Every time I think I’ve reached the next level, or am at least close, something seems to tug at me. One week it is Christmas; another, my worries and concerns succeed in derailing the progress I’ve made on my journey, pushing me off the train and then cackling as I struggle to catch it again.
Last week, it was Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I actually started writing this post a few days after it happened, but the words wouldn’t come. I tried talking out my thoughts into a recorder, but I’ve never been good at that—I always wind up paying more attention to how I sound than what I’m saying. In my head, I knew where I was going with this. When I tried to put it down, it was jumbled and off track. But despite a week of days since PSH was found in his bathroom, a needle in his arm, I am still drawn to his story, and it’s untimely ending.
This blog is supposed to be about Intention. In the biggest sense, yes, but also on a very personal level, it is supposed to be about MY Intention to live a more conscious and thoughtful life. To be aware of the decisions I make, even when I’m not actively making any at all—especially, then, actually. To stop myself from drifting through days as if tethered to some invisible balloon that keeps me floating around, not making contact with anything meaningful. I am to read chapters and LIVE them, damn it! I’ve done the drifting thing for far too long already.
But the news kept coming about PSH. As I listened to him speak of his demons in an old interview, it occurred to me that perhaps my lesson on Intention for the week was not missing, it was just coming from a different place. Right in front of my eyes, in a story that resonated deeply, was the heart and soul of intention telling me to take notice. I looked at this man, who seemingly had “it all.” A real career doing what he loved, the respect of colleagues and admirers, a woman and kids who loved him. And yet… and yet… he still needed something else. His physical body, his mind, something in him needed the fix, the place to go to where he felt better. What was his Intention? Did he want to die? Had he reached a point somehow, where the love and external markings of success weren’t enough? Or was he simply looking for the temporary high, whatever euphoria or peace came from heroin running through his veins? Was the physical addiction so gripping that it wasn’t a matter of Intention at all anymore, just a response to a physiological need for the drug’s effects?
It’s difficult—maybe impossible— for me to understand, for I am not an addict, like Phil was. I have never felt the urge to “escape” in such a big way. That’s not to say I haven’t had my moments. I was at college all of a week when I went to the hospital after a night of drinking tequila. And like many a dopey freshman before and after me, I had to repeat my mistake before learning the lesson. I remember sitting with the school counselor after the second incident and realizing that she was sure I had a problem (deeper than the one of severe misjudgment). But I knew, without a doubt that while I had issues, addiction wasn’t one of them. I knew this because I had seen addiction and its repercussions up close.
To this day I don’t know exactly when my mother started drinking, but I do know that she stopped for sure on August 27, 1982, 24 days after her 45th birthday, when she died. She drank for 4 years or so, I believe. It could be longer. I was young when it began, and my first memories of knowing something was wrong were realizing that she sleep a lot, at odd times of the day. My memories are spotty about that whole time. I came to understand (or was told?) that she wasn’t just taking a nap, that in fact she was drunk. I became aware of the bottles, and even looked for the hidden ones. And I learned to recognize the vacancy in her eyes when she was awake but not sober, the speech that I couldn’t really understand. She drank throughout those years, as the rest of our family continued on. Bizarre, when I think back, but what else was there to do? Many people tried to help, but in the end, the alcohol took her health and her life.
Or she gave it away. Since that day in 1982, I have probably thought more about my mother than any other single person or thing. I went through the stages of grief—more than once actually, not realizing that it was a timeline and not a circle to be repeated over and over. At various points of my life I hated her, pitied her, empathized with her, and blamed her for my own failings and problems. Last year, I visited her grave on the day when I reached my own 45 years and 24 days mark. Without calling it such, I wondered aloud about her Intention. Had she hoped to die, to put the demons to rest in the most permanent way? Had she been getting better at the end (I never really grasped where she was in her sobriety), as I think I’d been told, or, like Phil, never truly found a way to live without the aid of something to dull the pain? What would make more sense, make me feel better? To think that she was simply too unhappy to be in this world, so drank to escape it, and reached a point where she could not physically stop, or to believe that she chose to not take responsibility and gave into the fears that most of us cope with all our lives?
Free will or destiny?
These people who died—Phil, Mom—were “alone” by choice. They had people who loved them, who begged them to get help. Indeed, they tried to get it. My mother did, and PSH was in rehab at the end of 2013. They knew they were in trouble, and yet, they couldn’t help themselves, they couldn’t beat it. Was it simple weakness? Selfishness? I hear that last word used a lot, but it doesn’t resonate with me; both were well known for their caring, their sensitivity. SO HOW COULD THEY DO WHAT THEY DID? WHAT DID THEY INTEND TO HAPPEN?
Intention or fate?
I haven’t read far into The Power of Intention. But Wayne Dyer does talk about free will, and separates it definitively from Intention, the latter being something more natural while the idea of free will, as generally used, stems from the ego and is unattached to our imagination, from where we get our true ”power” and meaning. I can’t explain it nearly as well as Wayne does, but he uses the example of writing a book not by forcing himself to sit at a desk, but by “thinking from the end”, as if it is already there—it is then manifested, as opposed to being pushed into existence.
Does an addict then, need the ability to see from the other side, to understand a life without the crutch of potentially deadly substances that soften the harsher parts, the depression, the guilt, the anger? And does their physiological makeup—their susceptibility to addiction—make that potentially impossible? Did my Mom stand a chance? Did Phil? Maybe some people beat drug and alcohol abuse the same way that some people beat cancer. And others don’t because, well, they can’t. They just don’t have it in them.
The problem, of course, is that addicts don’t just ruin their own lives—they take prisoners, generally the people who love them most. They do their damage here on Earth and leave scars that last long after they are gone from it. Do they care? Is it fair to say that they should “do it for us”? As much as we humans live in packs and form bonds, we are still born as one distinct being and die the same way. Even as we do for others, we are existing in our own worlds and responding as only we can. Do we owe it to others to find happiness? To stick around even if we cannot bear the effort it takes? In addition to her roles as Mom, wife, daughter, my mother was also Kathy, a woman leading a singular life. Maybe making others happy wasn’t enough. Maybe it wasn’t for Phil, either. Should they not have gotten attached to others, to spare the possible pain later on? If the addiction started later, when they already had families, then what? Sometimes, there’s no way to avoid the brick wall.
I haven’t really answered my Intention question, have I? That worries me a bit, as I’d like to believe that there is something valuable to be learned. Perhaps one lesson is that we are all, ultimately, responsible for our paths, and that seeking motivation and imagination from within is a good starting point for living an intentional life. One message that always comes through with Wayne is gratitude; and even with their painful ends, I am grateful for the two lives I’ve written about here. Grateful for a man who was inspired to create characters for a lifetime, who took his talent and soared with it, and who obviously touched the people around him. And eternally grateful for a woman who, despite her brief time in my life, gave me much, including a commitment to kindness, compassion, and love.
May we all learn to give those three things to all we encounter, and to ourselves, as much and as often as possible.
RIP, you two.