Haunted Victors: Anthony Bourdain and the Inescapability of a Troubled Mind
It was one of the most inspiring recovery stories to date. Anthony Bourdain, celebrated media personality, best selling author, world traveler, and culinary icon accomplished it all after overcoming his battle with heroine addiction. He’d found his way, righted the ship, and the transformation was glorious.
Substance abuse and addiction sweep the nation like a plague. The numbers associated with the heroin epidemic are staggering and monumentally disheartening. Small rural towns, once renowned for their quiet innocence, have become some of the most heated breeding grounds for chemical misuse and dependency. The masses hunger for heroes.
“It’s hard to deny that there is a pattern emerging.”
Throngs of parents feel lost, helpless, hopeless, unable to protect the children they love from the dark gravitational pull of escapism by substance. Every premature obituary elicits another cringe; every grieving parent interview catches in our throats. We crave success stories. We need someone to tell us it will be okay. Someone please tell us there’s a way out.
We can’t blame ourselves for glorifying celebrity addiction recovery stories. They’re the light to which we need to point. If great success can be achieved in the aftermath of addiction, perhaps it can serve as a motivation for those still struggling. For an addict, few things hold the level of appeal they find in their chosen substance, so we cling desperately to the potential suggested by demonstrated recovery period fame and fortune.
We also abandon recognition of the problem for relief of the symptoms. We pretend that celebrities who’ve stopped using drugs and alcohol to battle their inner demons have somehow been exorcised of said demons. If Chester Bennington isn’t drinking anymore, he must be okay, right? The ’80s are over, and Robin Williams isn’t coked out of his gourd anymore; problem solved.
We pretend that the drugs and alcohol created the problem, that they’re not a desperate attempt to escape a less extricable tormentor. We rightfully applaud the hand that puts down the bottle and throws away the needle. But then we turn our backs and walk away, our fickle faith renewed, unwilling to consider that maybe it’s just not that simple.
It’s hard to deny that there is a pattern emerging. Suicidal depression, once considered an affliction restricted for the most part to young adults, keeps claiming the lives, one by one, of famous recovering addicts who we’ve known were troubled all along. Even the victorious glow of their recovery, it seems, isn’t enough to cast out their inner darkness.
Chester Bennington struggled for years with alcohol addiction, but had been making progress in his sobriety. Robin Williams had long sworn off the cocaine and alcohol combinations he consumed in the 1980s. Chris Cornell had been in continuous recovery for more than 10 years before returning to a brief period of substance abuse, according to his wife.
In those three cases, one could claim that fame led to and fueled the substance problems, which then caused the eventual suicides. That couldn’t be the case with Anthony Bourdain, though. Bourdain was a long-time addict for decades before he found fame, and he experienced virtually all of his major success during his recovery period. Anthony Bourdain seemed to have truly overcome his commonplace dance with addiction in the way we wish so many could.
But Anthony Bourdain also took his own life in a hotel room in Paris today. We can still pretend that substances and addiction are the cause and not the result. We can take compromised comfort in the idea that Anthony Bourdain’s problems began and ended with chemical dependencies. We can keep treating avoidance of the bottle and the needle like solutions instead of steps.
Substance abuse is a serious problem that needs urgent attention, but abstinence is not the ultimate answer; it’s an effective band-aid.
We need to confront the uncomfortable truth that addicts are most often not perfectly normal, happy people who made the one-time irreversible mistake of experimenting with a chemical. We need to accept that addicts are often seeking an escape and that there’s something inside of them causing them to seek it in the first place. We need to recognize that encouraging them to simply abandon one means of escape isn’t going to eliminate their compulsion to find another.