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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

07-26-18 | By

When Celebrities Relapse: How We React and How We Cope

Anthony Bourdain. Robert Downey Jr. Whitney Houston. Demi Lovato. You know these names, you hear when celebrities relapse, and you know their stories (thanks intrusive media!), and maybe you know first hand the struggle of addiction.

When Celebrities Relapse

Overdoses and deaths as a result of addiction remind us that money and power don’t secure happiness, and our sobriety isn’t guaranteed. For some people, it reminds us of the friends and family we’ve lost to addiction. It reminds us of the psych ward, our rock bottom, our own attempts at suicide, our own ODs. I was tempted to stay off the internet when I heard about Demi Lovato’s overdose, and especially when celebrities relapse. For one, I’m a singer, and her sobriety shone like a lighthouse for me when I found myself in the darkest place I’ve ever been. I don’t know her and I never will, but her music and her recovery have been an integral part of mine. So, yes, hearing about her relapse had me feeling some feelings. I biked my butt to a meditation meeting and sat among 20+ recovering addicts searching for some sense of peace. I reached out to other addicts. I listened to Demi’s records, thought about my friends I’ve lost to alcohol, heroin, depression etc., and maybe cried on my bike, who knows!

And yet, I know that relapse is a part of many addicts’ stories. I’ve relapsed on self-harm and bulimia, and I’ve certainly come close to relapsing on drugs and alcohol, because this disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful. My addiction whispers, seductively, that I can use casually. I can control my drinking and using. I will feel better if my throat is warm from a whiskey, neat, of course. I’ve opened bottles of liquor just to inhale deeply and remember what it tastes like. I’ve rolled joints for my friends just to remember the feeling of driving around for hours, high, higher, drunk, napping in my car. I might relapse one day. I can’t imagine doing it publicly, rumors swirling, fake sympathy plastered on my twitter, people mocking me for having a disease I didn’t ask for.

When Celebrities Relapse – The Media’s Response

I need to point out the irresponsible actions of the media in response to Demi Lovato’s very recent relapse on opiates.The media bites into the drama and rips it to shreds, mutilating it and sharing it with the world. It was reported that Lovato was found unconscious and was revived with Narcan, a medication used to revive people who have overdosed on opiates. The media, without investigating further or checking sources, immediately reported this incident as a heroin overdose, presumably because heroin sounds more dramatic than an overdose on painkillers or sedatives. The idea that NOBODY knew Narcan doesn’t only used to treat a heroin overdose, or, that they knew and still chose to publish the most dramatic headline, makes me sick. As I watched the headlines change from “apparent heroin overdose,” to “apparent drug overdose,” I laughed to myself. Would they have thought to amend their words if a source close to Lovato urged them to stop spreading false information? And, after they discovered their wrongs, did anyone reach out to an addict (or use Google) and ask for information on the realities of addiction, relapse, and Narcan? I don’t know.

What The Headlines Are Saying

A mere 24 hours after Demi’s relapse, multiple news outlets have reported outlandish headlines. Some of them are as follows:

  • Indiana Times published an article titled: “In The Wake Of Demi Lovato’s Tragic Relapse, Here Are 11 Celebs Who Have Battled Drug Addiction”
  • People Magazine published a piece titled: “Demi Lovato’s Mom Details Her ‘Heartbreaking’ Addiction Battle, From Relapses to ‘the ultimate breaking point.”
  • TMZ, the mother of all media-vampires reported, “audio of the emergency call obtained by TMZ revealed the pop star was unconscious upon the arrival of EMS personnel and revived with Narcan, an emergency medication used to reverse the effects of a narcotic overdose. TMZ reports the overdose is heroin related.” (read: We think it’s heroin so that’s what we’re going to report).
  • Pagesix.com is now reporting that a nurse has claimed Demi may have consumed meth before her overdose. Again, nothing has been confirmed. Is a drug overdose not dramatic enough for you, Pagesix.com? Do you need to speculate about exactly which drug(s) it was? Do you care about Demi’s well-being or do you care about clicks to your website?

How about: “In The Wake Of Demi Lovato’s Relapse, A Common Part Of An Addict’s Recovery, Here’s How You Can Help The Addict(s) In Your Life.”

Clearly, I’m also a writer, and I know the value in publishing relevant articles in response to things happening in the media and pop culture. That being said, I believe journalists and humble writers like myself have a duty to use our platforms to share FACTS, empower readers and spread hope. I reject the headlines that read “Tragic Relapse,” “Addiction Horror,” “Inside [name’s] Suicide Note.” No. You do not get to write our narratives. You do not get to label our experience “Tragic,” “Horrifying,” and “Heartbreaking.”  My experience has been painful, hopeful, exhilarating, dangerous, and life-changing…but I get to decide that. I lived it.

Celebrities Are No Different Than The Rest

What a public relapse, OD, or drug-related suicide can teach us is that a celebrity is no different, and deserves no more support or love than the homeless addict you pass on the street, the family member you’ve decided is simply irresponsible, or the belligerent stranger on the train. You support all addicts or you support none. Demi Lovato, Kurt Cobain, the other “famous addicts” we love to read about, are not special. They are human, they are fallible, they contain multitudes. Celebrities relapse, and they are just like us.

Making A Difference

If you are sober, pick up the phone. Be of service. Get to a meeting if that’s your jam. Talk to other addicts. Be gentle with yourself, my goodness. Filter the posts on your Facebook if all the articles about Demi Lovato is triggering (how to do that).  And, if you are in a place to do so, share your story. I promise it will help someone.

If you are not sober, there’s a good chance you love someone who is. There are things you can do. Here are some helpful tips on being a sober ally. You can post on social media about how “tragic” a celebrity’s drug addiction is, but what are you doing to help the addicts in your life?

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you can call Sober Nation’s Helpline at 1-866-137-1301. 24/7. Anonymous. Important.

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