This week saw the death of Mathew Perry, someone I admired for two reasons: his outspoken stance on his addiction and his acting.
At my age, hardly a day passes without reading of the death of some hero from my childhood or adolescence. Most were from ten to thirty years older than me. That is what makes the death of Perry more poignant: his relatively young age of 54.
I do not want to comment on the cause of his death as the reality is that we will probably never know exactly how he died, and I think that is a good thing. He might have been a public figure, but he and his family and friends are entitled to privacy.
Mathew Perry was much more than an addict; his career as actor, director and producer show his resilience as he made it in the “shark-tank” of Hollywood. I was never a follower of the TV show “Friends”; I watched a few episodes. My children loved it. However, if I saw a film in which he acted I would be more likely to watch it. I knew that I would be in for some belly laughs. His film “The Whole Nine Yards”, known in Spain as “Falsas aparencias” was a piece of perfectly executed farce, black humour and romance, cast perfectly with Bruce Willis, Rosanna Arquette, Michael Clarke Duncan and Amanda Peet.
Mathew said that the moment which changed his relationship with addiction was when a therapist told him that it was not his fault. (Unfortunately, he also told him that it was an incurable progressive disease – which it isn’t). Also, when asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said that he would like to be remembered as a person who helped others.
The truth is that anyone who is addicted, especially to alcohol, bears no guilt for that; it is not your fault. Telling you that you have a progressive chronic disease over which you will never have control, that you will always be in that limbo state of recovery, cannot help. Especially, when, like Perry, you suffer from depression as well.
Alcohol is an addictive drug, the most damaging drug in our society. All you have to do to become dependent/addicted to alcohol is exactly the same as what you have to do to become an addict to any addictive drug; that is to consume it regularly. Now, if you throw into that childhood trauma, massive brainwashing and parasitic ideas about alcohol, the idea (without scientific foundation) that you have an incurable disease, then you are simply throwing petrol onto the bonfire whilst crushing any hope of the person having a “normal” life. Needless and pointless suffering.
A friend recently killed himself after a twelve-step residential treatment for alcohol addiction. He had a predisposition for anxiety and depression (the result of a traumatic childhood), which was made so much worse by alcohol (a depressant). In his treatment, well-meaning but misguided people informed him that he had an incurable disease, a disease for which there is no cure, something from which he would never be free. This only added to his suffering, especially when he imagined the negative impact this had on his family. There is no hope in that message (no truth either, as addiction is not a disease).
If you are reading this and are worried about your own drinking or that of a person close to you, then remember, it is not your fault; you never meant to become an alcohol addict (not an alcoholic… there is no such thing). You were lied to; told that alcohol was fun, sexy, adult fun, largely innocuous. You should not feel guilty about your addiction to alcohol; you are not to blame. However, you are responsible for facing up to and fixing the problem.
Life without alcohol is so much better. There is nothing to fear except fear itself.