While flying home from a visit with my granddaughters, I saw the recent remake of “A Star is Born.” It’s a well-done film.
I had no idea that Lady Gaga, who stars as Ally, had such a beautiful voice. Ally’s rise to stardom, based on good fortune and amazing talent, was heartwarming. But the story of Bradley Cooper’s Jackson is sad, painful and all too familiar. It’s the story of alcoholism, drug addiction and the rising suicide rate among middle-aged adults.
It’s a tragedy that touches all of us — either directly or indirectly.
Statistics only show us the view from 30,000 feet. In 2017, the highest suicide rate among all age groups and ethnicity, were white men between the age of 45-54. Since 2008, the overall suicide rate has been steadily increasing — despite the decreased stigma of receiving mental health treatment.
In 2017, 47,600 individuals died from drug-related causes. It’s estimated that alcohol is responsible for the deaths of 88,000 Americans every year.
But on the ground level, it’s the individual stories that many of us know. It’s not just famous musicians, like Jackson in the movie, that come to a tragic end through their drug and alcohol addiction.
In graduate school, my good friend and professor, Andy, was an alcoholic, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Like Jackson, he was generous, kind and creative. He took many of his students out to dinner, when we didn’t have enough money to go out ourselves.
When our confidence was low, he encouraged us. He believed in us, like Jackson believed in Ally. He called us his “doctor babies,” and he was always taking care of us.
I didn’t notice, but at those dinners he drank large amounts of wine. Like many alcoholics, he didn’t often appear drunk. And like Jackson, Andy’s drinking cost him his job and his partner.
In his 60s, Andy hung himself after losing everything that was important to him. Andy was one of my shining stars that was extinguished by alcoholism.
My brother, Joe, was another rising star who was brought down by drugs and alcohol, but in a dramatically different way. At the tender age of 32 — a young man in his prime — he was out jogging on a rainy winter evening in Oregon. He was killed instantly by a hit-and-run driver who was drunk at the wheel.
When I saw my brother’s body at the funeral, I felt as if my heart was ripped out of my chest. My children never got to meet him and my grandchildren will never know him.
I am no different than other survivors, family members and friends of shining individuals that were snuffed out by drugs and alcohol. As a psychologist, I see a steady stream of survivors in my office. I know their pain. I share their story.
I am a big supporter of Al-Anon, a self-help program based on the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Through the fellowship of others and working through self-discovery step by step, family and friends of alcoholics can find comfort and healing. They can learn how to live with the pain of loss.
As in “A Star is Born,” tragedy and triumph often appear together in life. Good fortune, inspiration and hope can come from unexpected sources. Like Ally, we can discover our gifts.
But tragedy also teaches us important lessons, too. Life is fragile. Tragedy teaches us to savor the good moments in life, appreciate our loved ones and to live in the moment. Both triumph and tragedy reminds us of that common ground that we share with all human beings — our vulnerability, our possibility and our potential for being who we hope to be.
Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk Blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.