also an emotional component to that we don't speak about as much. There's a deep-down shame that settles in when you've told everyone you love that you're quitting but find yourself using again.
Going back to using after an attempt at sobriety doesn't just bring you back to wear you started. No, it moves you along further. Now you're someone who has tried to quit and failed. Now you're someone who has once again betrayed loved ones who had high hopes for your recovery. Now you're another kind of liar.
Addicts and alcoholics lie all the time: we lie about how often we use and how much; we lie about plans we don't have so we can go get fucked up in peace; we lie about what we did last night so you won't worry or, even worse, make us stop. But once you've vowed to quit and started to do the right thing - maybe you told your family, maybe you went to rehab, maybe you're twelve-stepping - going back is a new sort of lie. You can't claim to have it under control, because if you did you wouldn't be using at all. Everyone in your life knows how brave they think you're being and you can't disappoint them. No one can know about this, so you'll need to hide it even better.
While before you might have gone out drinking with friends who, worried, drove you home and cleaned you up, now you're drinking alone. There's no one there to watch how much or when, so it becomes more and always.
The weight of your own lies is crushing. You've proven that you're the sort of weak, cowardly waste you were always afraid you were, so you start drinking about your failure. On and on. Always a new disappointment, always a new lie, always another drink. And no one can know about this.
So it's 2009. I'd tried to get sober the year before, but... I don't know. My dad was in the ICU, I'd just moved between states, my boyfriend at that time was also a drunk and thought I was fine... and I wasn't ready yet. So I started drinking again, alone and in secret. I broke up with my boyfriend, met my husband, and got a great job. I lost weight. My new boyfriend was a good person who believed I was good, too. Everyone thought I Had My Shit Together.
For me, this was the stage where I started crying when I opened a bottle. I sobbed my way through my first two glasses. I promised myself it wouldn't happen again and then I found myself at the liquor store. I tried to limit myself - one bottle of wine, never keep it in the house - and stumbled six blocks, already wasted, to buy more. I called my boyfriend - now my husband - hysterical about what a shitty human being I was, then told him the next day that I just needed to be alone to get some work done... with a bottle of wine next to me.
The breaking point for me came one day when I left work early to drink. I'd done it before, but this was going to be my last day if living alone before moving in with my now-husband. My last chance to drink because I knew I couldn't get away with it when he was around. I bought a bottle of champagne and went to "work from home." Unfortunately, my drunk ass hadn't payed the cable bill so I found myself with no internet. I drank the wine. Then I got in the car to go buy more. I'd never driven drunk before and it's the one thing I will never forgive myself for. No one got hurt, I wasn't arrested, but I called my husband from the parking lot, crying until I threw up, and he came to get me. I hated myself and I wanted to die. I'd crossed a line. I was passed out in the car when he got there. Why he still married me I can't even imagine.
That was my last drink, almost five years ago now. I was 24. I like to think I'm not that person anymore, but it's still in me. Phillip Seymour Hoffman's years of sobriety should show us that this monster is still lurking even after years have passed. Once you've identified that monster, though, and you know that it lives in your head, that makes it all the sadder when it starts to take over again. You know what you're doing and you do it anyway. That shame and self-loathing makes people all the more reckless when they start using again, and it's at least a piece of how we lose great performers and people we love. Their secret has devoured them.