7 Lessons Being 40 Taught Me So Far

“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”

– Lucille Ball –

I never gave growing older a second thought, not until I turned 40. It’s been nearly 7 months since my 40th birthday and if there is one thing that holds true about reaching middle-age (a term I passionately resist), then it is this: Everything changes… even aspects of your life that you thought were a constant.

Apart from a momentary age-related anxiety attack and minor physical inconveniences — I passed my first kidney stones a few weeks ago (if there is a hell that must be it!), my right shoulder has a crick it didn’t have before and I now permanently wear glasses — so far my Naughty Forties have been a pleasantly revealing experience…

It’s like all the pieces of a delicate watch have been spread out on the floor for the best part of 30 years and now, by some greater mystical command, all those tiny nuts, bolt and wheels are slowly coming together. The process is not painless or without discomfort, but at least it feels like all those ‘character-forming experiences’ of the past 3 decades is beginning to pay off.

Don’t get me wrong, Life isn’t perfect all of a sudden. Far from it. However, embracing the fact that it never will be perfect makes it so much easier to accept all its glorious imperfections.

Here’s my observations of my journey into my 40s so far:

1. Being Miss Congeniality is simply too much effort:

During my 20s and most definitely in my 30s, I bonded ‘deeply’ with anyone who remotely had similar-looking tattoos and almost shared the same taste in music as me, and I went through great lengths to nurture these superficial relationships.

This dance for acceptance exhausted me and it led me… well, down roads less travelled of which some are best forgotten. (Like the time I got mixed up with a bunch of past-life regression junkies and ended up making offerings of chopped liver to a gypsy spirit, under a willow tree  — a story for another day.)

By the time I reached 39, I’ve tried and tested quite a lot of what Life has to offer: cigarettes, hot yoga, prescription sleep aids, recreational drugs, at-home hair colour, eyebrow threading, energy bars, acupuncture, sparkling water, tap water, Hair Metal, Celine Dion, cruise ship holidays, face masks, quinoa, hummus, chai tea, minimalism, beige, organic food, raw milk, Rodeo, body piercings, open relationships, monogamy, abstinence, bankruptcy, Christianity, Buddhism, anger management, grapefruit diets, fasting and Botox… to mention but a few.

So, it’s with relief that I now can comfortably say: “I know how I like my steak and how I drink my coffee.” 

In other words, I recognise when I am among my tribe.

We won’t be compatible with everyone we meet and we won’t always be ‘liked’ by everyone. It’s not worth the effort to try and fit in everywhere… and that’s okay.

2. Hitching a short ride:

That girl, the one who worked behind the bar of a restaurant and who ‘loved’ me ‘f-o-r-E-V-E-R’ because I promised to sell her my Vespa at a bargain price…

Well, she took the Vespa without paying for it, moved to Australia, got married, had a baby… and we’ll probably never speak to each other again.

And that’s fine.

She’s one of many who briefly came into my life and quickly left through the backdoor.

This and other similar experiences have taught me to recognise the people who are only hitching a short ride around the block and those who will stay by my side for the entire journey.

True friendships — the enduring ones — don’t cost much. They don’t come with a price tag, yardstick or a measuring jug…

3. Those sex rumours? They really are totally true…

My 20s and 30s was a cacophony of delicious experiences — apart from two very awkward years, which my friends promised to never speak about… Ever! (Think chopped liver, gypsy spirit, willow tree… another day, another time.)

Even though the first two decades of my adulthood were a lot of ‘fun’, once I turned 40 the way I express my sexuality has moved to a whole new level. The mechanics of sex (my body, mind and all the bits in between) finally clicked. I’m comfortable with the ‘messiness’ of sex. I trust my instincts more, I enjoy (and appreciate) my body for the first time and, best of all, I no longer feel the need to justify (or explain) my sexual proclivities.

My thinking is: Everybody has something that makes them a bit kinky — for some it’s a jug of whipped cream and a feather, for others it’s handcuffs and an eager audience.

If you can’t accept your desires by the time you’re 40, when will you ever?

4. You’re not necessarily wrong, but I’m always right:

I used to allow people to tell me how I am ‘supposed’ to feel. And I often believed it when I was told that my emotional experiences were ‘wrong’.

Talk about verfremdungseffekt.

Disaster.

I now know that my feelings are real (I have every right to feel what I feel) and my instincts are there for a good reason (it is okay to trust my gut). I don’t have to be perfectly pleasing all the time (this took me a while to grasp). However, it’s also my responsibility to own how I react to people and situations… and better still, I can change the way I feel, especially when my emotions aren’t serving me well.

You (and only you) are the master of your emotions.

5. How do you write your story:

We all have a little voice in our heads that gives a constant running commentary on EVERYTHING. Pay careful attention to it and you’ll find that this narrative is cynical, negative, judgemental, self-defeating, inconsistent (untrustworthy) and pretty much downright nasty — certainly not a friend!

Once I began to monitor this narrative inside my head — the stuff I say about myself to myself — and replaced the negatives of that ‘inner’ conversation with supportive and realistic affirmations, my relationship with myself improved radically, which had a ripple effect to all my personal relationships.

For the sake of how we show ourselves to the world, it’s much healthier to tame the psychological warfare inside our heads. However, for the sake of living with integrity, it’s equally important to ‘fact-check’ the so-called ‘truths’ we hold onto.

There’s no greater fool than the one who pulls wool over his own eyes… and sometimes it is difficult to be honest with ourselves about the ‘good’ and ‘not so good’ we carry within ourselves.

6. Nobody wins. Nobody loses:

Shortly after I turned 40, I went a bit bonkers — like a frantic bees trying to escape through a closed window.

I was wrapped up in a debilitating fear of not having ‘enough time left’, that I’ve passed my sell-by date, wasted the best years of my life on useless people and achieved nothing. (See psychological warfare.)

This mild hysteria gave me night sweats, panic attacks and anxiety tremors (not a good look on an early-morning commuter train… or on a treadmill). Eventually, on the brink of a mental breakdown, I expressed my concerns in a conversation with my stepmom (a woman whose empathy skills are slightly underdeveloped, but her heart is in a good place). This is what she said:

“You cannot resist Time. You are getting older. That’s all there is to it. If you fight it, you WILL lose. Rather work with it and enjoy what lies ahead. It will be a lot easier and in the end, you’ll see it is not at all as bad as you thought.”

Coming from a 70-year-old woman who still travels across the globe every year and who doesn’t wear a single wrinkle on her face, I took her words to heart and decided to chill the hell out…

When panic strikes, taking deep breaths. Distressing as it first may seem, the only certainty we have is that our time here on earth eventually runs out. It’s part of the deal… and there is nothing we can do about it.

Ultimately, we have a choice: Be a spectator or be a participant.

Either way, in the end when the clock stops, nobody is a winner… And that’s okay.

7. Getting down with the gods and goddesses:

I don’t care what your religious convictions are (mine aren’t great and this is not about religion anyway). There’s no denying the fact that we all carry a Divine Spark within us — the part inside us that makes us awesome, unique and resilient. It’s the Light of our Souls that attracts and creates every experience and relationship (good and bad) that we need during our lives to help us grow and to make our time on earth a worthwhile journey.

Giving myself permission (on a daily basis) to embrace and nurture my inner Light (or superhero, genius, god, goddess, artist, healer, creator… whatever you want to call it), is the best thing I have done to keep my sanity and attract ‘the right people’.

We cannot forever deny or hide who we are… the good and the not so good… eventually, through all the cracks and beautiful imperfections, our Light will shine through… and a little tiny bit of it might even cast a shadow.

Like RuPaul always says to his drag queen prodigies: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

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A Year of Less… And A Year Of More

8

“ ‘Ask and you shall receive’ is the rule, but you must learn how to ask and how to receive.”

― Gary Zukav ―

It’s taken me a while to eventually sit down and write this post, because it’s taken me quite some time to gather my thoughts as I (still) reflect on 2014 and to formulate my expectations for 2015.

In many ways, for me, the New Year of 2014 only began on Monday 3 March 2014.

I had been feeling lethargic, severely fatigued, unfocused and depressed since the end of November 2013. Thinking that it was simply a relentless bout of the winter flu, I eventually took 2 days off work to rest and recover. Starting the Wednesday evening, I slept straight through until the Sunday (2 March 2014).

On Sunday, I was a bit more energised and decided to meet a friend to catch a film. However, I soon felt worse for wear and thinking that a migraine attack was looming, I went home immediately after the film ended. By the time I got home I had lost all movement on the left side of my face. I couldn’t speak, had no sense of touch, smell or taste, and couldn’t hear or see anything on the left side of my face. I was rushed to the hospital as the paramedics were convinced I had a stroke.

After 19 dreadful hours in hospital the doctors finally confirmed that I had Ramsay Hunt Syndrome — a viral infection in the facial nerve (not Bell’s Palsy!). However, the loss of my sight, hearing, smell and taste led them to believe that the virus had spread to my brain and infected the Parietal lobe — the part of the brain that controls the five senses.

The doctors predicted a 6-18 month recovery period but had little hope for me to fully regain facial function. I was sent home with no action-or treatment plan other than a potent dosage of steroids and antiviral drugs.

I always joke and say: Vanity is my favourite sin.

This is true. What is also true, is the fact that vanity often cloaks deep-rooted self-loathing.

When I returned home that Monday evening (3 March 2014) and I saw myself in the mirror — facing the reality of possibly having to live without the use of one eye and not being able to speak, hear or smell properly — I wept.

I wept, not because I felt sorry for myself, but because what I saw in the mirror, for me, was a manifestation of  years of self-abuse. All the nasty things I said to myself on a daily basis, echoed in my head: I am unattractive, fat, have too thin lips and a slightly long neck. I am not muscular enough, have a door-knob nose and receding hairline… And I went deeper than: I’m a failure. I’m unlovable. I have no talent. I’m not good enough and have nothing to offer. I am stupid… blah, blah, blah. Day-in and day-out.

Once I stopped crying, I said to myself: I’m sorry. I REALLY am sorry for treating you like this and for not loving you and for not giving you what you deserve — the Grace to be human. That will never happen again. Never. And now I will fix this.

The next day, I started a regime of facial exercises for 15 minutes in the morning and evening, a diet of brain food (containing particular high quantities of fresh and organic beetroot, salmon, carrots, broccoli and quail eggs), supplementing with digestive enzymes and super dosages of iron and vitamin C, acupuncture, meditation, relaxation and journaling. It took a lot of patience, humility, persistence and love but 6 weeks later, I had regained the full function of my face: I could smile again without looking like Beetlejuice. My left eye closed on its own, without involuntarily popping open seconds later — enter The Bride Chucky. I tasted my food again and was able to chew without shredding the inside of my left cheek — very important for someone who loves his food. Spring was in the air and I was absolutely elated to be able smell Mother Nature everywhere as she turned her colours out.

Of course, it doesn’t take a mere 6 weeks to undo the damage of a lifetime of self-harm. But in those 6 weeks a foundation was laid. One that I still frequently use to assess and improve the relationship I have with myself and my body, as well as my relationship with others and my environment.

During the rest of 2014, I continued cleaning up my act, all in preparation for my 40th birthday. I let go of negative, draining, one-sided and destructive relationships as well as dubious business partnerships that didn’t respect or value my skills, experience and creativity.

I also successfully quit smoking (the easiest ‘difficult thing’ I have ever done) and stayed on track (with a newfound fondness) with my diet, fitness and meditation regime. In part, I believe the positive steps I took contributed to other amazing blessings manifesting in more areas of my life — flourishing creativity, unexpected gifts and financial reward, traveling to some of my bucket-list destinations, old friends reconnecting with me and receiving undeserved loyalty, encouragement and support.

My mantra for 2014 became this: When I turn 40, I am going to pass through a threshold. What stays on the other side, behind me, will be done with. The door will be closed and I will begin afresh.

That was my focus, my preparation and my mission. By all intents and purposes, I was going up the proverbial hill at a steady and strong pace. I was motivated, positive and most of all, ready to embrace the future.

Two days before my 40th birthday one of my best friends of 17 years, committed suicide. When I heard the news, it felt like someone had hit me with full force in the face with the flat-side of a shovel. I have never felt such an instant, terrifying amount of pain ripping through my entire being. My body went into lockdown. It was physical. It was emotional. It was spiritual.

My stomach still turns when I think about my friend. My heart still breaks. Sometimes it terrifies me, because I know that there once was a time when my own thoughts easily could’ve driven me to the same fate. It saddens me deeply that my friend lost the struggle against himself. I wish on nobody to ever stand alone in such a despairing place.

In his book, Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav says that sometimes it takes an intervention — a massive trauma or deeply moving experience — to reconnect a person with his or her core. 2014 has left me in awe — humbled and inspired. I consider it one of the most profound physical and spiritual interventions of my life. I’ve learned a lot and would like to share some of my lessons with you:

1. We do not attract what we want. We attract who we are.

2. It’s okay to put yourself first. There is a difference between being selfish (acting with self-love) and being self-centred (acting with little or no regard for the feelings and well-being of others).

3. The human body is a powerful and magnificent instrument. It can teach you a lot about yourself. Respect it. Learn to listen it.

4. Your thoughts (and inner dialogue) can be your greatest asset as much as it can be your worst enemy. Everything begins with YOU.

5. Do business with people who either match your skills, experience and expertise or those who compliment what you bring to the table. Don’t lower yourself.

6. True friends don’t tease with empty promises of “doing lunch sometime” and they don’t need cheap flattery to win your favour. Instead, their actions (more than their words) almost always confirms their love, loyalty and support. There is a big difference between people who only know you when they need or want something from you, and those who want to know and be with you simply because you are you.

7. Life is not fair. Life is not always kind. However, Life is always what you make of it.

8. Love. But love the things that nourish you and the people who love you back. You are worth it.

9. Find some silence for a few minutes every day, in a place where you can hear only your thoughts.

10. Once you have found your silence, pray. What else is prayer but a conversation with yourself that connects you with the part of you that yearns, and hopes, and delights, and hungers? When you pray, talk about what you have done and what you have failed to do; who you are and who you aspire to be. Talk about the people you love and the ones you dislike. Talk about the things that matter to you… Who knows, if you are lucky, God might listen… and who knows, perhaps He (or She) will lend you a hand.

However, even if you don’t believe that anyone is listening when you pray, at least you are listening. Everything begins with YOU. Pray.

As for 2015, I can’t express my wishes any better than what my sister has already done in an email that she sent on New Year’s Eve:

“Dearest family & friends,

As the year draws to a close I started to think about all the things I didn’t do this year, and immediately started to make resolutions for the New Year in an attempt to make amends for the unresolved issues of 2014.

But then I had a new thought, a thought that started with my message to our family on Christmas Day. It is based on an old Jewish proverb that says we will have to give account on Judgement Day of every good thing that we refused to enjoy when we might have done so. What an interesting and sobering thought… and I will probably have to give account for quite a few of those in 2014.

Therefore my thinking is this: God created each of us in a unique way with a unique purpose and I firmly believe He wants us to enjoy ourselves, our families and our journey through life not in a mediocre way; but to live life to the full with true joy in his creation & blessings!

When I then think about the things I haven’t done, I am inclined to be less critical of myself & others and to celebrate the past year; thankful for all the blessings we’ve received, all the wonderful moments of laughter with my kids and husband and the amazing grace I have experienced in 2014.

Therefore, I want to embrace 2015 with both arms and the only resolutions I have is to make the most of every opportunity given to me, to enjoy this great life I have with the people I love and to help bring joy to those around me.

For all you wonderful people, I pray that 2015 will be a year filled with true joy, love that is unconditional, grace for yourself & others and lots of laughter!

May you all be blessed with good health & success in whatever it is you decide to take on this year!

Here is to 2015 & a joyful new chapter!”

Happy New Year.


Credits.
Images: FR Lubbe For Little Red Shoes
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes
Letter: Carolien Andrews


A Letter To A Friend Who Committed Suicide

11

“We will see where all of this will end…”

~ Jaco Marais ~

I’m  looking at the full moon gleaming in the sky and I see the Guy Fawkes fireworks exploding outside my window and there’s absolutely no reason to celebrate anything.

Instead, I want the whole world to come to a standstill in the same way that my little universe came to a screeching halt today. I want someone to sit with me in this pain because I do not know what to do with it on my own.

I am not angry with you – how can I be, you were my best friend – but what the fuck dude?

Somehow I sense you all around me… like you’ve not left this earth yet. So I’m writing this letter to you because I need to get some stuff off my chest. (Note: I might swear a lot, because my emotions are rather primal at this stage of my grieving.)

The past few weeks I’ve had an absolute blast preparing for my 40th birthday… You know this, because we talk about everything and I’ve kept you posted on ALL the details. As always, you have been my second opinion and my voice of reason. It’s how we’ve been operating for the best part of the past 18 years: We kept each other in the loop. I trusted you with everything and you trusted me back, right?

On Monday I told you that I’ll be celebrating my birthday in Paris this coming weekend. I told you about the apartment I rented and the lunch on Saturday that will be prepared by a Chef who knows everything about food intolerences. We laughed because lately we both bloat like blowfish at the mere thought of eating cake… “Forty is a fucker” you said. I told you I’m planning to change all that… Then I said that I’ll go to Shakespeare and Company, Jeanette Winterson’s favourite bookshop in Paris, especially for you because you couldn’t make the celebrations this year… You love Jeanette Winterson.

I also told you that I’ll send you a photo of me standing at the exact spot (Jim Morrison’s grave) in Pere La Chaise cemetery, which is where I want you to scatter my ashes if I end up dying before you… because we made a promise that we’ll be there for each other right ‘till the end, remember?

Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you think if ever there was a cue for you to open your mouth and spit it out, that was it… Jeanette Winterson. Death. Ashes. Cemetery.

No?

Instead, you kept quiet…

On Monday, you told me that you wanted something ‘new’ to happen in your life. Here I was, thinking maybe you’ll dye your beard black, or you’ll move to another city… get a tattoo of Angelina Jolie on your hairy bum… explore taxidermy or some kind of other hobby equally macabre and fabulous.

Little did I know you had suicide in mind.

You have always been such a Drama Queen!

How can I not take that personal? What you did cannot be undone. It leaves me powerless and rendered me catatonic. Not a good look.

You used to say “sometimes I think it will be better to end it all.” I sometimes agreed with you. But the deal was that we were in this mess together and we were making the most of it!

We understood that, for some of us, we need to earn our belonging, we need to claim our celebration and make our own noise. At least that’s what you made me believe… You know, you could’ve told me anything. I was your ’let’s bury a body under a tree and never speak of it ever again’ kinda friend. I would’ve listened to you because I know how you can get – you go all dark, depressed and moody. You get prickly and become like barbedwire. You sometimes feel uncomfortable in your own skin and that makes you think that nobody loves you. I am the same way. It’s what made us click. But then we talk about that shit and we put the world right… and we laugh and joke about being so bitter and twisted… just like we did on Monday.

But by Monday you had long made up your mind, didn’t you? And that’s why you didn’t bother telling me.

You should’ve trusted me enough to know that I would not have tried to change your mind. You should have known that I don’t beg people to stay… If you want to leave, then leave… but don’t leave a mess behind like you did!

I know your suicide was not an act of hostility towards me. I know I was someone you loved dearly and I know I loved you back blindly and unconditionally – in equal measure. But it wasn’t enough anymore… nothing I would’ve said or done would’ve changed your mind: You wanted your life to end. That’s brutal.

So you’ll understand that I keep waiting for a WhatsApp message from you to explain yourself… say you are sorry and then end the conversation the way you always do: “I’m off my gay. I have minds to change and a life to live. Love you…”

But I won’t get that message because all I have is those awkward last words you sent me on Monday just before I went to bed: “Sometimes in life I am slightly amused.”

And with those words you have gone and left a big fat gaping hole – bigger than the unsightly split between Madonna’s front teeth – in our lives… and it cannot be fixed.

I plan to live at least another 40 years. Tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that one… every day from now on will not have you in it. Do you know how fucking bad that is for me and every other person who loved you and who drew inspiration from your life?

Yes, your life and who you were inspired others.

Fool.

You kept me afloat. You encouraged me to be better, to try again whenever I believed I failed. You put up with all the bad choices I made. You told me sooooo many times to get over myself and to stand tall, slap on a brave face and take responsibility for my actions. You never judged me and always gave me the benefit of the doubt.

If only you were a friend to yourself like you have been a friend to me.

Fuck you!

So, here’s the deal: You will not haunt or pester me with feelings of doom and gloom. When I cry about you, you will remind me of all the good times we had and the dreams we dreamed together.  You will be a voice in my head warning me every time an outfit does not blend together (except for when I wear pink and red together because we’ve agreed to disagree on that many years ago). You will be my guardian angel and when they find an elixir that stops gay men from bolding, you WILL poltergeist the shit out of the people who made it and you will get it for me…

And finally, since you’ve broken your part of our promise you will help me find another gay friend who will hold my hand when I am old… one who is far more reliable than you, because you were the only one who understood the value of wearing a fabulous hat to a funeral… but now you have gone and broken my heart into a million tiny little pieces and I don’t know if I can ever forgive you for that.

I love you.

Rest in peace.

P.S. I thought that writing this letter will make me feel better and stop the tears and this aching devostating hurt. But this pain will take a long time to lose its edge, won’t it?

I wish you were here, because you were the only person I could talk to during times like this.

Just the two of us

Just the two of us

We Need To Talk About Philip Seymour Hoffman

9

“Well, I think everyone struggles with self-love.”

— Philip Seymour Hoffman —

It’s New Year’s Eve 1979 and everyone at the party is high on drugs and alcohol. Scotty calls Dirk outside to show him his new red Datsun ‘sports car’ — which really is second-hand and freshly repainted in an attempt to copy Dirk’s “Competition Orange” ’77 Corvette.

Dirk pretends to be impressed but struggles to be sincere.  A very proud and smitten Scotty nervously soaks up Dirk’s feigned flattery. Overcome by his infatuation he clumsily grabs Dirk and plants a kiss on his mouth. Dirk freaks out and pushes Scotty away… Scotty perseveres desperately and begs Dirk for a kiss. “I want to know if you like me?”… “Can I kiss you on the mouth?”… “Please let me.”

Dirk proclaims that he is not gay and leaves a humiliated Scotty outside and heads back into the house. Degraded and embarrassed Scotty gets behind the wheel of his Datsun and repeatedly says, “Idiot. I’m an idiot. I’m a fucking idiot,” over and over and over again, sobbing through angry, bitter tears…

Scotty’s rejection is the kind that terrifies every gay man — falling in love with a straight guy. It fuels our sadness, need to belong and deepest yearning to be loved, and it perfectly blends with our self-hatred.

Philip Seymour Hoffman nailed his portrayal of Scotty in the 1997 film ‘Boogie Nights’ on the head… and having done so at a time when very few other straight actors would’ve considered a role like that, made his accomplishment so much greater. In fact, I don’t think there is a single character who Hoffman brought to life without brave depth and Kafkaesque nuance. He had the emphatic ability to hold up a mirror to something that actors, even great ones, rarely have the nerve, skill and experience to reveal: the cathartic and humbling private pain of an ordinary person. And he did it with the subtlety only possible when you’ve visited those depths of despair yourself.

Recently, I heard someone say “he [Hoffman] was the patron saint for the anguished fool”. Indeed, he showed no contempt for the flaws he found in his characters. In Todd Solondz’s film Happiness (1998) he plays Allen, a social degenerate who finds sexual release by making obscene phone calls. Normally, characters like Allen are scoffed at with deprecation, but Hoffman took this hopeless depraved outcast and found something very endearing in him.  Allen in Happiness was yet another heroic and committed performance… like all of Hoffman’s character portrayals throughout his acting career, spanning over 23 years.  His Oscar-winning performance in Capote is regarded as his grown and glory by many. However, my favourites include Rusty (Flawless), Phil Parma (Magnolia), Dean Trumbell (Punch-Drunk Love), Henry (Strangers with Candy) and Andy (Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead).

We were at a bar in Hampstead on Sunday evening when a friend announced: “Guys I’m sorry to say, they found Phillip Seymour Hoffman dead in his apartment… They think it was a drug overdose.” When I heard the news, my first thought was “Ouch that hurts.

It did hurt and it still does — another inspirational and talented artist dying from a drug overdose. As expected, in the aftermath, media headlines are selling us the tragedy, drama and exaggerated seedy details of his death… Fifty (or was it 70) bags of heroin by his side on the bathroom floor with a needle still stuck in his arm. It’s Marilyn Monroe all over again.

I’ll say it again. It hurts… but far less than what his family and children are suffering. There is no comparison here. Hoffman’s family are the ones that knew him intimately — his demons, his pain and his drug addiction. They are the ones who now must pick up the pieces with the aching knowledge that someone they loved dearly lost the battle against a mercurial beast: His dark side.

I recognise the battle, the temporary triumph, the maddening pain and the ultimate defeat.

There is a devil and a demon inside all of us — the bullied child struggling to be a confident adult, the pretty girl who thinks she is ugly, the mother who feels inadequate, the husband ashamed of his impotence, the overweight girl comfort-eating because she feels unlovable, the scrawny teenage boy taking steroids to look more masculine… we all have an inner voice than tells us we are inadequate on some level.

We are all vulnerable. We’ve all experienced a cliff-hanger moment of despair when we said to ourselves: “Idiot. I’m an idiot. I’m a fucking idiot.”

We numb those moments. Deep down we all know we have habits and behaviours that we employ to comfort us and to help us escape. Without these crutches we feel helpless. Addiction is a very human thing and it manifests in many ways — drugs, sex, pornography, relationship hopscotching (love addiction), the internet and social media, antidepressants and other prescription drugs, religion, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, shopping, obsessive exercising, gambling, over-eating, relentless dieting, working, travelling… there is a vice to numb every shade and hue of human pain. When we cut right to the bone, addiction (and addictive behaviour) is the real elephant in the room… more so than mental illness.

So yes, it hurts to be reminded of this uncomfortable truth by the death of a man who seemed to have known everything about being vulnerable and being human… and yet he was not strong enough to carry his own weight. He slipped. He crumbled. He lost control… like many of us do. There is no shame in that. The only tragedy is that we seem to be unable to talk about it.

In the past few days I’ve been listening a lot to the song ‘Say Something’ by Great Big World. These lyrics, for some reason, make me think of Hoffman in his last moments:

“I’ll be the one, if you want me to
Anywhere I would’ve followed you
Say something, I’m giving up on you

And I am feeling so small
It was over my head
I know nothing at all

And I will stumble and fall
I’m still learning to love
Just starting to crawl”

Perhaps Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is a final holding up of the mirror for us to recognise our flawed humanity in the private pain of this extraordinary man.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman - July 23, 1967 - 2 February 2014 Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – July 23, 1967 – 2 February 2014
Photo by Victoria Will/Invision/AP


Credits.
Images: 1. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Unknown
2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Victoria Will, taken at Sundance Festival 2014
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes