Before the lockdown.
I’m not sure if I’ve been more aware over the last couple of years, or if people are generally being a little bit more honest, but I seem to see more and more celebrities owning up to their struggles with addictions.
Addiction is only made stronger when people feel shame and don’t want or are unable to ask for help. In honesty, like I’ve said before, when talking about normal people rather than celebrities, it always made me feel like I wasn’t alone to read about someone else confronting their demons and moving on. I do feel that the more we talk, and the more open we are that problems like addiction won’t be quite so challenging. That doesn’t mean it is easy to ask for help though, I know I struggled for years, mainly because of the shame I felt and feeling that I had made a huge mistake that was going to affect me for life. Three and a half years on, I don’t feel like that anymore, but it has been a challenging road.
In some ways I think interviews with celebrities add to the honesty and scope of talking about addiction. It helps us to see that it really can affect anyone, regardless of their lifestyle, their income or their success, but I do worry sometimes about their intentions. It is almost too easy to create a ‘comeback’ story to help promote success when in reality their may be little truth to it. In some ways it can glamourise addiction, when in reality, there is nothing glamorous about it.
I suppose the biggest sticking point for me is wondering why many people seem to afford celebrities a lot more encouragement and praise for their success in overcoming an addiction when it is no different to anyone else’s achievement in overcoming their own addiction. I wonder why we put them on a pedestal? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they haven’t achieved something amazing, I just think that those of us that do it quietly behind closed doors, rather than on the front of newspapers are also amazing.
There also seems to be a common theme for all of us who experience an addiction of any kind. It is likely that we use a substance to help us through as a coping strategy, whether it is intentional or not. Most people with addictions appear to have a lot going on, and I know that is a generalisation, but it is just what I have seen when I look at the many cases around us. Whether it is a high pressure career, an illness, a mental health difficulty like anxiety or depression, there always seems to be more to it than first meets the eye. For most people, it just starts with a little relaxation, but at the end it becomes a need.
Doing a little bit of research recently I found that in the 1970’s an American psychologist, Dr Bruce Alexander, carried out an experiment which has become known as ‘Rat Park’. I’m quite anti-animal testing and don’t like the idea of experiments including animals, but these are experiments carried out historically and it’s results are quite interesting. Some rats were given a bare cage with no other company, and a choice of plain water, or water with heroin in it. The same choice of water was given to other rats which had company in the form of other rats and more freedom in their ‘rat park’. The results showed that rats that were happy chose the water, while those that were lacking in their living conditions more often chose the heroin option. Even the ‘happy’ rats that did occasionally did choose the heroin did so sparingly and never overdosed. Isn’t it interesting to think that even rats self-medicate when they aren’t satisfied with life?
So it seems that it doesn’t matter if you are a person or a rat, you can be at risk of addiction from a substance if it affects your outlook in a way that makes you feel you are improving things. I was always afraid of being too honest about my addiction, thinking it would make people look down on me, while those who are famous seem to be able to reveal all and move on, being rewarded for their honesty. Rather than seeing us as different maybe we should be rewarding everyone for their efforts. Celebrities aren’t working any harder at sobriety than the rest of us. Yes, they have voices and platforms where they are able to reach a wider range of people than most of us can, but we should welcome this as a way to be more open and honest for the benefit of everyone. Being honest and upfront is quite possibly one of the best ways to counter addiction and rather than hide in the shadows it allows us to tackle our problems head on. As the Rat Park experiment showed us, rats need community to thrive as do we, and while is is more tricky at the moment, in this lockdown, we have the benefit of social media and technology to stay connected. Let’s take advantage of that.
Take care and stay safe.