The news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death is tragic. It is tragic when someone so talented and erudite is swallowed whole by a disease over which they simply have no control. Addiction is a disease. No it doesn’t have the same face of a physical, fatal and debilitating disease like cancer or diabetes or heart disease. But it is still very much a disease. A disease of the mind. It seems incongruous to me that people will never BLAME someone for getting cancer as that seems more random and out of one’s control- but when it comes to mental illness and addiction- which is a mental illness- the person who suffers with it is vilified and their arduous journey through it is full of condemnation. Of course living with a person who has a mental illness, who has an addiction, is akin to living with someone who has a chronic and debilitating physical illness- despite the fact that many in society refuse to see it as the same.
Much like a spouse has no control over how cancer can ravage their partner- a spouse has no control over their partners’ mental illness and addiction and therefore no control over just what lengths the person they love will go to when it comes to existing with this illness. And while there seems to be more compassion for a partner who is caring for and living with a person who has heart disease, that same compassion is not extended to a partner who is living with an addict.
Unless you have walked in the shoes of a partner who is dealing day in and day out with a spouse/lover who is entrenched in the deep recesses of mental illness you truly cannot judge their actions. And Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s partner has come under scrutiny for her actions- namely that she kicked him out of the house they shared with their three young children. Those faceless, nameless internet commenters are saying things like by kicking him out when he was at his lowest point- that led him down a binge-like suicide drug fueled spiral. That had she not kicked him out when he was at such a low point- perhaps with her love he could have overcome his demons. That leaving him to his own devices was the worst thing for him, and she is at fault for his death. Nothing could be further from the truth.
None of us is in a position to judge her. Perhaps she begged him to go to rehab and he refused. Perhaps she begged him to see a psychiatrist to manage his demons rather than self medicate and he refused. Perhaps he was unwilling to treat his illness and sought drugs to mask his pain. None of us can judge how a spouse deals with another who is an addict. Just as none of us would judge how a spouse deals with a partner who has a fatal disease. Would we fault a spouse for putting a partner in a long term care facility? Would we judge a spouse for deciding to leave a marriage when an illness is too much to bear?