Heath Ledger

I hesitated to post on him. I felt so badly.
So much talent, so young.

But I kept reading negative things about Mr. Ledger on the Internet. You can't help it, you know. You're surfing around and the celebs get the most press. Even up here.

Bloggers, generally a tolerant lot, chimed in with negativity, anger. Of course we know that's a stage of grieving.
Shame on him! Wasted his life. Everything to live for. Money, women, fame.

And shame on all the people who knew, who didn't do anything. What were THEY thinking, huh?
Caught on video using drugs. They knew. People knew he had a terrible problem.

So I just have to say this. And I know it's grim, and I apologize for the grimness. But you know, my business can be a downer.

We have this expression in addictions treatment. A person has to hit bottom to want to get help. It's not always the case, indeed, one does not have to hit bottom to want to get help. We can learn from the mistakes of others. Most of us prefer our denial, however. It's easier to go with the flow.

And when things get a little out of control, or very out of control, accidents happen, people land in jail, or the hospital. Some people would call landing in jail or a hospital hitting bottom. Some people have to do that more than once, and sometimes it's not bottom.

But hitting bottom chips denial in the best and worst possible way. There's nothing like real, sincere pain to motivate people to change.

Positive reinforcement: I'll give you a thousand dollars to stop drinking/using.

That just won't cut it sometimes. A million dollars, maybe. But not if you make millions. Therapy, too, helps, for sure. But when things go badly, really badly, you start to reconsider your humanity, what you're doing with your life.

Wake up in the park, cold and wet, the rain pouring down on your face. You stop and wonder.

And when you lose your job, even misplace a paycheck, you stop and wonder.

And when your wife walks out on you, you stop and wonder.

Or disappoint your children to the point that they won't talk to you anymore, you stop and wonder.

Or get cirrhosis, cancer, hepatitis, malnutrition, HIV, or another disabling, potentially life-threatening illness, you stop and wonder.

Or kill someone while driving drunk. You stop and wonder.

Or publicly embarrass your family. You stop and wonder.

Or publicly embarrass yourself. You stop and wonder.

If you get the chance, you stop and wonder.



Leora said…
I do a website for someone who does addiction treatment (www.treatmentnj.com)
I'm going to show her your post when she is ready to update her site. Well-spoken.
I think that's the real tragedy. Heath never got the wakeup call. Sometimes I think that wealth and fame insulate people from the consequences of their actions in rather unhelpful ways. If you never realize you spent all of your money on [insert drug of choice] and you don't loose your job because of it, you don't get that wakeup call.
Jack said…
It is easy from the comfort of our homes to judge someone who seemingly had resources that most people do not.
Great post.

It's so easy to judge, isn't it, and so hard to find compassion for human fallibility. I think the perks of fame and privilege are distracting--but this was clearly a man in pain.
Texaco said…
in terms of hitting an effective bottom, our demons are often our best friends. in my own case, being halfway intelligent and persevering kept me believing that I would figure out how to 'control and enjoy' long after it might otherwise have given up. i was lucky to run out of answers before i ran out of days.
therapydoc said…
Tex, is it luck? I want to bottle this variable, the thing that tweaks the denial and moves people along.
Doc's Girl said…
Most addicts are superhero or cats--we've all survived when we the odds were against us and we've had about 8 lives that we used up until the moment we decided to get sober. :)
Anonymous said…
I've not judged Mr. Ledger. Unfortunately the disease of addiction(s) sometimes, probably more often than not, wins.
I was very fortunate that 20 some years ago I got my wake-up call. I can't say I was drinking alcoholically, at least not compared to some, but it certainly was causing me problems. It's been said that AA takes care of the drinking problem, and Al-Anon and CoDa takes care of the rest. I have found this to be true. AA purists insist that "as long as I did not drink today, I've had a great day." Perhaps it is because I did not reach that level of drinking, where I had to have it, that I need more to my life than just being grateful that I did not drink today. This has caused me some problems in the AA recovery community and has made me wonder if AA is the place for me any longer. Have I had slips over the years? Yes I have. Sometimes I wonder if I should start drinking again in order to reach that point of gratitude. But I know I will die if I allow my disease to speak to me in that way. As it says in the Big Book of AA, alcohol is cunning, baffling, powerful. It is a patient disease and it waits.
therapydoc said…
So true. Thanks for that moving testimonial. Addiction's a bear.

I really love how AA anthropomorphizes everything, imbues the ineffable with power.

I heard this one today (or something like it, can't quite remember), Depression can't hit a moving target.

Yes, I blow punchlines when I tell jokes, too.
Anonymous said…
I've been to the bottom, and for me, it was a long way below a hospital or jail...because isn't self-debasement a measure of one person's perception of their own self-worth?

Did I know that I was killing myself? Perhaps in some part of my mind, yes. But on the surface, I was as deluded as everyone else. I think that, for me, it was that I didn't really care. I just wanted the pain to stop. Death has a way of doing that...stopping the pain. And death was "the bottom" for me. If it wasn't for my then-girlfriend, I wouldn't be typing this now. That was many years ago, and was a wake-up call to life. Since then, I have found the source of that pain and worked to eliminate it, to embrace the life I was given. Not everyone is so lucky. We may look at celebrities like Ledger and scoff at the very idea of their "pain." But we can never know. I hope he is pain free now.
therapydoc said…
When I was a kid, and that book came out, The Valley of the Dolls, and I read about Judy Garland's struggle with drugs and alcohol, it was a huge awakening, and such a shock.

People with all that talent, everything to live for, and yet so much turmoil and self-hate.

So yes, that's what it's about, numbing. And the fact that the brain really gets used to a higher standard of living (being high) in that warped way.
Tiffanie said…
Well said, Therapy Doc.
Mark said…
I enjoyed your take on this, well done!
Feminist Gal said…
Great post, i think your sympathy was very much needed and very well stated :) The only thing i'll disagree with is that "hitting rock bottom" just happens... as if it's this utterly random and unpredictable thing that just happens to users. It's not. it has a lot to do with the decisions they make that lead them to where they are.

I'm a big proponent of CBT and i talk with my client everyday about the choices they made and others that should/could have been avoided that lead them to where they are. Also the money that could have been saved and the strategies and techniques they need to learn in order to recognize their decisions, avioding making the wrong ones, and cope with the ones they've already made that lead them to where they are.

Just my $.02... i work in a substance abuse clinic and speak with clients in recovery everyday. Everyone's experience is different, this is just what i've seen.
therapydoc said…
FEMINIST: Worth much more than 2 cents, that's for sure. Thanks!
muse said…
Didn't the movie business make big bucks from his "disorder?" It's a tightrope, nu?
Deb said…
Well said, Therapydoc. Well said.
Syd said…
Thanks for a compassionate look at addiction. It's too bad that there's another lost life regardless of who it is. Sometimes the bottom just wins.
Jack said…
I don't want to belittle his loss, but there is one thing that really bothers me. So many others out there are going to die and we'll never hear about them.

They're not famous and for this reason their tragedies go unremarked upon.
I was shocked to hear about Heaht's death. He's such a fine actor and I never heard of him dabbling with drugs or anything... sigh.

Nonetheles -- Happy V-day doc.