It is a sad day and I know a lot of you are mourning Cory Monteith as I am. I only hope that you find your essential self in your art and find the courage to do what it takes to pursue that art with no stops off for that “feel good” high. The high doesn’t last. It turns into something ugly. Nurturing your art and those beautiful things inside last a whole lot longer.
It’s not a new story. A talented kid, successful, loved, but troubled, is found dead of an overdose of something. It didn’t just happen overnight, but it sure seems that way. We find out about it maybe by checking our internet news feed and there it is. We feel shocked and slightly disorientated. We knew this person! He or she was one of us! How could this happen? Where were his friends or family or teachers or mentors? Why didn’t someone close to him or her see it coming or ward it off?
That is a fine attitude, noble even, to think that you can help a friend get off drugs or alcohol or whatever that is eating up your friend’s life. The trouble is, it is not realistic. Yes, you can offer support, advice, even set a good example for him or her, but what you can’t do is to make another person change. You know what I’m going to say, next. You can only be responsible for changing yourself.
So I sit here in front of my computer screen as mad as hell that I had to read about one more talented, beautiful, successful, young person give all that up for one more “feel good” experience. There are so many of you who are talented, gifted even, who have great families and support groups, yet who are heading toward this path of destruction. It could be alcohol. Or drugs. Even food can be addictive and seriously harmful to your plans and ambitions.
I can yell all I want that someone shoulda, coulda watched this young man’s back, but the fact is, he had plenty of people watching his back: people who loved him, cared for him enough to do what they could to help.
But addiction is a very personal thing that starts with an emotional or chemical switch in the brain. It is not something that others can see right away. All we “others” see is the effects once this switch is thrown.
So what can you do for the person? Stay with them, stay on their side. Don’t encourage the addiction. Continue to support and help their attempts to get clean and sober and abstinent. But don’t expect anything to change because of what you do or don’t do. It is not your fault. It is not within your power to make someone to change. Also, it is not your job. Your job is to be a friend, not the All-Powerful Manager of the Universe.
What you can do is much closer to home. Gandhi once said something like, “Be the solution.” He meant, for instance, if you want to bring about world peace, you must learn to be peaceful. So you want to solve addiction? Be the solution. You stay clean and sober and abstinent. You, yourself, for yourself, and for those who need the example.
But right now, I feel very un-Gandhi-like. I am angry. I am madder than hell that some of you kids, who I care very much for even though I never met you. You kids, right now, who have great big fat beautiful dreams that make you happy and excited just to think about them, and are willing to do whatever it takes to see them come true, and yet…. And yet. It could very well be you who I read about next. And that makes me want to cry or want to break something.
The thing is, you just don’t know what will happen after that first drink, or whatever. It will creep up on you. It could accelerate from an occasional drink in a friend’s Man Cave to being the life of the Friday night frat parties. If you are drugging, drinking, or overeating regularly, I got news for you. You are already causing concern among those who love you. It is not just about your life. It is our lives, too. You may already be leaving us, your back-watchers, in despair because whatever we’re doing for you isn’t enough. We are doing everything we can to keep you from that next binge, but your little lizard brain has already figured ways around us and the well-meaning obstacles we have put in your path. With addiction there is an overpowering obsession and that kind of will finds a way to keep the addiction going until it can’t anymore. You hit a wall and one way or another, it stops. Either you get back to the dreams of your real life, or your life just ends. And what do we do then? We’ll get over it? Don’t bet on it.
So I’m turning the spotlight now on you. The only behavior you can effectively control is your own. Yes, many perfectly good kids try out all sorts of stuff and go on to live perfectly fulfilling lives clean, sober, and abstinent. But what about the others who plunge into a life of sheer hell, addicted to something they were sure they would be able to control? The thing is, no matter what your reasons for trying out addictive things, what you don’t know is whether you have this chemical switch that will get turned on and hook you to whatever substance you are tempted to try. By the time this switch has been turned on, it is already too late. We don’t understand completely what chemical things are at work in the body that makes a person dependent on a substance like drugs, alcohol, and even just plain too much food, because something, some chemical switch gets turned on that makes you want more and your rational brain in no longer in control.
So there are forces at work everywhere trying to hook you into something —designer shoes, lattes at Starbucks, The Walking Dead, etc— or substances that once made you feel good but are growing into a malignancy that has thrown you out of the world of the theatre and truth and beauty, and into your own private hell.
The thing is, you never know what will do permanent harm until it becomes almost impossible to shake it off. This is not to say you should go live on a mountain and contemplate your navel all day to stay out of trouble, though that doesn’t sound like a bad idea to me right now. It does mean that you need to take care of that dream you have of your life in the performing arts. That dream doesn’t come to just anyone. You are one of the chosen. Honor that and have the courage to do what it takes to see it happen. Only you can do it. Well-meaning friends, mentors, coaches, therapists, teachers, and parents can help you but you are the one who must want to keep your artistic and very personal light alive. Only you can do it, to keep your dream going, to keep it real.
Be the solution. Hang with people who live the way you admire and will help you turn your art into reality. And watch your own back