An Open Letter to Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail

Dear Ms. Wente – 

I read with interest your article published on February 13th with regard to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  I haven’t commented on Mr. Hoffman’s death in this blog because so many of my fellow bloggers have done so rather eloquently and I didn’t feel I had anything to add to this tragic event.  In addition, I didn’t want to make it seem as if his death, because he was a celebrity, was any more tragic than the death of any other addict that passes due to their use of something to excess.

Until now.

See, after I read your article I became…let’s see…what’s the word?  Oh yeah.  Royally pissed off.  Not only am I pissed off, but I feel very sorry for you and your seemingly well spoken husband because Ms. Wente, one day you will likely be touched by addiction (more so than your friend who fell down the stairs and died) and you will know what it is like to suffer from the affects of addiction. You will understand the deep ache that comes with a helplessness matched only by the sorrow in your heart…whether it is because you are the addicted…or because you love the addicted.  When that happens, I hope that you are treated with more compassion and understanding than that which you have given Mr. Hoffman and, by association, his family.

Here’s the deal, I don’t give a rat’s ass what you want to call it.  Perhaps it is a habit.  Maybe it is a disease.  A condition?  A mental illness?  Really…who cares?  Call it whatever you like but I can assure you without a shadow of a doubt in my highly intelligent mind that it is most assuredly NOT a choice.

No one chooses to live this way.  We don’t start out casting aside family and friends, destroying our bodies and minds and slowly killing ourselves.  We don’t start out drinking ourselves into oblivion, night after night.  We don’t start out with a needle in our arm.  Most of us start out just like you.  Most of us have jobs, families that we love and that love us, dreams, goals, hopes and a very clear opinion of what addiction means.

Many are like you, clear in their opinions and firmly seated on the side of ignorance.  Others are like I was, fully aware of the danger due to my family history, but sure that I was not going to let it happen to me.  Most sit somewhere in between…somewhere between ignorance and bliss.  Until they don’t.  Until they wake up one morning and realize that the pain they’ve been trying to escape is still present and no amount of alcohol or drugs or food or sex or gambling is going to fix it.  That they are in the grips of a disease that sat dormant until the day it didn’t.  Until the day they lost control.  Until the day the “thing” took control.

I’m not really sure if I truly believe that my addiction to alcohol is a disease, but I would like to address some of the claims made in your article because, by my calculations, your correlations simply do not add up.

First, I don’t think that anyone really cares whether or not you felt sorry for Mr. Hoffman.  I don’t think anyone really cares what you think at all except that you are blessed to have a public forum to voice your opinions.  But does it really matter whether or not someone dies in a “particularly degrading” way?  Which is more degrading?  Being found in your underwear, surrounded by heroin with a needle in your arm or laying in your own filth in a medicare nursing home at 80 years old with no family to care for you?  Both are degrading to say the least – but I’m guessing you’d feel sorry for the 80 year old.  Why?  Perhaps his choices have resulted in his condition too.  But there is less stigma attached to just being old than there is to addiction.  We’re supposed to feel compassion for the elderly.  Would you have us stigmatize those that are old and poor too?  Perhaps then someone will do something for them?  Sorry…doesn’t add up for me.

You state that no one gets Alzheimer’s because of something they’ve done.  How do you know that?  How do you know that something they’ve chosen to eat, or the fact that they stopped exercising their body and brain, or any number of reason is why they were unfortunate enough to contract Alzheimer’s.  If you found out that was the case, would you feel the same about them?  Would you then suggest we stigmatize them too?

And I vehemently disagree with you about support groups that pledge to avoid heart disease, or diabetes, or asthma.  They are called education and we try harder and harder every day to convince people to eat better, to exercise, to avoid second had smoke.  But people still die every day as a result of these DISEASES.  Why?  Partly genetics and partly because of the CHOICES they make in their lives.  I’m guessing you think all diabetics should just walk away from carbohydrates and sugar and that all overweight individuals should just push away from the table.  I’m sorry, but that also just does not add up. 

While we’re discussing genetics, let’s also talk about the big “C”.  Cancer.  No, changing your behavior won’t get rid of pancreatic cancer but more and more we’re finding that there are genetic markers at work in cancer patients.  That some are predisposed to cancer based on their family history, their geographic propensity, and, dare I say it…their CHOICES.

Guess what?  Research is also finding that addicts are predisposed to their addictive nature as well.  It’s no coincidence that my father and his father and my mother and her father and my sister are all addicts in one form or another.  Yes…I guess I should have known better and perhaps made better CHOICES but before I was old enough to make those good decisions about my life it was too late.  Because as soon as I took my first sip of beer at 16, I was addicted.  

Were all your 16 year old decisions good ones?

Think about it…please.

And finally, Mr. Hoffman did not DECIDE he needed the drugs more than he needed to save himself – of that I am sure.  His addiction took over and before he could gain control again it took him.  I hope to God that his children do not stumble upon your article one day (because everything lives forever on the Internet) and live the rest of their lives believing their father loved heroin more than he loved them.  THAT would surely be the worst tragedy of all.

And THAT would be your choice.

And THAT would be your fault.

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6 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail

  1. I did a little dance of rage nearly every time I read Margaret Wente’s Globe and Mail column until finally, sensibly, I stopped reading her altogether. She generally manages to combine narrow-minded privilege and haughty superiority with some poorly informed opinions. But I think your call for compassion and good sense makes nothing but good sense. We don’t understand so many medical conditions, and we don’t even understand this whole free will/ choice vs compulsion aspect of a whole lot of human behaviour, addictive or otherwise. So yes, well said indeed!

    1. I’ve never read her before but her article popped up in a FaceBook post. I see her as simply inflammatory and writing for shock value. But the more I thought about the pain this could cause his kids…well, that’s what my blog is for – to release the crazy in my head.

  2. Hi Sherry! So, SO glad you are over here on WordPress, I am still not proficient at going back and forth between sites! Now I can read you hot off the press!

    This article is so enraging, I simply can’t believe someone has allowed it to be published. I really, really, REALLY hope that she is able to read your response, because it is brilliant!

    Thanks for writing this, glad to have you in my corner!

  3. Wow.. Excellent. There’s a line in a Jason Isbell song…”there’s one thing that’s real clear to me, no one dies with dignity”. Sad that his family has to endure writers such as Ms. Wente.

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