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Saving Tom Sizemore

I don't care who you are—if you're an addict and you relapse, you deserve our compassion, not our judgement.

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By Amy Dresner

02/04/14

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Philip Seymour Hoffman's death from an overdose is heartbreaking. The talented actor had 23 years sober before his relapse in 2012, and now, less than two years later, he is dead. It is a harrowing reminder that you are never out of the woods, and that clean and sober time can give a false sense of safety.

Why then, when people are so rightly saddened and aghast at Hoffman's death, does the public still feel it is okay to gape and gloat over the recent relapse of the actor Tom Sizemore, and the 23-minute “drug den video” sent in anonymously to the National Enquirer? It makes me sick. And not because Tom relapsed but because some spineless asshole got high with him and surreptitiously filmed it on his iPhone. I’ve known Tom for over eight years. We were in treatment together years ago and have been in touch on and off. First of all, let’s cut the sensational crap. That was not a “drug den.” It was the bathroom at his downtown loft. And yes he was sweaty, but he’s always been a sweaty motherfucker. They claim he made some “racist” remarks against Mexicans while high. I can only imagine the stupid ignorant shit I spouted while high. Thank God nobody ever filmed me smoking meth or shooting cocaine and repeated the idiotic things I did and said as a result. 

Why are we still surprised when somebody relapses? It is more the norm than the exception.

We say addiction is a “disease” but we still treat it as people behaving badly. It can’t be both. We must pick a side. Could you ever imagine somebody filming somebody’s relapse into cancer and filming it and selling it? That would be in very poor taste yet we make no bones about gawking at the car crash of somebody’s addiction or mental illness. As somebody who has suffered from both addiction and mental illness, I assure you that there is a point in both when you are no longer driving the car. The conductor is not at the controls of the train anymore. And because both mental illness and addiction are brain disorders/diseases, it affects your thinking. You lose control, perspective and everything is seen through the magnifying lens of your illness. Nobody thinks it’s cool when somebody has Alzheimers or schizophrenia. They don’t laugh and point, clucking, when these people act erratically or violently. Nobody posts videos of people with traumatic brain injuries on YouTube. How is this any different? I eagerly await the day when science catches up and people have medical proof that addiction and mental illness are biochemical. Then you let me know how morality plays into it all. Why are mental illness and addiction the last acceptable prejudices? Do you think anybody in their right mind would choose to give up a career, home, children, etc. for a “hit” of anything?

I’m astonished at the lack of compassion that magazines show for people having a mental breakdown or relapsing. Even the way the media treats Amanda Bynes or the Britney Spears fiasco is inhumane. A “publicity stunt” is one thing but a true nervous breakdown or drug psychosis is another animal completely. Why is shame and judgment still more prevalent than empathy and compassion? Because of the schadenfreude we have for celebrities? But it’s harming us all. Addiction takes no prisoners and doesn’t discriminate. Nobody is immune. 

I applaud Catherine Zeta Jones, Carrie Fisher, Russell Brand, Rob Lowe, Kelly Osbourne… any and all celebrities who have come public with their battles with alcoholism and mental illness. You have the opportunity as a celebrity to bring awareness to an issue, engage debate, educate and reduce stigma. That is more important to me than any “anonymity” clause or fear of discrimination.   

I understand that Tom has made a bit of a career for himself by being the “bad boy.” But nearing 50 with twin sons, a book about sobriety and trying to rebuild what was once a skyrocketing career, I think we can be sure that this was not something he was eager for the public to know about. But thanks to some greedy fuck he mistrusted, now the whole world knows. 

Taking advantage of people when they’re loaded is nothing new. A friend of mine, sober for a decade, told me of a story where a famous singer relapsed and a bunch of program people went to help him get straight. One guy, 20 years clean, was trying to get the singer, who was actively hitting a crack pipe, to sign a contract. While I don’t think this is any different from getting somebody’s senile grandmother to sign over or change her will, I certainly don’t think it’s any less disgusting. Just fuck somebody who’s in a coma while you’re at it. 

Why are we still surprised when somebody relapses? It is more the norm than the exception. Of the 10% of people who have addiction, only 13% seek treatment. And of the people who can get clean for a period of 30-90 days, only about 5% can stay clean for any lengthy period. That percentage jumps significantly if you can get four years under your belt but relapse after long term sobriety is not unknown or unfortunately uncommon. I myself have relapsed after having 7 years and 3.5 years clean.  We need to stop shaming people who relapse. For many it is part of their journey of recovery. You get it when you get it. And just because you are a chronic relapser, that does not mean you are incapable of recovery. It just means you haven’t hit your bottom or you need better tools to prevent relapse. Nobody is hopeless. Everybody can learn to get better. At least that’s what I choose to believe.  

I have faced enormous stigma in my own life for my bipolarity and addiction. Even people close to me with backgrounds in treating mental illness and addiction, have called me “incorrigible”, “crazy”, “junkie”or “sick.” For some people, I don’t seem to be recovering as quickly as they would like. To them, I truly apologize. I am okay with where I am in my journey and that’s all that matters. I have friends and family who constantly remind me how far I have come.

Fuck the haters, Tom. You are a brutal talent. Troubled, yes; but most of the greats are.   

Amy Dresner is a columnist for The Fix. She last wrote about an inappropriate AA memorial.

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