I can’t tell you how odd I felt when I realized that I had passed by the very hotel Cory Monteith died in, just several hours before his overdose. For those of you who know Vancouver, I’d been at a tourist attraction at Canada Place with an out-of-town friend on Friday. On our way to lunch, we walked right by the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel a mere 24 hours before his body was discovered.
This is not a ‘claim to fame’ I would have knowingly chosen. I hate the fact that Cory Monteith is dead, and what I hate even worse is that he died, apparently accidentally, from a lethal combination of alcohol and heroin. As the TV commercials say—preventable.
Cory was not a favorite actor of mine and I didn’t watch Glee very often. For me, his death is not about mourning him as a cherished celebrity, as I know it is for his many fans. For me it is about one more person who has died as a result of alcohol and drug abuse. Even though I totally understand how this can happen, my heart breaks every time it does.
WHO WAS CORY, REALLY?
The people who knew Cory personally are all describing him as “creative” and “talented” and “nice”. The truth is that many addicts are all of these things—most of the addicts I know, myself included, are nice people—and many of us are also very bright and creative. Why, then, do we find ourselves addicted to mind-altering substances? And—why do wonderful people like Cory Monteith relapse to the point of killing themselves?
Of course I can never know this for sure, but I don’t think Cory meant to die. I think, or at least I hope, it was the tragic accident most people believe it to be. The irony is that he had just recently come out of another stay in treatment, the very place where addicts discover the underlying reasons that they sabotage their lives in the hopes of not having to repeat these behaviors.
I am an addict. I’ve been in recovery for many years, without any relapses, one day at a time. What I know to be true is that staying clean and sober takes work—hard, daily, inner work. That work needs to be continuous because we have to stay on top of our addiction at all times or it can overtake us.
We’re learning that Cory had many problems growing up and attended a number of different schools before dropping out at the age of 16. We also know now that he began his substance misuse at about 12 years old. My question would be why there weren’t adults around to help him—do schools just kick out troubled kids without offering them the help they need? How could he have fallen through the cracks so badly?
And although as an Addictions Therapist I know very well that I cannot help anyone who is not ready to accept the help, I wonder if the staff of the treatment center Cory most recently entered saw any red flags—or was Cory, by this time in his checkered addiction career, able to snow them all by being that ‘nice guy’ and doing what he was told, at least on the surface?
HOW RELAPSE CAN HAPPEN
When people relapse, they often call it a ‘slip’. But I think the acronym for that word says it all: addicts slip when Sobriety Lose Its Priority. And I believe that’s what happened with Cory. For whatever reason (maybe to escape some still unresolved inner demons?), it was more important to him to get high than it was to stay clean and sober. That’s why he used that night.
I’m so sad he made that decision.
Another part of the relapse equation is the reality of tolerance. Addiction is truly a progressive condition. When recovering addicts haven’t abused substances for a while, their bodies get used to being clean machines. Most will say how terrific it feels to not be putting that poison into their systems when they’ve become abstinent, even for a short while. When an addict decides to use again, it is often with the same intensity that they used before. It doesn’t take long at all for their bodies to need more and more of the substance (or other addictive behavior) in order to provide the same high.
Some media reports say that Cory was leading a ‘double life’—that he was clean and sober while working in LA but would come to Vancouver to party. Of course I have no way of knowing the validity of this, but it’s very likely that Cory’s body may not have been used to the amount of alcohol and heroin that he fed himself that fateful night. And it’s even more likely that he was unaware of how this toxic combination could affect him.
FOR CORY’S LOVED ONES
As a therapist who works primarily with the loved ones of people struggling with addiction, my heart goes out to Cory’s family and close friends. There will undoubtedly be a sense of guilt and remorse—along with the tremendous sadness and grief they feel—wondering if they did enough for Cory, or why they didn’t realize the kind of potential jeopardy he was in. My hope for all of them is that they will get some support for themselves, either in a support group like Al-Anon/Nar-Anon or perhaps with a professional counselor who can help them with their pain over this tragic loss of someone they loved dearly.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction—and perhaps with chronic relapses—please allow yourself to get the help you need. Lasting recovery from addiction is possible.
I deeply hope that Cory’s tragic, unnecessary death will once again shine a light on the horrific problems that substance addiction causes. All over the world—certainly here in Canada—we need less budget cuts for social programs and more funding wisely spent on prevention and treatment.
Thank you for your contributions to the world, Cory.
May you now rest in peace.
Photo credit: blogs.etcanada.com