Cory Monteith’s death from a drug overdose has resulted in a stew of sadness inside me as I think about the role celebrities play in our society as symbols of things with which we all struggle.
In the case of Mr. Monteith, the struggle was with the health issue of addiction and the knots of emotional pain that underlie it. Mr. Monteith was the latest in a long line of celebrities who have died directly or indirectly as a result of drug and/or alcohol use. Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, Janis Joplin, Marilyn Monroe… just a few celebrated names of those who have preceded him.
In each case, the key elements of the story are the same: a very talented person learns early to rely on something outside themselves to soothe their considerable pain. Just as their talent emerges into full blossom, an error in judgment causes the thing that made life bearable to become the means to the end.
I don’t mean to be callous by depersonalizing the passing of Mr. Monteith. By all accounts, he was a fine person. But if we shift our focus from the details that make the story personal, perhaps there is something here that we can all learn from, and in the learning, create something good from a tremendous, heart-rending loss.
We’re all addicted to something. We all experience pain in our lives and, at least occasionally, seek relief for it outside ourselves. Whether the addiction is to heroin, hockey, Big Macs or jazz, the process that drives us to seek refuge in our “drug” is the same.
Anyone who has experienced grief, depression, trauma or anxiety is intimately acquainted with this process. The pain builds until you can’t stand it any more, so you seek your “soother”. People who have seemingly “healthy” addictions to a sport or a social/charitable cause are, ironically, lauded for something that is in fact a manifestation of illness.
How do we end the cycle of addiction? Perhaps the cures are as numerous and individual as the addicts themselves. A solution may be to shift one’s focus from thoughts/feelings of pain to those of gratitude. However miserable your circumstances might be, there is always something there to inspire gratitude if you have the determination to find it.
I can comment on this from personal experience. A trauma from early in my life led to a 25-year battle with depression. “Counting my blessings” became an essential part of my process of recovery.
There is a wealth of research demonstrating the connection between gratitude and resilience, and resilience and good health. If you are skeptical, read some of the research and see how, year after year, study after study, the connection is affirmed.
Why is this so important? Recovering from an “addiction” depends upon untying the knots of emotional pain. It’s very difficult to change your emotions directly, but relatively easy to change them indirectly by changing your thoughts; you change your thoughts by shifting the focus of your attention.
One device you can use to bring about a change in focus is a gratitude journal. Oprah’s website has an article about it. There are even several websites that will help you to keep one online:
However difficult life becomes, health-damaging attempts to cope are obviously not effective and, as a society, we need to do a better job of connecting people with productive alternatives.