Friday Film Festival – Movies featuring addiction and recovery

 

Addiction is a compelling topic for literature, art and film.  It feels like alcoholism adds layers of the story and gives a dark edge to it. Sometimes, we disgust such characters while in other instances, we pity them. Either way, they bag a lot of attention.

It’s a subject that speaks to the human condition and translates through every culture and society. Many movies have tackled the subject of addiction and obsession. Some of these movies can be hard to watch. For obvious reasons, this subject doesn’t always have the most upbeat and positive story lines. However, many of these films will leave a lasting impact on you as a human being.

Let us not forget that without Bill and Bob, none of these great movies would have happened and I would not have this topic to write about!

Let us also remember to take a moment of silence for the still suffering addict/alcoholics. Their struggle is real and the road is long. Hope to see them soon.

Please add your thoughts about these movies and any other films about addiction, sobriety, and recovery you enjoy.  Thank you.

 

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Jack Lemmon plays Joe Clay – a PR guide who falls in love with Kirsten (a secretary played by Lee Remick). Joe introduces Kirsten to the joys of social drinking, they get married and have a daughter named Debbie. Unfortunately Joe cannot keep his drinking to social drinking. His habit escalates until he is a full blown alcoholic and gets demoted at work for shoddy performance. Kirsten similarly finds refuge in booze and nearly burns the house down. The pair are desperate to be sober and they manage sobriety for a while until the lure of alcohol makes them drink. Joe goes to rehab and joins AA. The road is not easy – he has many lapses. But he is determined to work and look after his child whilst Kirsten is totally lost to the bottle. The ending of the film shows her entering a bar. Kudos to the film for being realistic in its portrayal of alcoholism. It shows the many attempts a lot of drinkers have to go through before they achieve sobriety – it is not an easy road as Joe’s travails demonstrate. And further kudos to the film for its depiction of Kirsten’s relentless addiction – there isn’t always a happy ending with alcohol. The film does much to demystify the attraction of alcohol – showing how stupid drunk people really are when they think they are being clever and witty. The chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick is incredible and makes the film all the more depressing as a warped love story. Probably one of the best films by director Blake Edwards.

 

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Ben is a Hollywood screen writer who has lost everything due to his affliction with alcohol. He heads to Las Vegas to drink himself to death and while he is there, he forms a relationship with Sera, a street prostitute. They come to an uneasy pact – Ben is not allowed to mention Sera’s line of work, and Sera is not allowed to get in the way of Ben’s drinking. Director Mike Figgis is careful never to make a moral judgement about his characters. They are who they are and that is their choice. The film never sinks to sentimentality. It is a graphic and honest display of alcoholism and those who have lost all hope. Nicolas Cage really deserved the Oscar for his role of Ben – he manages to convey self destruction and doom in some agonising acting. The chemistry between him and Elizabeth Shue is amazing, and she gives a fantastic performance as a woman trapped in a terrible situation, yet totally accepting of its ramifications. Bleak, realistic and depressing, but a fascinating film.

 

The Lost Weekend (1945)

Directed by Billy Wilder, this film was the first Hollywood movie to feature alcoholism as a major component of a film. Don Birman is packing to go away for the weekend with his brother Wick. He reels in a bottle hanging outside the window. Yes folks, he is a drunk. His girlfriend Helen arrives. Don loves Helen but the relationship has serious problems due to his drinking. Don is thrust into a hellish weekend trying to get money to sustain his habit. This leads to thorough degradation. After he falls down the stairs, he is taken to hospital where he sees at first hand the horrors of alcoholism. Eventually, Don decides to stop his drinking. Ray Milland gives a tremendous performance as Don. He transforms himself into a raging addict and he is not scared to show the desperation and seediness of the alcoholic’s existence. Drinking habits lead to darkness, despair and destruction. In 1945, this would have been a very shocking film, alcoholism was something that went on behind closed doors, it wasn’t discussed in the open. Billy Wilder portrayed accurately the inability of the alcoholic to pull himself together and also the problem of enabling the alcoholic through protecting him from the worst excesses of his problem (for example, paying his rent and his bills). A darker film than most of Wilder’s output, The Lost Weekend is an honest and daring movie.

 

Everything Must Go (2010)

Nick Halsey (Will Ferrell) is an example of how NOT to work a recovery program. Anyone who has been a stubborn drunk who’s unwilling to comply with family, work and society will identify with this film. I am not sure anyone other than Will Ferrell could pull this off.

Movies like this offer hope to the many who are labeled “Hopeless”. Especially, considering the many souls who walk into AA with said label, eventually finding themselves branded “Miracles”.

 

Withnail and I (1987)

The tale of two struggling actors who live in a grotty flat while they wait for their careers to take off. Withnail is a flamboyant alcoholic who is disgusted at life and its injustices. He rails and rants the entire film. Marwood (the narrator) is Withnail’s fellow actor buddy who lives with him and tries to mitigate his worst excesses. They go to stay in a cottage owned by Withnail’s eccentric homosexual uncle Monty where Marwood narrowly escapes Monty’s attentions. Withnail just keeps on drinking his uncle’s fine wine. Called back to London for Marwood’s audition, on the way back home Withnail is discovered driving while intoxicated. Marwood gets the job and Withnail gets the bottle. Withnail and I is considered to be one of the greatest British cult movies ever made. With lots of quotable dialogue and an hysterically funny turn from Richard E Grant as Withnail, the film is a terrific comic experience to watch. It is, however, due to Withnail’s alcoholism, quite a sad story too with lots of pathos – such as Marwood disappearing off into a better life and Withnail left with his wine bottle. He quotes Hamlet at the end of the movie, which makes Withnail a figure of tragedy and he knows it. Alternately funny and melancholy.

 

Candy (2006)

Drug users often times become just as addicted to each other as they do for their drugs.  There is an intoxication in love that is fueled by drug use. Candy tells this story in a deeply realistic way.  A poet falls in love with an art student who gravitates to his bohemian lifestyle, and his love of heroin. Hooked on one another as much as they are the drug, their relationship alternates between states of oblivion, ecstasy, self-destruction and despair.  Throughout all the pain and heart ache that you feel in this film, it leaves you with a sense of empowerment and gives testimony to the inner strength that addiction and pain can build. Great movie.

 

How do I stop isolating myself?

Isolation and Addiction Go Hand in Hand

 

“Almost without exception, alcoholics are tortured by loneliness. Even before our drinking got bad and people began to cut us off, nearly all of us suffered the feeling that we didn’t quite belong. Either we were shy, and dared not draw near others, or we were noisy good fellows constantly craving attention and companionship, but rarely getting it. There was always that mysterious barrier we could neither surmount nor understand” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 57).

Did we drink because we were lonely and could not form healthy relationships or were we lonely because we drank? It is hard to pinpoint which caused which and it isn’t even necessary. What we see is that alcoholism and isolation are partners in crime. As we give up alcoholism in favor of sobriety, we must also strive to give up isolation in favor of fellowship.

The A.A. founders clearly saw the need for a program that would help the alcoholic reconfigure his or her entire life—including relationships. Many of us have never known how to have healthy relationships. We have used others or sought to control them but we haven’t known how to love and have equal partnerships with the people around us. Recovery teaches us a new way.

The following suggestions drawn from the 12-step program and the insights of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous give direction to the newly recovering addict seeking fellowship and friendship in this new world of sobriety and recovery.

Go to meetings. Here you will find the people who are like you, the people who have lived what you have lived, and who are learning to live a new life in sobriety. The newcomer may feel reluctant to trust this new gang. Who are these seemingly happy sober people? Did they ever really battle addiction? Have they ever struggled? Don’t let their cheeriness and sense of contentment fool you. They have been where you are now but hey have discovered a new life and a new way of living, better than anything they knew in addiction. The addict who desires recovery will continue to attend meetings with an open mind. In time, he or she will see miracles occur.

“Life takes on new meaning in A.A. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends—this is an experience you must not miss” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 89).

Take phone numbers and call. While the meeting is a great place to begin connecting with friends in recovery, the phone allows for the more in-depth conversations that lead to relationships. Afraid you don’t have anything to say? Ask a question. Tell the person on the other end of the line that you are new to the program and would love to hear their recovery story. Do they have a few minutes to chat? Then let the conversation flow naturally. Ask if you may call again sometime or invite him or her to call you in the future.

Find a sponsor. A sponsor will walk through recovery with you on a daily basis. You no longer need to handle life’s ups and downs on your own. Responding to life in a way that enhances and enriches your recovery does not come naturally, thus it is highly recommended that addicts at all stages of recovery seek out and maintain a relationship with a sponsor.

Confess. It is often said, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” Our guilt and shame keeps us isolated from others. We fear that if people really knew us they could not love us nor welcome us into fellowship. So we continue to live behind a mask and deprive ourselves of real fellowship.

This is where the confession and honesty required by the Fifth Step become our most important weapons in the fight against isolation.

“When we reached A.A., and for the first time in our lives, stood among people who seemed to understand, the sense of belonging was tremendously exciting. We thought the isolation problem had been solved.

But we soon discovered that, while we weren’t alone anymore in a social sense, we still suffered many of the old pangs of anxious apartness. Until we had talked with complete candor of our conflicts, and had listened to someone else do the same thing, we still didn’t belong.

Step Five was the answer. It was the beginning of true kinship with man and God” (A.A. Twelve and Twelve, 57).

Living honestly before the world allows us to connect to that world in new and authentic ways.  Coming out of isolation and establishing the sort of community you desire will take time and effort, but it is well worth it. A strong fellowship around you strengthens your recovery and makes life in sobriety more enjoyable. Many of us have never known the joys of healthy relationships and partnerships. But it is never too late to start.

 

Explore your identity. Get to know who you really are and let others know you as well. Many addicts, having spent so many years tethered to the bottle or some other fix, have failed to develop as people, and thus have very little understanding of their own identities. Now that you are sober, it is time to start forming a relationship with yourself. Who are you? What do you like to do? What makes you happy?

And as you get to know yourself, you can allow others to do the same. Begin to open up and experiment with a little vulnerability. When asked a question, give a full response. Allow yourself to be engaged in conversation. Don’t be afraid to let people in for fear of what they may think of you and your past. You have many gifts to offer and recovery allows you to begin exploring, developing, and sharing them.

Attend recovery-based social events. Most addicts are used to structuring their leisure time around alcohol, drugs, or the other activities from which they are now sober. Does this mean there is no more fun to be had in this life? Not at all! In recovery you will find a fellowship of people who, like yourself, have also had to find a new way to enjoy life. Most groups arrange periodic social events. Ask program friends what they do for fun now that they are sober.

Know God and develop a relationship with Him. The truest form of fellowship is that which we have with God Himself. Regardless of the number of friends you have or the busyness of your social life, if you do not know fellowship with God, the old loneliness and sense of isolation will persist. Through prayer, meditation, and the reading of the Bible, you can begin to know the God who has rescued you from the disease that sought to kill you. He is a personal God eager to have a relationship with you.

“When I was driven to my knees by alcohol, I was made ready to ask for the gift of faith. And all was changed. Never again, my pains and problems notwithstanding, would I experience my former desolation. I saw the universe to be lighted by God’s love; I was alone no more” (Bill W., letter, 1966)

The beginning steps of faith bring us into partnership with God. You can never be alone if you allow God’s presence to surround you.

Join a church and become involved. In addition to the fellowship you will find among program friends, joining a church can provide the opportunity for friendships with like-minded individuals and a host of activities and events that can help you to deepen your sense of community and belonging, as well as your faith. Rather than simply attending services and then slipping out the door unnoticed, linger and try to strike up conversation with other attendees. Is there a welcoming committee? Try to connect with them to find out how you may become involved.

Take on a service position. If you want to know people, help people. Does your meeting have any open service positions? Is your church looking for volunteers? Working side by side with others helps you to form relationships and partnerships around shared goals, purposes, and interests. As you work together, ask the occasional personal question. Take an interest in people and their stories, and friendships will soon develop.

When the service is Twelve Step based, the addict is further strengthening his recovery by sharing the solution with others. This is some of the most important service we do and the means by which our most important relationships and our lasting sobriety may be forged.

“‘Faith without works is dead.’ How appallingly true for the alcoholic! For if an alcoholic fails to perfect and enlarge his spiritual life through work and self-sacrifice for others, he cannot survive the certain trials and low spots ahead. If he does not work, he will surely drink again, and if he drinks, he will surely die. Then faith will be dead indeed” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 14-15)

What is a grief letter and why should I write one?

“Yet why not say what happened?”  –  Robert Lowell

Grief has many forms we do may have not considered yet.  We can grieve a death, a relationship, a lost job, lost time, even objects like a car or a home.  Grief has no limits and is personal to each one of us.  Grief is defined as “deep sorrow especially that caused by someone’s death.  It is a noun which means grief itself is at the root a person, place, or thing.  When I think about grief as a noun I am reminded of the many forms and applications this word has.

AA17.4.24.2018

In my addiction, I went through much grief.  I did not realize it at the time, but I was grieving the loss of control, loss of myself, loss of friends and family I was pushing away and hurting.  I was grieving the life I had lived, the life I wanted so badly to live, and the joy I once had.  My grief was not limited to those people and objects around me, it was bigger than those things.

In a brilliant article “Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later,” John James and Russell Friedman compare the heart to an auto engine. It’s an imperfect world, despite the fantasies of perfectionists, so loss and hurt often start at an early age.  “You might recognize the title from an advertising slogan for an automotive product several years ago,” they write. The idea was that if you spend a little money on maintenance now, you might save a tremendous amount replacing an entire engine later.”

“In the auto commercial it was failure to change the oil filter which led to a build up of crud, which clogged and eventually destroyed the motor. Thus, buy an inexpensive filter now or buy a whole new engine later.”

As we go through life, they say, stuffing when we’re hurt instead of grieving, this “crud” builds up around our hearts and thickens year on year. “Grief is negative, and cumulatively negative,” they say, in a key insight.

Then a serious tragedy hits, like a death or divorce, and we don’t realize it, but it triggers all those past hurts we never grieved. Our hearts are breaking inside – but our heart is so hard outside, due to the thick crud, that we can’t see out, so we go into a tailspin.

Now we’re in big trouble and with decades of crud around our hearts.  I have heard, seen, and felt the pain of others while they were sharing their own grief letters and 100% of the time, afterwards, they all felt a sense of relief and healing.

AA2.4.24.2018While writing my first grief letter during treatment I joked that I would be writing a “grief book”.  This is so true for me and I am sure it is true for many of us in recovery.  As we move forward and continuously revisit some of the 12 steps, we can also find it helpful to continuously put pen to paper and add to our “grief book”.  Some write a letter to their addiction, to alcohol, or to their parents and other loved ones.  While some write an autobiographical story about their past traumas or hardships and what led them into the entangling web of alcoholism and addiction.

Each one of us have a different experience with life and the triumphs and challenges.  I believe grief letters are extremely important to flush out these emotions and finally find freedom from the weight we carry.  We must admit, with brutal honesty, those decisions and choices we have made and the painful outcomes resulting from them in order to grieve, accept, and release.

I have included my first grief letter, on a separate page, written in treatment earlier this year.  I hope you find some inspiration for your own.  Please share any thoughts with me in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from all of you.

When You Love An Addict

(This wonderful poem was shared with me when I was in a treatment program.  I believe the poetry originated from one of the inmates in a Women’s Prison in Missouri.  I along with my fellow “clients” in treatment really enjoyed the words and I hope this is something I can share to give a perspective that might not have been considered before.)

I am not an alcoholic or addict, but try and love one, and then see if you can look me square in the eyes and tell me that you didn’t get addicted to trying to fix them.

If you’re lucky, they recover.  If you’re lucky, you recover too.

Loving an alcoholic can and will make you the most tired insomniac alive.  You will stand in the doorway of their bedroom and pled with them that you “just want them back”.  If you watch the person you love disappear right in front of your eyes long enough, you will start to dissolve too.  Those not directly affected won’t be able to understand why you are so focused on your loved one’s well-being, especially since, during the times of your family member’s active addiction, they won’t seem so concerned with their own.

Don’t become angry with these people.  They do not understand.  They are lucky to not understand.  You’ll catch yourself wishing that you didn’t understand either.

What if you had to wake up every day and wonder “if today was the day your family member was going to die?” will become a popular, not so rhetorical question.  Drug and alcohol addiction has the largest ripple effect that I have ever witnessed firsthand.

It causes parents to outlive their children.  It causes jail time and homelessness.  It causes sisters to mourn their siblings and nieces to never meet their aunts.  It causes an absence before the exit.  You will see your loved one walking and talking, but the truth is, you will lose them far before they actually succumb to their demons; which if they don’t find recovery, is inevitable.

Addiction causes families to come to fear a ringing phone or a knock on the door.  It causes vague obituaries.  I read the papers and I follow the news; and it is scary.  “Died suddenly” has officially become obituary speak for “another young person found dead from a drug overdose or an alcohol related death”.

Drug and alcohol addiction causes bedrooms and social media pages to become memorials.  It causes things to break, like the law, trust, and the “tomorrows”.  It causes statistics to rise and knees to fall.  Now, praying seems like the only thing left to do sometimes.

People have a way of pigeonholing those who suffer from addiction.  They call them “trash”, “junkies”, or “criminals”, which is hardly ever the truth.  Addiction is an illness.  Addicts have families and aspirations.

You will learn that addiction doesn’t discriminate.  It doesn’t care if the addict came from a loving home or a broken family.  Addiction doesn’t care if you are religious.  Addiction doesn’t care if you are a straight A student or a drop out.  Addiction doesn’t care what ethnicity you are.

Addiction will show you that one bad decision and one lapse in judgement can alter the course of an entire life.  Addiction doesn’t care.  Period.  But you care.

You will learn to hate the drug but love the addict, hate the drink but love the alcoholic.  You will begin to accept that you need to separate who the person once was with who they are now.

It is not the person who drinks, but the alcoholic.  It is not the person who steals to support their habit, but the addict.  It is not the person who spews obscenities at their family, but the addict.  It is not the person who lies, but the alcoholic.

And yet, sadly, it is not the addict who dies, but the person.

Monday Music Therapy

How music and recovery go hand in hand

Music allows us to express feelings we can not otherwise express.  Music has a sense of anonymity because no two peole have to feel or think the same thing when listening to a piece of music.  Music is powerful.  It stirs up hidden emotions,  brings forth memories, and allows us to process and release aggression, grief, desperation, and joy.  Music has increased recovery from addiction and various mental illnesses as well as aiding those suffering from Alzheimers, Parkinsons, strokes, and other medical ailments.

Many treatment centers have turned toward incorporating music and art therapy into their standards with positive results.  The specific treatment center I attended in January and February of this year utilized music therapy.  Each one of us “clients” had different reactions to different music and we were all able to relate to each other in some way.  The lyrics always opened up new dialogue and allowed all of us to see new perspectives and learn and grow.

Music therapy works in addiction recovery through a therapist developed treatment plan. This includes music making practices along with counseling, psychotherapy, and other forms of evidence-based treatments, to ensure a well-rounded approach to the recovery of addiction.

Hearing the light

Music is a form of creative self-expression and often allows the user to communicate in a non-conventional manner. Many recovering addicts and alcoholics are often filled with shame and guilt and have years of built up blockages that prevent them from positively expressing themselves.

Music therapy helps users, especially through music that is nostalgic for them, identify and cope with any past emotional trauma, and process it with a therapist or group facilitator. It allows users to:

  • Examine emotions and self-esteem.
  • Enhance positivity.
  • Empower themselves through success.
  • Improve self-awareness.
  • Increase attention and concentration.
  • Build coping and problem-solving strategies.
  • Enhance mindfulness and relaxation techniques.
  • Improve interpersonal skills.

To the beat of a different drum

Here are a few selections to enjoy.  Please comment below with suggestions for the next Monday Music Therapy post and include any comments of what these songs mean for you.