Changing Our Conversation And Mindset Around Addiction

Changing Our Conversation And Mindset Around Addiction

That is one of the greatest fears of those in recovery - "a paralytic mixture of embarrassment and fear." The word "Again?" when you admit that you messed up another time feels like the end of the world.


On February 8, 2014, Emmett Rensin published a piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books titled "The End of Quitting" following the overdose and death of actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Six days prior to the publishing of the article, Hoffman was found dead in his New York apartment with a needle in his arm. A former heroin addict, Hoffman had been in a rehabilitation facility less than a year earlier, and died, like many former addicts, relapsing.

The article opens up with a quote from Dwight D. Eisenhower about his cigarette smoking: "I can't tell you if I'll start back up...But I'll tell you this: I sure as hell ain't quitting again."

It's a common and well-known fact, to anyone who's ever been addicted to anything, that quitting a habit is exponentially more difficult than starting it. After Hoffman passed, "embarrassment seem[ed] to be a major theme. Shame. It's a shame he had to go this way." But Rensin makes sure to follow up this point with a fundamental point: "we should remember that nobody would be more ashamed than Hoffman to see his own body, cold on a bathroom floor."

Rensin made sure, in this article, to note that this article wasn't an obituary about Hoffman's death - but rather a comment on the reaction and national conversation that happened, "about this old story we tell whenever someone dies this way." Himself a former heroin addict, all he can say is "I don't know why Phillip Seymour Hoffman was an addict. I don't know what demons might be to blame, but...I do know that the demons hardly matter."

As to why people start up opioids and heroin, Rensin says that it's not something that's very dramatic for most people, "it's just something to's just the mundane." He follows up this point to comment why people keep doing it after the first time: "Usually, it's just that heroin is the best you'll ever feel, and nobody feels that way once...You use. Then it becomes part of who you are." This is a major reason why the majority of heroin addicts relapse within the first six months of treatment, and most people in Twelve Step programs drop out during the first year. "Sure, meetings help. So does therapy. But those things cannot shake the memory, not really."

For Emmett Rensin himself, he admits vulnerability in still having a moment every season where a part of him just wants to get high, despite being clean for seven years. And he can't particularly put a label or term to what that feeling is: "There aren't words for the stubborn fits of that desire. Compulsion doesn't quite capture it. Addict does, but only in an obvious, unsatisfying way."

Following Hoffman's death, many well-intentioned people, who were never addicts in their lives, expressed a sentiment that we needed to "make sense of what happened [and focus on] what we should 'learn' from this." To Rensin, these well-intentioned outcries were far more frustrating than harsh ones. There is a whole brilliantly written paragraph detailing how ill-fated suggestions warning people not to take heroin because "it's bad for you" and "people will be sad" are.

"As if the thing that stands between an addict and sobriety is the intellectual revelation of the consequences, as if heroin users are operating under the misapprehension that it's good for them...What do these friends imagine? That somebody was about to do heroin for the first time, but a quick check of their Facebook feed prevented it?"

Although he doesn't want to invalidate the feelings of these people, Rensin claims that this mindset "contribute[s] to the very culture that kills men like Phillip Seymour Hoffman,' and only adds to the shame the addicts and former addicts feel. He finds the adage that "addiction is a disease" to be insufficient - what is more accurate is that "addiction is a fundamental trait of personality...Think of it as a nasty temper: you can learn to control the rage, but sometimes you can't help seeing red."

It's important to note that people in the middle of heroin addictions rarely overdose. But those that relapse, however, do. And people who relapse, like Hoffman, know the consequences, know it's not worth it, know that you're supposed to recover one day at a time. Rensin sees this culture negatively, in that it "drives so many - even those who sought help in the past - to die in the shadows. It's just too embarrassing to admit you did it anyway. Again."

Rensin drives the point home that all of us, no matter how well-intentioned, have limits to our empathy. Empathy always has a price, one we're not always willing to pay all the way. Although we love stories of recovery and addiction, "there's a limit to the repetition we'll allow. How many do-overs is too many do-overs?...Is it five? Ten? Twelve? When does that moment come when even those who know better write off a former friend as a screw-up, consigned to a bed of their own making?"

That is one of the greatest fears of those in recovery - "a paralytic mixture of embarrassment and fear." The word "Again?" when you admit that you messed up another time feels like the end of the world. Rensin, himself, five years clean, resorted to snorting painkillers one that fall because he felt it was the "only thing preventing a full relapse." And he, just a regular person, can't imagine what it would have been like to be someone like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, "who knows full well that another stint in rehab would curry a whole world asking why he doesn't know better by now."

Who knows whether things will be different in the future, whether our cure or panacea for addiction is truly coming, whether soon "overcoming heroin will be as simple as beating back strep.". But the main point Rensin wants us to learn is that our national conversation is not helping. Most of us reading this are the loved ones, the spectators, the people whose instincts are to ask "Again?" when people relapse. If we really believed that "addiction is a disease," and wanted to live and stay true to those words, we would follow these closing remarks from Rensin:

"Until then, it's little different from cancer, and you wouldn't tell friends locked in the grip of stage-four death to remember that 'it isn't worth it.' Remission doesn't work like that."

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To My Best Friend Who Taught Me What True Friendship Is, I Can't Thank You Enough

"To the person who will love you endlessly, love her with kindness and understanding."

Dear Best Friend,

You have been a part of my life for quite some time now. You have seen my good, bad, and ugly sides and have stuck by my side through it all. I don't know if I could ever find the words to truly thank you for everything your friendship has given me, but I am definitely going to try.

Our lives have taken some twist and turn these past few years, but we have stayed strong through it all.

Thank you for judging me just the right amount.

Throughout our friendship, I have made some very questionable decisions. A lot of people would say "thanks for never judging me," but I feel like everyone needs a best friend who's going to tell them how it is, to tell them when they are about to make a bad decision or how to avoid something worse from happening. You have always told me how it is (even when I don't always want to hear it), but I know that I can come to you whenever I need someone to set me straight.

You're always down to do nothing with me.

I think that you are the one person that I can call up to hang out and do absolutely nothing with and have a good time. From the nights sitting in and playing card games to ordering Chinese food and watching an entire Netflix series while I dance around with the cat: I know that we could do anything, and nothing together and it would be fun.

But also, you're always down to get lit with me.

I swear one day we will be two old moms at a bar drinking vodka crans and laughing about the stupid shit our husbands and children do. You're always down to go out and have a good time. Even if everyone else we're with is miserable, we find a way to laugh at ourselves.

You are one of the few constant things in my life.

I've lost a lot of friends in my life, but you have stayed by my side through everything. I can't remember the last time we actually fought about anything, but even when we do we can't stay mad at each other for more than a day. I know we will be in each other's lives until we literally keel over.

I want you yo know that you're the strongest person I know.

You've dealt with things that not many people go through ever in their life. You have always been so mature, and you handle everything with grace. You inspire me every day with your goals and successes and I am so proud of you and all of your accomplishments.

Above all else, you deserve the world.

It's so easy to get caught up in your own mind and think that you deserve the things that happen to you, but please know that the only thing you deserve is happiness. Please settle for nothing short of that. It may take a bit to find your happiness, but I will be there every step of the way. You're a remarkable human being, and I want nothing but the best for you.

To the person who will hold your heart someday, please do not break it. To the person who may wrong you, you will regret it forever. To the person who will love you endlessly, love her with kindness and understanding.

You, my best friend, future bridesmaid, godmother of my children, the person to bail me out of jail, the one who lets me cry on their couch for twelve hours,

I love you.

I will cherish our friendship forever. Thank you for being you.

Love always,

Your best friend.

Cover Image Credit: Adriana Ranieri

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Being The Last Friend To Turn 21 Isn't ALL Bad

All your friends have turned 21, but that is okay


You may think being the last one out of your friend group to turn twenty-one is the worst thing in the world, but in all honesty, it doesn't have to be. One of the biggest perks is that everyone of your friends can go out to the bars with you on your birthday. All the people who turn twenty-one first have to wait for people to be able to go out with them, but you get to celebrate your birthday with all of your friends.

Another huge reason you should feel okay with being last to turn twenty-one is thinking about all the money you are saving. The bars are expensive. When you don't go to the bars you are saving so much money because an average bar drink is about seven dollars. This being said seven dollars multiple times a night, multiple nights a week really adds up, so you are going to have to budget your money better.

You don't have to be the one to buy alcohol for everyone else. Having a ton of people ask you to buy them alcohol must get annoying at a point, and if you're the youngest out of your friends, no one will be asking you to do liquor store runs for them because they can all go already for themselves.

The biggest reason is that you can enjoy being young. You should still continue to enjoy going to house parties and just being able to hang out with friends without having to go to the bars. Spend these months before you turn twenty-one just being able to enjoy life without feeling obligated to go out to the bars all the time. You have a great excuse when you don't want to drink on a weekday to just stay in. This being said it will be your turn to turn twenty-one soon.


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