With the tragic passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman this past week, I was reminded of one of my favourite lines his character delivered in the movie Almost Famous. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we're uncool.”
As a recovering addict myself, I get blindsided by a humble reality check when I see someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman, who appears to have the world at his feet, toss it all away because of the insatiable ravishings of his addiction. I’ve been clean and sober now for almost 17 years, and there is no doubt that my life today is infinitely better than the day I walked into my first 12-step meeting all those years ago. Although I haven’t picked up a drink or a drug in that time, not a day goes by without me thinking about going back out there because my addict mind always tells me: “It will be different this time.”
There have been many things and countless people who have helped me stay sober for all these 24-hour periods, but if I had to identify the most important support in my recovery, I would have to say it’s opening up and sharing with someone else honestly about what I’m feeling. This is why I think Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lines from Almost Famous are so poignant.
I spent most of my life walking around with an illusionary veneer of impenetrability that kept people from getting too close to me, for fear that if you really knew what I was thinking and feeling, you wouldn't want to have anything to do with me. The painful irony is that I desperately wanted to make connections with people, but all the while I was quietly sabotaging that from happening.
In AA, we have an acronym for FEAR--False Evidence Appearing Real. If I dig deeply enough, behind every one of my troubled relationships or anxieties, fear is hiding in the wings and governing my thoughts and actions. The writer Eckhart Tolle calls fear, “the voice in the head. It isn’t who you really are, but the you that you think you are.” Whenever I cloak myself in self-delusion and isolation, fear tends to rise to the surface because instead of recognizing who I really am, I start paying attention to that mindless chatter in my head telling me who I “think I am”.
So, unless I want to find myself succumbing to my addiction, I need to get comfortable with the idea of “sharing with someone else when [I’m] uncool.” I’m not going to lie to you—It never feels “easy” opening up to someone else and letting my “uncool” out into the world. If I start to feel emotionally bankrupt, it typically comes on after I have been isolating myself from others. I begin to feel uncomfortable in my skin, and that voice in the back of my head whispers, “You’re not good enough.” The only antidote to this self-destructive malaise is sitting down and talking to another addict in recovery, and lately, another survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Something magical occurs when we peel back some of that veneer and open our soul to someone else. It’s as if through this connection, a mirror is placed before us, and we get to see what we “really are” rather than what we “tell ourselves we are”.
I do believe that everything happens for a reason, so I need to make some sense out of the loss of such a shining light as Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’ll take it as a personal reality check to shed a little more of my protective veneer and an opportunity to reach out to someone else who desperately seeks a connection.