This instalment was supposed to be about alcohol abuse following the Panorama episode broadcast on Monday 1st August on BBC1. The programme detailed the growing cost of Britain’s drink obsessed society and told the stories of some of the people effected by alcohol abuse, both directly and indirectly. In short, it was informative and interesting, as well as slightly disturbing but I have decided that this article of intrigue will not be about alcohol abuse, but rather centred around one idea that I found whilst researching the programme on the BBC News website –
“Successful people have learnt the skills they need to identify and overcome the difficulties they meet in life to achieve success and happiness. These poor souls have not had the learning opportunities to develop these skills. Poor development of these skills results in symptoms such as alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders, anti-social and criminal behaviour etc.”
From the moment I read this statement I could feel genuine contempt boiling in my throat. To have the audacity to refer to the people shown in this shockingly real programme as “poor souls” was not only patronising, but ignorant. Then to insinuate that the reason they have found themselves in such a position is because of poor development of social skills is a insult to more than just the individual, but to the people who raised them, sometimes in dire circumstances.
But it was the link that this person made to addiction and success that really enraged me. You would have to be an extremely narrow minded person to assume that simply because of an addiction, success is somehow rendered unascertainable to you. This is complete and utter nonsense. Some of the most successful and highly influential people in literature, music, film and politics have been addicts, with many of them attributing much of their greatest contributions to the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Disclaimer – this article is not meant to show addiction, to drugs or alcohol, or anything else for that matter, in a positive light, more so than to highlight that an addiction is not a reason for failure and that more often than not people who suffer from them, are not unable to succeed in life, with many of them actually using drugs and alcohol as a crutch for their success.
In the world of literature, many of the authors, poets and wordsmiths that our children learn about in school or dedicate their free time to indulging have suffered from alcohol or drug addiction. Stephen King has written over 60 books in 35 years, becoming one of the best selling authors in the world with an estimated wealth of £135 million. I would say he has succeeded in the world of literature. Amazingly so, considering that he struggled with an alcohol addiction for most of his life.
Other notable authors that have struggled with addiction and still to this day remain some of the most successful and studied are – Jack Kerouac who most famously wrote “On the Road” a book that has been read in class rooms throughout the world since it was published in 1957, was immensely addicted to Benzedrine. Hunter S. Thompson, a gonzo journalist who influenced the cult movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” had a famous addiction to hallucinogens and alcohol, the subject of which leads the 1998 film starring Johnny Depp.
Music is a universal language and as such, it speaks to both addict and preacher alike. Johnny Cash is noted as one of the most influential singer/songwriters of the 20thCentury and whose music not only granted him a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also led to inductions in both the Rock and Roll, and Gospel Hall of Fame as well. Cash suffered from an enormous amphetamine and alcohol addiction, that surprisingly went hand in hand with his success. You could say that the more Cash took, the better he got, eventually crashing before making an astounding comeback. Much of Cash’s most noted work was created under the influence of alcohol and amphetamines, work that subsequently made him the legend he is today.
Other influential musicians that have also created some of the most incredible music to date are – Eric Clapton who was in the band Cream and also found success as a solo artist, was a heroin addict for most of his career and has actually been noted as saying that heroin taught him the blues. Kurt Cobain the singer/songwriter from the band Nirvana had a strangling addiction to heroin that influenced the bands unique “grunge” sound and put them at the heart of a movement that had struggled to gain its legs in a world mostly dominated by hip hop and popular music. Frank Sinatra of The Rat Pack and one of the most remembered and remarkable musicians in history was a raging alcoholic.
Film and television has had a part to play in almost everyone’s upbringing, especially of those born in the last fifty years. Kelsey Grammer is one of the most recognisable men in the world for his work spanning two decades on the sitcom Frasier which was subsequently a spin off of the much beloved Cheers. Succeeding in becoming a writer, producer, director and voice actor (Sideshow Bob in The Simpsons) Grammer suffered from an out of control addiction to cocaine for much of his career.
Hollywood is rampant with angry alcoholics and anti-social addicts such as – Anthony Hopkins, one of the best loved actors of the 20th Century, star of Silence of the Lambs and most notable as Hannibal Lector, who has been an alcoholic for most of his life. Samuel L Jackson who has become a cult icon for his roles in Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown had an infamous addiction to crack cocaine. Veronica Lake who is still remembered as one of the most beautiful and talented, as well as one of the first real, actresses in history was also an alcoholic.
Now the arts can be arguably pointless, their talent often succumbing to their addictions but I am going to give you two names now – Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. During WWII these two men effectively controlled the world, with America pitching in every once in a while. Now I am going to tell you that the man that led Britain through one of the most horrendous wars in history, the man who became prime minister not once but twice, and is recognised now as a figure of nationality, patriotism and bravery, Winston Churchill, was an alcoholic.
On the other side of that coin you have Joseph Stalin who led the Soviet Union through the war, became an international figure of leadership and a revolutionary whom, even if you disagree with his ethos, was undoubtedly one of the most successful in history. Stalin had an incredibly addiction to amphetamines. The Second World War, that we are taught about again and again in schools, through television, that we are reminded of every year with paper poppies and told never to forget, was fought and won by an alcoholic and a drug addict.
All of the people mentioned so far have indeed succeeded in spite of their addictions and will be held in high regard in life and idolised in death. My problem with the statement at the beginning of this article is this – there are a thousand paths to success. If you choose the hardworking, nose to the grindstone, controlled and measured path to success you will, as the person who made the statement said, most likely succeed, but to what end? How is success measured and defined?
These people were successful at what they did and still do but more importantly they will not be remembered for their addictions but for their contributions. There is literally nothing standing in any one human beings way of being what they wanted to be and to use an addiction as an excuse or to victimise those who become addicts is intolerable. Addiction is not a disease that can be cured with conventional medicine because it is not a conventional disease.
The reason these people thrived regardless of their addictions was because in order to truly succeed, to be who you want to be and do what you want to do in life, you have to compromise certain parts of your body and your soul. As a result you are left with gaps where normal, functioning, non-addicted, “successful” people have no gaps. Therefore, the successful addict will fill these gaps with their chosen fuel. Some choose alcohol, some choose drugs, some choose sex, violence, fast cars or handbags – but whatever they choose the addiction becomes a part of them.
To say that people who become addicts have been failed somehow by society is a frankly disgusting statement. At some point addicts are going to have to take responsibility for their actions and stop having patronising dullards defending their right to die, content in the knowledge that their addiction is not their fault.
Stephen King’s father walked out when he was a child. Johnny Cash watched his brother die. Kelsey Grammer’s sister was abducted, raped and murdered. Winston Churchill barely knew his parents. Joseph Stalin contracted smallpox when he was seven and was left permanently scarred. I think it would be a fair assumption that none of the aforementioned people were granted “the learning opportunities” to become as successful as they did and many of the issues that each one of these highly successful people faced, in turn, are textbook excuses used by addicts to justify their failures in life.
Addictions debilitate, the wound, they destroy and they kill but what they also do is allow people escapism from situations and circumstances in their lives that they would rather not face alone. If the above people had not have had that outlet, that crutch on reality, the strength that their addictions gave them, then the true nature of their realities would have most likely numbed whatever spark it was that made them so great.
Again, being an addict is not a good thing, its not something anyone should aim to be, but it is most certainly not a valid excuse for not succeeding in life. The truth is that the majority of people with addictions that do fail in life, would most likely fail regardless because they do not have an inherent ability or lust to be anything other than what they are. It doesn’t come down to social opportunities, upbringing, religion, finances or generations – it comes down to people, real individuals, with individual needs and individual goals.
The statement that I opened this topic with is irrevocably ignorant and is clearly written by someone who has little or no understanding of the true nature of addiction, or indeed success. This was not written as a direct attack on said person, more so as an insight to a different point of view that they clearly have not considered.
And that is that addicts are not people to be victimised or referred to as “poor souls” and that we should not feel sorry for them in the slightest, because they are doing exactly what they want to do with their lives, regardless of their health, family strains or life long damages. They live how they want to live, and if they did not, they would stop, as millions of them do every day. The necessity to victimise addicts comes down to the basic fact that most people simply fear what they do not understand.
You will never understand addiction, unless you have been an addict anymore than you will understand laying an egg, unless you have been a chicken.