Costly lessons

Costly lessons

How alcohol may have contributed to the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and a DUI proved to be the best thing to happen to a young woman

By Jennifer Hadley 02/26/2014

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I’m seriously bummed that Phillip Seymour Hoffman died. I know it’s been almost a month, and and it wasn’t like we were friends or anything, but he made a ton of good movies, and even when he played unlikable characters he seemed like a likable dude. I have no idea what kind of father he was, but he did have three young kids and my heart aches for them. All the same, until he died I really never gave a lot of thought to Hoffman, which is why it’s so strange that his death resulted in me ending a friendship I’ve had for the better part of a decade.

It all started where everything absurd in life plays out … on Facebook. The aforementioned friend had posted something along the lines of “PSH-stupid junkie. Got what he deserved.” I chose to publicly inform him that his ignorance in regards to addiction was alarming. Egomania on both parts ensued and we “un-friended” one another. I know; it’s grossly immature. Of course, everyone has the right to their own opinion, and, by the same token, I do too. As it happens, my opinion in regard to the millions of people who struggle with substance abuse is rooted in a close friend’s experience that proved incredibly costly in terms of money. But it has proven invaluable to date in preventing one more death due to alcohol or drug abuse. 

Indeed, a few years ago, my friend’s life was frankly in the toilet. Recently divorced, she lost her job and the economy sucked. She’d always been a party girl, but she started drinking aggressively (though commensurate, she says, with what she “thought anyone would do in her position”). She tells me, “Alcohol is legal, so I wasn’t breaking the law, and it’s not like I was hurting anyone.” Then one afternoon, after a few cocktails with a girlfriend she decided to drive the 2.5 miles home to her house. She hit a parked car and was charged with a DUI.  

She explained to me that between bouts of crying hysterically; she tried to make the most of being in jail. “I started talking with a hooker who was in jail with me. She looked at me and said something to the effect that I needed to get my s**t together, because who gets a DUI on a Tuesday afternoon? And furthermore, I better stop crying and better start thanking God that I didn’t kill somebody. And she was absolutely right,” my friend says.

The legal problems were the least of her concern.  “I’d just put countless lives in danger by driving while I was drunk. I could have killed kids. The self-loathing was unbearable. So 

I made a decision to stop drinking. I no longer had the right to because when I did, I made bad decisions. My life sucked, but that didn’t give me the right to put others at risk,” she told me.

She found that quitting drinking was easier said than done. I watched as she stumbled, picked herself back up, put herself in rehab, and asked for help. “Some pretty amazing people helped me, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pay them back,” she said. That was more than three years ago. 

For her, getting a DUI turned out to be the best thing to ever happen. “Do I deserve to be in prison? Perhaps. Did I deserve to die that day because I made a really bad decision? Maybe.  People are entitled to their opinion. But I know no one else deserved to die at my hand,” she says.  

My friend hasn’t had a drink in a really long time.  And she was never an IV drug user, but all the same, many outlets are reporting that Hoffman’s spiral into heroin started seemingly innocuously.  It’s widely reported that after more than 20 years of sobriety, his path to heroin began with a drink, and/or prescription medication.  

My hunch is that Hoffman was a lot like my friend, except for the very obvious fact that her addiction has not cost her life. But she explains that addiction is a lifelong condition, so she’s not necessarily immune from the same fate. 
“There’s no telling what could happen if I decide to drink again. The only thing I can do today is to stay sober, to make sure that I’m not responsible for leaving kids without a parent. And I can tell you my story so you can write about it. Maybe it will help someone else.”  

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