Nagivating through Social Media is a lot like dating. If you’re like me (40s, happily single, yet actively out there), you don’t mind venturing into new territory, but have zero patience for bullshit.
So much of what’s out here on the information super highway is coated in a grimy, finger-smudged film of judgment, ignorance and fame-whore-ish-ness; one hand waving opinionated penalty flags, while the other cradles their massively Godzilla-sized balls (born only from existing within the four walls of their 25×25 pixel avatar). Ah, the armour of anonymity.
With so many charmers in cyberspace, it’s all we can do to stay afloat and keep a positive outlook while we ride the choppy waves of Facebook and Twitter. But stay,we do – and it’s because of people like Andrew Slack.
Confession: I’ve never even heard of this dude until a friend posted his words on her Facebook page today. Turns out, he’s one of the good ones. Andrew Slack is co-founder and executive director of HP Alliance, a non-profit organization committed to educating and mobilizing young peeps across the U.S. towards issues of literacy, equality and human rights. And like countless others worldwide – his life, heart and soul are directly impacted by the unmerciful disease of addiction.
When I heard the news of 31 year-old Glee actor Cory Monteith’s death, my heart plummeted into familiar darkness; surrounded by quicksand of hopelessness and despair. Each grainy gravity pull, sucking me under after yet another discovery of human fatality caused by this frightening epidemic.
As I continue to fight my own drug addictions in recovery, my thoughts were all over the map.
Holy shit. So young. He was just in treatment. That could easily be me. Motherfucking FUCK. No.
Like a true recovering narcissist and wanna be ex-co-dependent, I can easily hover in survivor’s guilt – reaching into my own relapse history.
Why him and not me? Why the hell am I still here and not Cory?
And once past the personal connection to such tragic news (of someone whom I’ve never met, but through his work, feel like I have), I land on the vast population of fellow social media peeps. There’s a overwhelmingly loving and empathetic vibe regarding Cory’s overdose, which connects us all in a strange and real way.
But as much love and respect that exists around this tragedy, there is a powerful misunderstanding of what addiction is. One of the most common phrases being, “…but he didn’t even look like a drug addict!”
I’ve kept my own opinions close to the vest, because really, who am I? A fucking 80s coke whore boozer, ex-stripper, blogging narcissist with self-esteem and family dysfunction issues in the bag. Who’d wanna know my take? Turns out, maybe a couple of you reading this now. Thanks to Andrew, my thoughts mirror his own – and I couldn’t say it better myself.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for sharing. Let’s keep educating and loving.
The following is written by Andrew Slack – his original post can be found here.
“So. Cory died from a disease he actively had for the last two decades: the mental illness that is drug addiction. I had a strong feeling that this was the cause of death given his long term struggle with this. The disease of drug addiction happens to be one that has directly effected people in my life who I love the most – and therefore it has effected me. Our culture still views the disease as a moral illness when in fact it is a mental one.
Our culture has a very immature attitude in dealing with complex problems and drug addiction is a very, very complex problem.
Like most mental illness, it is hard for the culture at large to accept it as outside of the person’s control the way we accept Type 1 diabetes as outside of a child’s control. And it is true, that unlike Type 1 diabetes, addicts have some degree of agency. There is hope that they can get out of the disease based on decisions that they ultimately make. Cory made decisions over the course of two decades that showed he was a fighter. Even in March, he voluntarily checked in to rehab. This did not guarantee that he would survive the disease.
And the small window of reality that there was a chance that that person could have survived if only they had done something different. Or the notion that drugs are done by ‘the bad people.’ I want to say this: it is understandable that our culture feels this way. Human blame is an instant reaction to the human condition of suffering. But our culture’s attitude that drug addiction is somehow a moral failing of an individual is more dangerous than drug addiction itself. Drug addiction is a disease that needs serious treatment. But so does our culture’s response to drug addiction, to mental illness in general, and to all disease.
It hits on an even larger issue: the sociology of birth and death. We live in a culture where death is so feared that we would rather keep people miserable, hooked up on to machines in order to preserve the ‘sanctity of life’ rather than the ‘dignity of life.’ The technocratic Muggle Minded culture views death as a defeat. And therefore, any one who dies as having lost. Voldemort felt this way about his mother. Most of us feel this way toward death, on some level and it’s encouraged by our culture at large.
This issue gets magnified when someone is actively injecting poison into their body that will make them die or at the very least cower away from the reality of their feelings.
So let me say this. I only knew Cory through his acting on Glee. I didn’t know him the way other Gleeks know him and I certainly don’t know him the way his friends and family know him. But I still can say this: he was not a loser. He was a winner. And he survived under the condition of a disease that one does not receive accolades or awards for surviving. It is very difficult for any one to understand what an addict goes through – including the addict.
This also hits on other issues around how we allow for grief and mourning and making space for it even when the way we knew that person was through the boundary of a screen. But my hope is that we can have a larger discussion around addiction as well.
And I sincerely hope that if any ignorant and sociologically sick individuals are putting any thing up on the Internet that Cory is to blame for his own death, etc – that the Glee community can stand by and celebrate his strength. In the words of Jonathan Larson, ‘To people living with, living with, living with…not dying from disease.’ And even when we die from disease – and all of us will die, to not view that as somehow ‘not alive’ – but to change our paradigm as to how this works.
This is immensely complicated and difficult. But we must remove blame from those who suffer from mental illness while at the same time allowing them space to find their own agency in the midst of their recovery.
Cory died. His spirit lives. Through the power of music and the power of performance and story – we can tell a different story about addiction and disease than the dominant story we hear in our culture’s muggle minded paradigm. One that celebrates rather than condemns. That loves rather than fears. That empathizes rather than pities.
I’m going to say that last one again: ‘That empathizes rather than pities.’ Please think on that. So many of us would rather pity than empathize. Fix pain rather than be with it.
So much more to say. Including the fact that our entire culture has the mindset of that as an addict and all of us need spiritual recovery from the depletion that we have suffered from.
I cried when my suspicions were confirmed that Cory died from this disease and it hit a very personal chord. This is very, very, very sad. Beyond any thing I can really say in an attempt at eloquent words. The loss is real, palpable, and truly tragic beyond measure.”
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*UPDATE 8/7/13: Based on the comments below, a follow-up to this post has been written: At the end of the day, who’s really full of it? Please read and share. Comments (from any side of the fence) are always welcome.