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Jewish Journal

Phillip Seymour Hoffman—A Disease of Life and Death

by Beit T'shuvah

February 7, 2014 | 11:56 am

By Rabbi Mark Borovitz

The death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman has been widely spoken and written about. Aaron Sorkin wrote a beautiful piece, in my opinion, please read it. Mr. Hoffman's death has once again put addiction in the forefront of everyone's minds and, as Mr. Sorkin related, he would have been pleased by this. While most everyone is trying to find the causes and reasons, I am focused on message and pain.

I can imagine the pain, emotionally and spiritually, that Mr. Hoffman had to have been in to relapse. I am a recovering Alcoholic and live with this pain daily, weekly, monthly, etc. This pain is the existential pain of loneliness, isolation, and spiritual bankruptcy. It is a real pain that exists in everyone. It is the pain of being human. While I certainly can't speak directly for Mr. Hoffman, I speak from personal and professional experience.

The challenge for everyone is to find a healthy way to deal with this pain. On good days, I do this well. On bad days, I deal with it through frustration, anger, hopelessness and I project this onto others.  This is not okay. Dealing with this pain is a daily challenge for everyone and for addicts, it is life and death.

I have read much about addiction as a brain disease. This is true, to a point. The brain of an addict reacts to the chemical makeup of all types of drugs and alcohol differently than the brain of a non-addict. Yet, no pill will make the emotional and spiritual pain subside. Not every addict/alcoholic needs medication and some do! The medication is not, in my opinion, a substitute for opiates, etc. The medication, if and when needed, has to be for any underlying psychiatric/psychological disorders.

What every addict (and non-addict in my opinion) needs is emotional and spiritual help as well as tools to deal with the underlying pain of loneliness, isolation, hopelessness and believing that they are not good enough—no matter how many outside validations of their worth they get!

Mr. Hoffman's death, like the deaths of so many others each day, is a call to action for all of us. We need to educate Doctors, Pharmacists, Nurses, Social Workers, Therapists and Clergy as first responders to the epidemic of addiction. Everyone from parents and children to siblings and friends, need to be engaged in seeing early warning signs of addiction, doing early interventions, and helping people deal with the above mentioned pain.

This is not about willpower, this is not about weakness; this disease is about pain and awareness. The solution lies in a multi-disciplinary approach. Just as there are no two human beings who are exactly alike, there is no one response to addiction. All of us, addicts and non-addicts need to be involved in Redemption. Redeeming ourselves and helping others with their redemption will, hopefully, eliminate a vast majority of untimely deaths like Mr. Hoffman's and so many others.

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