Is loneliness a precondition of addiction, a byproduct, or both? In this beautiful essay at The Paris Review, Richard Deming looks at addiction as a “disease of the lonely.”
Phillip Seymour Hoffman?
He filled me in on the details, about how the actor, a man three years older than I, had been found in his apartment bathroom, a syringe hanging from his arm. Hoffman had been to rehab twice in the two years prior, but largely that had been kept quiet. Until that time, his more than twenty years of sobriety were often mentioned in articles and interviews, perhaps especially because Hoffman had a penchant for playing sad, lonely, sometimes desperate, sometimes rageful men, the very people who were drunk or about to go on a weekend bender after years of sobriety. He played those roles from the inside out.
Addiction is a disease of loneliness,” a recovering addict in Vancouver tells the journalist Johann Hari in Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. What isn’t clear is whether he meant that addiction, by its very nature, isolates a person from everyone else, or if loneliness is one of the preconditions for addiction. The loneliness that I had wrestled with since I was a little kid stood at the core of my substance abuse. In my own case, I felt that drinking was a way to stop fighting the loneliness that I could neither solve nor escape, neither outthink nor outrun.
What unnerved me about Hoffman’s death, then, was that I recognized the latent potency of loneliness and how it can continue to develop, even as it is being curbed or kept under wraps. It moves quietly and often exploits the fact that we are slow to recognize it in ourselves. His death was, for me, a catalyst. That’s why I’ve now begun to try to understand loneliness, why I am seeking out its themes and variations. I may not be able to cure it, but I can learn how it thinks; I can figure out what it thinks about, there in the dark.